Samsung's NX refresh introduces welcome innovations but also sees some expectations missed
See a gallery of Samsung product images for the new NX20, NX210 and NX1000
A selection of NX mount lenses
Just last week I upgraded my mobile phone to a Samsung Galaxy Note. As phones go, it's a remarkable product featuring amazing Samsung technology, much of it the same Samsung tech that has propelled Samsung into the No.1 position for smartphones globally. Two years ago I met with Samsung to discuss the strategy behind their NX mirrorless interchangeable lens compact system cameras and the message was clear - NX would become a tour de force demonstration of what Samsung's in-house capabilities in sensor design and manufacturing, electronics and optics could achieve. I was even told that there was no need for Schneider Kreuznach branding seen on our high end compact cameras because that's it's distraction from Samsung's in-house excellence. In other words, NX was to be a flagship icon of the Samsung brand. Expectations were duly raised.
I'm not sure that Samsung followed-up with that hype. The NX11 and NX100 that followed were fine cameras but they didn't set the world alight because their rivals at Sony, Panasonic, Olympus and, latterly, Nikon, were doing more exciting things with their CSCs. Samsung has steadily built up the NX lens range but until the NX200 arrived in the second half of last year the choice of NX bodies was thin and outdated. In contrast to its rivals Samsung has not, to the best of my knowledge, promoted NX through TV ads in the UK. It was almost as if NX was not yet ready for that level of accolade. And did Samsung really know where it wanted to go with NX? The NX200 was a completely different take on the compact body offered by the rather stylish NX100. Metal replaced plastic and the more solid body was much more traditional, almost retro, in style compared to the nature-inspired futuristic NX100 design. I was also very surprised that the NX200 didn't have any provision for an optional electronic viewfinder.
But now we have not only the new NX200 but the range-topping NX11 replacement for the many that prefer an integrated viewfinder - the NX20, plus the entry-level NX1000. Three new cameras in one batch is evidence, surely, that Samsung wants to step up a gear or two and really push NX at last.
The NX20 is the overdue replacement for the NX11
So let's have a look at the NX20 first. Like all three of the new NX models, wireless networking is standard - and a huge congratulations should be paid to Samsung for this. Wireless networking is now ubiquitous and, back to smartphones, is standard on such devices these days, so why not so even a modest percentage of new cameras? With all three NX models you can save your photos to your choice of wireless image storage and post your shots to social network sites like Facebook with the convenience we have come to expect with smartphones. Samsung pioneered wifi in its compact cameras. Meanwhile, Nikon trumpeted wifi connectivity for its new D3200 entry-level DSLR, but the wifi module is an optional extra and is limited in function. Other manufacturers don't even offer a wifi option at all.
Meanwhile, another hurrah for Samsung in endowing the NX20 with a top shutter speed of 1/8000th, the only CSC model to date that can go this fast, which is great news if you want to freeze action and/or use fast lenses in bright conditions. The NX20 is also the first NX model to sport an articulating screen; packed with more Samsung AMOLED technology too. It would have been even better if Samsung had used the example of some of its own compact camera models and some of its key rivals to feature a touch screen. Again playing catch up with some rivals the NX20 (and indeed the NX210 and the NX1000) is now blessed with a digital level function. The electronic viewfinder is also improved with a 1.44 megadot resolution. That's not as good as Sony's superb 2.5 megadot EVF, but on a par with everyone else. Samsung has also taken a lot of care over the industrial design of the NX20; it is curved in subtle areas and exudes refinement in design that eludes other cameras.
Once again, like the other two new NX models, the NX20 gets the same 20 megapixel Samsung CMOS APS-C sensor we first saw in the NX200 last year. It's a very good performer, so I was slightly surprised that Samsung didn't see fit to allow the user to exceed ISO 12,800.
The NX20 may be a replacement for the old NX11, but in reality it is a much more sophisticated beast and bears a price tag to match. At the time of writing you could buy an NX11 body for under £200 while the NX20, with kit zoom lens, is priced £899.
Just a few months after the NX200 comes the NX210
Externally, there is not much difference to between the existing NX200 and the NX210. The same sharp-edged solid metal body inspires a sense of quality and sturdiness, although it's a more conservative design than the old NX100. There are few changes to the imaging specification. Sequential shooting is slightly faster and that is about it. But, as with all three new models, built-in WiFi is the biggest draw. There is still no sign of an Olympus/Panasonic/Sony style accessory port and that means there is no option for an external viewfinder, which is surely a weakness that will deter older photographers whose eyesight is better served by an EVF. But the NX200 and 210 do have superb AMOLED screens, but once again we have to ask why they aren't touch-enabled.
The best value of the new trio looks to be the NX1000. At £599 with the 20-50mm (30-75mm equivalent) kit lens you can save £150 compared to the NX210 and yet you still get WiFi connectivity and the same 20 megapixel sensor and imaging system. Yes, the body is polycarbonate plastic instead of metal, making it feel less expensive, and the monitor screen is an LCD instead of AMOLED, but with VGA resolution (921K dots) most people will be very happy with this.
I'm still left feeling that Samsung hasn't yet got the NX vehicle into top gear. The range is now arguably the strongest it has ever been, but critics can point out that Samsung's rivals, in certain areas, have been more ambitious with features and specifications. Samsung has told me it wants to be the de facto leader in the compact system camera sector. It's not there yet. But I am sure Samsung has the capability to deliver that ambition; just look at where Samsung has taken its TV and smartphone businesses.
To round off, here is a pictorial tour of the new NX range. Click on a thumbnail to view a larger image in a separate window: