(Pocket-lint) - The Samsung NX30 is the latest edition to the company's steadily evolving line of compact system cameras, assuming top-dog position and unseating the visually comparable NX20.
Its headline spec 20.3 megapixel APS-C sensor might sound eerily familiar - Samsung been using that resolution and sensor size since it shipped the NX200 in 2011 - but in almost every other respect it marks a significant advance.
Design and build
The tweaked design is comfortable to hold for extended shoots, and the overall scale is a lot smaller than you might expect.
There’s a subtle notch in the grip, which the NX20 was missing, and a reformed thumb rest around the back. Each of these is rubber coated so there’s little chance of you dropping the camera. Some of the buttons have been shuffled around to more convenient locations, but otherwise if you’re upgrading from the NX20 you’ll soon feel at home.
READ: Samsung NX20 review
There’s now a Direct Link button that lets you use the NX30's built-in Wi-Fi features without spinning the mode dial out of the current selection, and, more importantly, a new drive mode selector which enables you switch between single and continuous shooting, timer and exposure bracketing. Lifting these out of the menus is a boon for the more ambitious photographer, while for green-fingered snappers it should mean they get more use out of the camera.
The only moan we have about these dials is their finish. As we pointed out when we first saw the camera at the Consumer Electronics Show, everything just feels a bit plasticky - the dials in particular - and that's at odds with other manufacturers producing premium devices with metal dials.
The NX30's fold-out screen has 100 per cent coverage of the Adobe RGB colour spectrum, and its 1.04m-dot resolution is on par with the best we've ever seen from a camera's LCD screen. The colours stunning, and on a clear day the blue of the sky is practically iridescent.
The screen also flips out on its tilt-angle bracket and folds back on itself to assist with those more awkward shots. It's touch-sensitive too, so you can drag through settings such as aperture value and shutter speed rather than needing to use the d-pad buttons. This in conjunction with the i-Function controls - abbreviated to "iFn", a physical function button that features on all Samsung NX lenses - adds another degree of settings adjustment.
Above the screen there’s a pull-out 2.36m-dot electronic viewfinder which can tilt upwards so you’re looking down into it, the way you would with an old box camera, which again makes this camera more comfortable in general use than a lot of its rivals. Again, however, the finish and stability of this pull-out feature isn't as sturdy as something such as the Panasonic Lumix GX7.
Pressing the iFn button on the side of the lens pulls up an on-screen overlay through which you can change common settings like aperture, shutter speed (30 - 1/8000th sec in the NX30), sensitivity (ISO 100 - 25,600) and so forth, simply by turning the lens ring. The exact range of options available depends on the selected shooting mode.
We're big fans too. iFn saves a lot of time finding settings and lets you keep those fingers on the lens and your eye on the viewfinder rather than constantly switching your attention back to the screen and away from your subject as you change your shooting parameters.
None of this will be news to existing Samsung users, but the fact that the NX30 has more hardware controls than the NX300 or an entirely screen-based camera like the Android-backed Galaxy NX means that the company has been able to subtly tweak the way i-Function works.
READ: Samsung NX300 review
A new i-Function Plus mode enables you to combine the iFn button with the exposure compensation, exposure lock and metering buttons to directly access your own preferred options, even if they aren’t core to i-Function. For example you could combine iFn with the exposure compensation button to select image quality; exposure lock to return the focus to the centre of the frame; and the ongoing options are up to you. This lets you largely tailor the camera’s behaviour to your own way of working, and when used in concert with the vacant custom setting positions on the mode selector means you’ll have less excuse for missing that shot.
Focusing and metering
The NX30's APS-C CMOS sensor features a hybrid autofocus system like the one that debuted in the NX300. It combines 105 phase-detection and 247 contrast AF points for faster and more accurate focusing. How much faster? Samsung’s own metrics puts the NX30 focusing system 35 per cent faster than that in the NX300, and although that’s not something we can test independently, it certainly is fast in everyday use.
A half-press of the shutter release will snap subjects into focus, and from there it's easy to recompose the shot by moving the camera - or you can tap on the subject on the rear touch display. Neatly, you can then drag a second point out from the focus box to another spot in the frame, which it will use to independently meter the exposure. Brilliant.
The shielding in front of the sensor is shallower than it was on previous chips, which Samsung claims will allow it to capture more of the incoming light and should result in fewer inaccuracies when it comes to aligning each colour on the photosites.
Sensitivity settings run from ISO 100 to ISO 25,600 in regular use with exposure compensation of three stops in either direction in 1/3 step increments.
We performed our tests using the bundled 18-55mm kit lens, which behaves much like a 28-85mm equivalent due to the NX sensor's crop factor. Maximum aperture begins at f/3.5 and dips to f/5.6 at the full extent of the zoom which is pretty standard for a lens of this type. It's nothing special, but there are a lot of other far better - and far more expensive - NX lenses now available to buy.
For the most part we used the aperture priority mode so we could keep a handle on depth of field while the camera chose the most appropriate exposure settings. It did a very good job of keeping image noise to a minimum when shooting indoors. Images were largely blemish-free at middling sensitivities - around ISO 800 - and although it starts to become more evident once you touch ISO 1600 the pattern is even and doesn’t greatly impact the level of detail in the shot.
At ISO 100 results are crisp and very clean. Textures in shots - such as stonework - were detailed and sharp contrast handled very well. There’s no evidence of colour fringing along the edges of buildings or where branches and twigs encroach on the sky, which indicates that the lens of doing a good job of setting down each wavelength of incoming light in sync.
Shadows and highlights are also extremely well handled, with shots that exhibit both striking dark blacks yet a careful balance of exposure when it comes to highlights. The NX30 captures more than is immediately obvious, too, which means that with a little bit of careful damping on the highlights, and slightly bump to the shadows, you can extract a lot of additional detail from the raw files.
There was some fall-off in the level of focus when comparing the centre and edges of the frame, however, with the latter being a little softer. It’s almost inevitable on all cameras and was only evident when the image was zoomed to 100 per cent, but it’s worth bearing in mind if you plan on cropping into the corners to re-frame your shot in post production.
The NX30 captures Full HD video at up to 60fps progressive, with options for both PAL and NTSC output. We stepped down to 30fps, but stuck with the maximum resolution and shot in PAL format for our tests.
The results were just as good as we’d hoped after examining the stills. Colours were true to the original sources, detail was good, and the camera had no problems with fast-moving scenes from either a static viewpoint or while panning.
Dramatic changes in the level of available light were compensated for smoothly, while the soundtrack was detailed when using the built-in mic. It’s certainly up to the job of shooting more than just your dog on a beach, even when relying solely on its built-in features, but if you want to take things further you can stream uncompressed footage straight off the chip into an external storage device. There’s also an optional 3D lens in the line-up, which doubles up as a 45mm prime, and a 3.5mm jack for connecting an external mic. We’d consider this a sensible upgrade - along with an appropriate baffle - as even with wind-cut active you could clearly hear the noise of a stiff breeze on the soundtrack when using the internal microphone.
Naturally the kit lens supplied with our review sample had only had a manual zoom, but Samsung has developed a powered 16-50mm lens which would allow for smoother reframing while shooting video. That may well be worth considering if you plan on using the NX30’s video features extensively. It’s not available as a kit bundle in place of the default 18-55mm glass, though, which is a shame, as we consider its focal range to be too similar to consider buying one as a companion lens for regular stills photography unless space in your kit bag is a particular concern. When powered down, the 16-50mm lens protrudes from the body by just 31mm, which represents a considerable saving on the 65mm of the 18-55mm unit.
Although you can use the NX30's built-in Wi-Fi connectivity to email and share your photos directly, it’s best employed to pair the camera with your smartphone. Samsung has shipped apps for iOS and Android, with which you can not only control the camera but also download your shots.
On older devices you’ll have to manually connect to the wireless network hosted by the camera itself, but if you have an NFC-equipped Android device you can tap it to the side of the camera to pair both devices automatically. From that point on you can automatically sync every shot to your phone, tag your shots using the phone’s location features or share your photos to four other devices simultaneously.
Samsung is always a step ahead when it comes to connectivity in the camera market, with the NX30 being another example of Wi-Fi done well.
The Samsung NX30 marks a significant upgrade for the upper-end of Samsung’s mirrorless line-up, and is among the most tempting system cameras we’ve yet tested. Once again the i-Function lens is a highlight and one we’d like to see other manufacturers emulate.
Image quality is excellent, aside from the slight softness in images due to the kit lens, and the re-thought design layout makes for a comfortable shooting experience. However, some features are somewhat plasticky and don't stand up to some competitors' premium finishes. The vibrant LCD and high-res electronic viewfinder are both real joys too.
At £899 the NX30 isn’t pocket money, but don’t be tempted to call it expensive just because it isn’t a "real" DSLR. It may be lacking the mirror, but in every other respect it’s a high-end, semi-pro camera that could leave you asking why you’d want anything larger.