Samsung’s latest NX100 is something of a curiosity: with no built in flash or viewfinder, it’s entirely dependent on a low price point and the company’s latest i-Function lenses to sell itself. Is the NX100 a step forward or two steps back for the NX-series?
The NX100 follows on from the release of the NX10 camera that came out towards the beginning of this year. For a quick bit of background: the NX100 is a compact system or hybrid camera, i.e., it is compact-like and has no mirror box nor pentaprism (for an optical viewfinder) much like a compact camera, yet with a large APS-C sized CMOS sensor and interchangeable lenses it is a lot like a DSLR.
However, with the NX100, it’s not actually that small. Not really at all in fact. Which is odd as Panasonic’s Lumix GF2 and Sony’s NEX-5 cameras succeed in being far smaller while still including more features - namely a built-in and attachable flash unit respectively. Why Samsung has opted for such a large-scale design (it’s negligibly smaller than the NX10) is rather baffling and doesn’t especially add anything to the camera. The curved body design looks rather nice, but, as we brought up in our first look review, it’s still plastic. Swanky plastic that’s well-formed, yes, but plastic none the less.
However, where things are new they’re well-specified. The new 20-50mm lens is the first to pioneer the new i-Function (iFn) feature that is, essentially, a function button on the lens itself. Press it to quickly toggle between the most major settings, dependent on the mode you’re in, and the manual focus ring can even be used to quickly shift between the options. It sounds simple but it’s actually a highly effective new feature and all future NX-series lenses will follow this format. Attach the optional electronic viewfinder (sold separately) and the iFn feature comes to best effect, as you needn’t take the viewfinder away from the eye to adjust options.
The interior menus are also innovative, with an attractive user interface and the rear d-pad doubles up as a rotational wheel that can quickly cycle through options. A second thumbwheel to the top of the camera ensures that selecting different modes and options in all the manual settings is never a chore.
The NX100’s autofocus system has also seen an update and is now faster than its mark one release. A new algorithm means that the contrast-detection AF system doesn’t scan the contrast spectrum from black to white, instead looking for the sharpest contrast difference and concluding this as the focus point, thus speeding up the potential focus speed. It’s faster, though not the fastest available when considering the very best competitor - in the form of Panasonic’s (admittedly much pricier) Lumix GH2.
On the rear of the camera is the NX100’s trump card: a 3-inch, Super AMOLED screen. There are multiple benefits to this - it’s got a higher black-to-white contrast ratio for better depth, provides much better viewing angles, is more fluid in playback and, crucially, uses less power than a LCD would.
However, the NX100’s battery life is relatively poor. When shooting RAW files the processing time clearly eats away at the battery life, as a single RAW file clogs the buffer for 1-2 seconds, leaving the camera inoperable during this period. That may not sound like an especially long time to have to wait, but it’s a bit of a let-down when attempting to adjust settings rapidly between shots. A top-end 3 frames per second burst mode means rapid shooting is available, so long as the mode remains fixed throughout the shooting period. However, once three to four RAW + JPEG shots are captured the buffer is full and it takes tens of seconds before the camera can be properly used again.
As well as capturing 14.6-megapixel still images, a 720p HD movie mode also features. Able to capture 1280 x 720 resolution at 30fps, the NX100 utilises the well-regarded H.264 compression format. Although this all sounds good on paper, the actual compression applied to movie clips is considerably limiting and there are noticeable artefacts that are even more considerable in lower light scenarios.
The NX100’s APS-C sized sensor is the same size as that found in most DSLR cameras and, as such, the image quality benefits from this in some respects. However, JPEGs do begin to show processing artefacts from as low as ISO 400, which is visible particularly towards subject edges.
Exposure is good, though tones are a little on the flat side. The Auto White Balance can vary in its accuracy, and will often differ throughout the ISO range under the same lighting conditions.
The standard available sensitivity ranges from ISO 100-3200, and there’s an extended ISO 6400 option available. When using the “Auto ISO” setting the camera won’t auto-select above ISO 1600, though the ISO 3200-6400 settings are rather limited in their overall final quality and detail due to image noise and applied noise reduction.
As the NX100 body doesn’t have any built-in image stabilisation, only available lenses will provide such a feature and, unfortunately, the new 20-50mm lens doesn’t provide optical stabilisation.
Price-wise the NX100 certainly plays a savvy game. Available for around £380 at the time of writing, there’s little else available on the market that’s quite as affordable which will be key in this camera’s success.
With no flash or viewfinder, the NX100 will have limited appeal to the mass market. The new iFn lens compatibility and improved autofocus are both great and the AMOLED screen certainly adds some distinct individuality.
Although the NX100’s body is nicely-shaped and the user interface intuitive to use, the lack of features and general bulky size doesn’t seem progressive when considering the current strong shape of competitors available. Add to this a poor battery life, limited buffer size for shooting RAW files and limited image quality at mid-high ISO and the NX100 falls short of the mark in a number of areas. A bit of a stop-gap, as the future of the NX-series could be potentially great, it's just this release feels like a step backwards.