Thanks to the rather sedate pace of sensor development by Micro Four Thirds-backers Olympus and Panasonic, for a while it looked like interchangeable-lens cameras (ILCs) would be refreshingly free of excessive megapixelation. But manufacturers using APS-C-size sensors seem determined to undermine every advantage the larger sensor confers by packing them with increasing numbers of photo sites. Sony's latest Alpha NEX model delivered its 24-megapixel sensor, and now Samsung offers up a 20-megapixel sensor in its new NX200. (What I find interesting is that the companies driving the increasing resolution are all camera companies who also make sensors--Canon, Sony, and Samsung.)
Thankfully, there's more to the NX200 than just a lot of pixels. I had a chance to shoot with a preproduction version, along with a bunch of the new lenses, and liked it quite a bit. For one, it's much better than the NX100; it's smaller, yet conversely more comfortable to grip, and more solidly built. Samsung has also redesigned its i-Function lenses, and the new 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens, while slow as all the other kit lenses, operates much more smoothly and feels better constructed than its predecessor's 20-50mm model. It's not nearly as compact, though, which puts it at a slight disadvantage compared with, say, Panasonic's new Lumix X series collapsible lens. (I forgot to take photos of the lenses. D'oh!)
For those unfamiliar with Samsung's i-Function system, it consists of a button on the lens, which invokes shooting settings, such as ISO sensitivity or shutter speed, which you then change using the manual-focus ring. The system works well, and it feels much like shooting with the Canon PowerShot S95 or Olympus XZ-1. It distinguishes the NX cameras from the other ILCs in a way that adds to the shooting experience rather than detracts from it.
If you choose to go the traditional route, Samsung introduces a new (for it) Smart Panel interactive control panel interface that you pull up with the function button. It's easy to use, but I found myself missing the type of customization control that Panasonic's cameras offer over the interface, as well as the capability to save custom settings. You can program a raw override (as well as which options appear on the i-Function ring), but that's just not as much as I'd like.
The camera supports manual exposure controls during movie recording, though I was unable to get that to work. This is usually an interface issue, and without the documentation I find a lot of these cameras to be not obvious in this respect.
As for image quality, I was pleasantly surprised. There were no significant artifacts that I could spot at low ISO sensitivities except for some muddiness in out-of-focus areas that you see a lot in point-and-shoots. And I'm guessing that for midrange sensitivities--ISO 400 through ISO 1600--it would probably gain some latitude by shooting raw (I didn't have any raw processing software) and possibly from some tweaks to the firmware before shipping. Beyond that, I don't think there's much chance for improvement; but that's typical for this class of camera.
In daylight, though, the color accuracy looked quite good, the metering and exposure were generally both consistent and appropriate, and the sensor handled bright, saturated colors without blowing out detail. I didn't get a chance to really analyze the dynamic range in general or play with the settings that affect it.
The one aspect I hope Samsung can fix before shipping is the performance. Shooting speed is fine, though not (yet?) up to the level of the current generation of Olympus and Panasonic models. For the most part, the camera didn't get in my way or make me crazy, except when I accidentally set it to burst raw+JPEG. (You don't want to do that. Trust me.) But the autofocus with several of the lenses spent way too much time hunting, and at times couldn't lock. And sometimes it simply wouldn't try.
Furthermore, while the LCD is bright and contrasty, and doesn't wash out in sunlight, it's very reflective. Occasionally, all I could see were the stripes of my shirt. At moments like that I wished it had an articulated, or at least tiltable, display. And I think people will really miss the option to add an EVF; dropping the connector is the one potentially big boo-boo the company made when updating from the NX100.
Which brings us to the competition. Here's my view of where it stands:
|Olympus E-P3||Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3||Samsung NX100||Samsung NX200||Sony Alpha NEX-5N|
|Sensor (effective resolution)||12.3-megapixel Live MOS||16-megapixel Live MOS||14.6-megapixel CMOS||20.3-megapixel CMOS||16.1-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS|
|17.3mm x 13mm||17.3 x 13.0mm||23.4mm x 15.6mm||23.5mm x 15.7mm||23.5mm x 15.6mm|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 200 - ISO 12,800||ISO 100 - ISO 6400||ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded)||ISO 100 - ISO 12,800||ISO 100 - ISO 25,600|
|Continuous shooting||3.0 fps
unlimited (LN) JPEG/17 raw
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
10 JPEG/ 3 raw
11 JPEG/9 raw
unlimited 10 JPEG/6 raw
(10fps with fixed exposure)
magnification/ effective magnification
1.4 million dots
|Optional plug-in EVF
(98 percent coverage)
|Autofocus||35-area contrast AF||23-area contrast AF||15-point contrast AF||15-point contrast AF||25-area contrast AF|
|Shutter speed||60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/4000 FP sync||60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 2 minutes||30-1/4000 sec.; bulb to 8 minutes||30-1/4000 sec.; bulb to 4 minutes||30-1/4000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync|
|Metering||324 area||144 zone||247 segment||221 segment||1200 zone|
|Flash||Yes||Yes||No||Included optional||Included optional|
|Image stabilization||Sensor shift||Optical||Optical||Optical||Optical|
|Video||1080/60i AVCHD @ 20, 17Mbps; 720/60p @ 13Mbps||AVCHD 1080/60i/50i @ 17 Mbps; 720/60p/50p @ 17 Mbps or Motion JPEG QuickTime MOV||720/30p H.264 MPEG-4||1080/30p H.264 MPEG-4||AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080/30p @ 12Mbps|
|Audio||Stereo; mic input||Stereo||Mono||Stereo||Stereo; mic input|
|LCD size||3-inch fixed OLED
|3 inches articulated
|3-inch fixed AMOLED
|3-inch fixed AMOLED
|Battery life (CIPA rating)||330 shots||250 shots||420 shots||330 shots||430 shots|
|Dimensions (inches, WHD)||4.8 x 2.7 x 1.4||4.5 x 3.3 x 1.8||4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4||4.6 x 2.5 x 1.4||4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6|
|Body operating weight (ounces)||13.0||13.4||12.2||9 (est)||9 (est)|
|Mfr. Price||n/a||$599.99 (body only)||n/a||n/a||$599.99 (body only)|
|$899.99 (with 14-42mm lens)||$699.99 (with 14-42mm lens)||$549.99 (est, with 20-50mm i-Function lens)||$899.99 (with 18-55mm i-Function lens)||$699.99 (with 18-55mm lens)|
|$899.99 (with 17mm f2.8 lens)||n/a||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|Ship date||August 2011||June 2011||October 2010||September 2011||September 2011|
At $900, it's facing the E-P3, which has a few advantages, including class-leading performance, an optional EVF, and a much larger pool of lenses to choose from. More important, though, is that in the end it might not be sufficiently better/smaller than less-expensive options like the NEX-5N or DMC-G3. Or, as I said about the E-P3, you might want to just pay a couple hundred more and get the X100 for the photo quality--or possibly the NEX-7 for the features, depending upon what those photos look like.
Samsung's making some strides in ramping up its lens selection, with a few more announced today (look at my photo samples for examples of shots taken with some of them). They're all i-Function models and cover a range of budget and quality needs. (I don't have pricing.)
- 16mm f2.4, 7-blade aperture, 7.1 inches closest focus, available September. A decent, though not outstanding, pancake prime that's about as good as similar consumer-oriented primes available for Micro Four Thirds and E-mount. Hopefully, it's inexpensive.
- 60mm F2.8 Macro ED OIS SSA, 7-blade aperture, 7.4 inches closest focus, available September. I really liked this lens; it's bright and sharp, though I didn't run any distortion tests on it. At 13.7 ounces it's heavy, but feels very well made. I wish it focused more closely, though.
- 85mm f1.4 ED SSA, 9-bladed aperture, 32.3 inches closest focus, available October. I didn't get to try this one, but it sounds interesting--and expensive. Note that it doesn't have image stabilization. Plus it weighs a pound and a half.
- 18-200mm f3.5-6.3 ED OIS, 7-blade aperture, 19.7 inches closest focus, available now. A standard all-purpose consumer zoom lens, I believe it will cost $799.
Check back after the camera has shipped for a more conclusive opinion about this increasingly confusing crowd.