Enthusiast photographers may think of Samsung as more of an electronics company than a maker of fine cameras. The company's new NX300 may be the product that changes their view.
At the heart of its imaging system is a 20.3-megapixel CMOS APS-C sensor. The hybrid autofocusing system uses both contrast and phase detection systems to ensure snappy performance. And the camera's burst mode can record a respectable 8.6 frames per second.
Built-in Wi-Fi makes connecting the NX300 to your iOS or Android smartphone easy. File transfers can also travel via NFC or, if you must, via USB using the supplied cable.
Still, there are a couple hitches that may be significant, depending on how you shoot. First, you have to compose your images on a beautiful 3.31-inch AMOLED tilting LCD--since there's no way to add an electronic or optical viewfinder--and doing so can be tough in direct sunlight.
Second, if you plan on using the NX300 for long shooting sessions, you may not be crazy about the in-camera battery charging. If you want an external battery charger, you'll have to purchase one separately.
Handling and design
The NX300 is available in three different color schemes: all white, silver and black, and leather brown and silver. The aluminum top plate provides a durable, attractive finishing touch.
Controls are well positioned, with the exposure mode dial on top at the wide end of the camera along with the shutter button, Wi-Fi direct link button, and control dial. Eleven more buttons grace the back, including one for dedicated movie recording.
The button I like best isn't on the body of the camera at all. The Fn button on the side of the 18--55mm zoom lens provides quick access to ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation adjustments. Press the button and rotate the manual focus ring to change the setting.
The manual focusing ring is also handy when you want to take over the reins from the autofocus system. Move the switch on the side of the lens barrel from AF to MF, then rotate the focusing ring. The camera presents you with a magnified view on the LCD that makes it easy to get exactly what you want in focus. Tap the shutter button and you return to the normal, nonmagnified view.
You know Wi-Fi is important when it earns a spot on the top mode dial. And that's where the Wi-Fi option shows up in the NX300. In the Wi-Fi position, you'll see a handful of wireless options on the camera's LCD, including Mobile Link (file transfer), Remote Viewfinder, Auto Backup, Email, social networks, and cloud storage. Overall, the various functions worked well.
The apps let you use your mobile device as a remote release with the Remote Viewfinder function. You can even choose to save the image to both the smartphone and camera, or just to the camera.
In addition to Wi-Fi on the mode dial, there's a Direct Link button on the top plate that allows others to follow your captures in real time--perfect for moms and dads who want to see how their child's portrait session is looking on camera.
Image quality and options
The NX300 produces excellent pictures under a range of conditions. ISO performance is outstanding, even when pushed to the higher ISOs. I wouldn't hesitate to shoot with this camera at ISO 1600. Color is also quite pleasing. Skin tones and foliage are a bit more saturated than in shots from many competing cameras in the compact category, but not to an over-the-top extent. The NX300 produces some of the best "right out of the camera" images I've seen among mirrorless models.
In addition to Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual modes, Samsung includes a raft of Smart Mode and Smart Filter settings. These are not gimmicks, but creative options to help you capture the shot you want.
For example, the Beauty Face Smart Mode attractively smooths textures, producing images that will surely please your subjects. The tradeoff is the 2-second delay after the NX300 captures an image while it processes the image. Once that's done, you can take the next shot. For your patience, you're rewarded with a retouched image right on the LCD.
Other Smart Modes, such as Light Trace, are worth exploring, too.Though you can take pictures the traditional way by using Program or Aperture Priority, don't ignore the other options. As a group, they're quite impressive.
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 is bundled with the camera--fortunately, because at this writing Aperture and iPhoto can't process Raw files from the NX300. If you shoot JPEGs only, this won't matter. But Raw files processed in Lightroom look great, so I found myself shooting Raw+JPEG a lot, sending my favorite JPEGs to the iPad for immediate publishing, and saving the Raws for processing later in Lightroom.
The Samsung NX300 provides a legitimate alternative to the Sony NEX and Olympus OM-D series. Its large APS-C sensor, sharp kit lens, and plethora of intelligent controls are worth investigating before you decide which compact system camera to buy.