Samsung NX100 'Hybrid' 14.6MP Camera (20-50mm Kit, 20mm Pancake, EVF, Flash, Firmware 1.01) Review
Six-months ago in my last Samsung related camera review; I looked at the interesting NX10 camera. This camera had no mirror box, which allowed the DSLR-like body to be smaller in depth than the competition. At the end of the review I came to the conclusion that while the video quality was not at the same level as the picture quality, I thought it was a solid first attempt by Samsung, even though they still had work to do in order to play catch up. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the NX100.
Fast forward and today I will look at the new Samsung NX100 ‘Hybrid’ 14.6MP Camera and share with you about this new approach to the DSLR/digital camera segment from Samsung. They are sure bringing out diverse and different looking products than the norm.
Although I don’t understand their naming convention, we’ll see if the NX100 is any different than the NX10 because the specifications and the way Samsung is marketing the NX100 as opposed to how they are marketing the NX10, don’t really paint a different picture aside from the size of the body. Is the NX100 the same exact camera as the NX10, but just in a different body? I’ll try to figure this out and see if this package is an attractive solution and which one did I like better personally speaking.
“For over 70 years, SAMSUNG has been dedicated to making a better world through diverse businesses that today span advanced technology, semiconductors, skyscraper and plant construction, petrochemicals, fashion, medicine, finance, hotels and more. Our flagship company, SAMSUNG Electronics, leads the global market in high-tech electronics manufacturing and digital media.
Samsung NX100 Product Overview
“Introducing the NX100, featuring the world’s first i-function lens, Samsung breakthrough technology that delivers you stunning photos in seconds. With a push of the i-function button, instantly adjust your settings such as aperture, speed, and exposure without having to look away from the lens. Small and compact, it also features 14.6 megapixels and Samsung’s APS-C sized CMOS sensor-which delivers the utmost image quality with rich, natural colour.
Its outstanding 3.0" AMOLED display provides outstanding true-to-life colour reproduction, and combined with its advanced easy-to-use features such as Fast & Precise Contrast AF and Smart Range, you can take your photography to a whole new level.”
Editors Note: Here we start to see one of the differentiating factors between the NX100 and NX10. Samsung has basically introduced a new feature (one button) on their lenses they call i-Function that will allow the consumer to change settings on the camera faster than a conventional digital camera where you would have to browse around the menu, find what you want to change, and execute that change.
Browsing around Samsung’s numerous regional sites regarding the NX100, I find it funny how the marketing people are using the i-Function feature (only offered on specific lenses) and relating it to as giving you stunning photos in return. Is that to say that if you do not have an i-Function capable lens that you will not receive stunning photos? Obviously not!
I don’t like when marketing people do these type of things. An i-Function lens is made no different than any normal lens offering. There is no change in the way the optics are made, no additional elements in the glass, no toughening of the lens body, the only difference is that you have a new button that allows you to achieve faster camera setting changes through rotating of the lens focus ring and not doing it within buttons on the camera body.
Samsung NX100 Product Features
The Samsung NX100 comes in a compact black corrugated box with an elegant white outer insert which holds the product photo on the front and product specifications at the back. It’s a sleek package throughout giving an upscale feel. The slogan that Samsung chose for the NX10 remains with the NX100; Why Capture? Create!
In Canada, you can find the Samsung NX100 20-55mm f/3.5-5.6mm kit retailing for around $600 Canadian dollars or you can purchase right now until January 1, 2011 for a competitive $399.99CDN price tag. Once you've purchased the NX100, here is what you will find in the box...
Editors Note: The Samsung NX100 utilizes the same exact battery model and charger that the NX10 uses, so in this respect both use the same hardware.
A difference between the two cameras is that the NX10 has OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) within the camera body, while the NX100 does not. Additionally the kit lens for the NX10 has lens OIS, whereas the 20-55mm kit lens for the NX100 does not have OIS within the lens. So with the NX100, you have no camera body OIS and no lens body OIS. This would make the NX10 better by default because it contains two OIS systems (in the camera body and the kit lens).
Samsung supplies the NX100 with a good bundle. Obviously to finish the package, you will have to invest in an SD card (NX100 is SDHC capable). The only thing missing from this NX100 is a micro HDMI to HDMI cable! Unlike Kodak who supplied a splendid bundle with the Zi8 HD Pocket Video Camera with an HDMI cable, Samsung does the opposite and should learn from Kodak in the future.
The NX100 uses a Lithium-Ion 7.4v, 1300mAh battery and not those regular AA batteries we've all used throughout the years and wasted. According to the CIPA Standard that estimates battery life at a specific temperature and procedure, it allows the camera to achieve a rating of 210min/420shots. The battery is slim and helps with decreasing the camera's footprint size.
The CIPA battery ratings for the NX100 are 10 minutes longer and 20 shots more than what the NX10 was rated for, with the same battery. I find this interesting because the NX100 does not have an optical viewfinder (unlike the NX10) and opts with an Electronic Viewfinder instead as an option. You will utilize the 3.0” AMOLED display 100% of the time for framing shots and browsing menus, so how the NX100 manages to increase battery life is surprising, oh yeah, you have no internal flash.
Samsung's marketing materials for the NX100 maintains the "Super large APS-C size Samsung CMOS Sensor" quote which I previously found funny in the NX10 review. This is very funny, at least to me, because technically the APS-C sensor is technically not the largest sensor out there. The largest sensor out there is the full-frame sensor (36mm x 24mm). But yes compared to the many point-and-shoot digital cameras out there, APS-C (23.4mm x 15.6mm) is much larger, more than three times larger! The sensors they have in those point-and-shot cameras (usually 7.2mm x 5.3mm) are tiny like a peanut! As a result from upgrading from a small peanut size sensor to one that is more than three times larger, you're guaranteed to have better detail and colors in pictures and video, without question.
Check out my other DSLR reviews for more information regarding sensor sizes.
Between the NX100 and NX10, the camera body size is the number one difference. Whereas the NX10 maintains the look of a DSLR and shrinks it down to a more compact size, the NX100 maintains the look and closely resembles that of a conventional digital camera. But the difference is that it’s a bit bigger and has the ability to interchange lenses.
Whereas the NX10 measures in at 123mm wide, 87mm height and only 39.8mm depth, the NX100 measures in at 120.5mm wide, 71mm height and 34.5mm making it similar in comparison but a bit less wide, much shorter and comes in thinner. As the NX100 closely resembles a conventional digital camera, the size is definitely much larger than one and the weight is much more as well. For those who have conventional point and shoot digital cameras, think of this one as one of the largest ones you’ll come across. The NX100 is not pocketable in pant pockets but it is possible to pocket one in a breast pocket, but it’s a tight and heavy fit even with the 20mm f/2.8 pancake lens.
For something that resembles a digital camera, the first time I held the NX100, I was taken back on the heft. It fits in the hand well but the balance of the camera is off. It’s not perfectly balanced because the lens is not centered. Because its not centered, once you hold the camera with your right hand, the camera tilts down toward the left if you don’t hold it steady enough or if your fingers get slippery over time. The camera has no rubber grips in any part of the body. No rubber grips for your right hand to grip onto, nothing. The whole camera body is smooth plastic. This is an obvious drawback because fingerprints can be seen off the black colored smooth plastic and over extended periods of usage, the camera becomes slippery. Not even the lens have rubber focus rings on them, rather plastic rings.
The camera body as a design looks fantastic. The looks are killer and it looks as upscale as you can get. However, Samsung may have focused too much on the aesthetics when they could have been focusing more on the functionality, construction strength and layout. The construction of the camera is good but not perfect. Gripping the camera at different levels of strength will emit noise coming from the construction of the camera through noises and creeks. Even using the main directional pads and its buttons, there are noises that shouldn’t be present, making it seem that its slotted in properly. This is the first time where I have experienced this level of hit and miss with a Samsung product. Not exactly the level of quality I’ve come to expect with Samsung.
Directly looking at the front of the NX100 we can see from left to right the AF assist lamp/self-timer. To the left we have the Samsung logo and to the right we see the lens mount and cover, and the lens removal button the lens release button on the right hand side. It’s notable to mention that the AF-assist lamp is unique in the sense that it illuminates with a green colored 'Hulk' type of light color, than the normal halogen yellowish type of color. It caught me off guard the first time I seen it in action.
Nothing is here except the camera strap eyelet.
We have the depth preview button that is labeled with the letter C. Next to this button is a plastic door cover which houses the USB port, shutter release port, DC-IN 9.0v port, and micro-HDMI port.
Left to right we find the accessory hot-shoe cover for external flash, microphone hole, 8-mode dial (Smart Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Lens Priority, SCENE and Movie mode), jog dial to change setting values and zoom in/out in playback mode, shutter release button and speaker hole. Right behind that is the power on/off switch.
The bottom of the camera from left to right contains: Battery chamber cover which houses battery and SDHC memory card compartments and the metal tripod mount, which is at the center of the lens.
The place where all the magic happens. Let's go clockwise from where the AMOLED is. We find the 3.0-inch AMOLED display, above the display lays the smart shoe connector cover where you can connect an electronic viewfinder, the AEL button, status LED indicator, exposure compensation button, Menu button, Fn button, multi-functional directional pad (up is AF/MF, down is ISO selection, left is self-timer and drive mode, right is White Balance), playback button and green delete button.
General Impressions - The 3.0" AMOLED Display
The Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode display that Samsung has invented and have chosen to place on the NX100 is like nothing I've seen before. It's absolutely beautiful.
The 3.0" AMOLED has specifications of being VGA (640x480) in size and having only 614,000-dot (PenTile) resolution. Looks like it has less resolution on paper, it actually doesn't because LCD and AMOLED is two different technologies. If you've read my HDTV reviews, you will know that LCD is a technology that has a light source behind the LCD screen, where it then blocks light to create an image. Well with AMOLED it is different. AMOLED is a technology that actually emits light rather than blocking it to create an image.
The result of AMOLED technology, according to Samsung, is increased contrast ratio, incredibly clear images, better color rendition, 3000 times faster response rate than compared to LCD, brighter, less power consumption, thinner and the ability to be viewed from any angle without color fade, and being able to viewed even in bright sunlight. I have to say from my experiences with the NX100, everything is true and the best part from this AMOLED screen from any other LCD screen out there is the ability to be used in sun. The AMOLED works significantly better outdoors than anything I've used in the past. It's super sharp too and doesn't even remotely look like 640x480 resolution. You can see all the fine details with AMOLED.
Using the AMOLED display for the first time was interesting because screens response time is so darn fast! It's like experiencing the 120Hz mode on an LCD HDTV versus the regular 60Hz. The NX100 AMOLED display looks like 120Hz in well lit conditions and only does slow down in poor lighting conditions (the NX10 was silky smooth in well and poor lit conditions).
The only downfall of this implementation on the NX100 is the difference at how the AMOLED display looks when in real-time versus under image review mode. The quality when reviewing photos you've taken is superb with no artifacts of any kind or grain of any kind, but when used in real-time photo taking circumstances, the AMOLED resolution quality is much less than its actual real resolution. You can see jaggies, artifacts, grain, etc.
General Impressions - Samsung 20-55mm f/3.5-5.6 i-Function Lens
Samsung with the release of the NX100 had to release a couple of different lenses in order to meet the NX100’s i-Function capability. The 20-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens is the kit lens which unfortunately does not contain Optical Image Stabilization (anti-shake), where the NX10’s kit lens does have this important feature. The NX100 camera body also does not have OIS within the camera body unlike the NX10. As a result, the NX100 has zero Optical Image Stabilization, whereas the NX10 has two different OIS methods. This is an important feature and is a drawback on the NX100 because it contains no anti-shake.
The Samsung 20-55mm is what you would call your 'walk-around' lens. This lens has 9 elements in 8 groups and is Aspherical in nature. The minimum focal distance is a close 0.28m and maximum magnification out of this lens is 0.22x. If you want accessories for this lens, look for 40.5mm sized filters. The weight of the lens is 119g and doesn’t make the camera front nose heavy because the body itself is already heavy.
If you remember with the NX10, that one included the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS lens and had 12 elements in 9 groups for its optics. This is a better lens than the 20-55mm, however, just a tad heavier.
The construction of the 20-55mm is of standard quality, meaning while not the best, it certainly is not worst in any way. It's made of plastic obviously but doesn't flex or creak in any weird way which is a good thing. The lens mount unfortunately is made of plastic so it won't inspire any confidence if in the event of a fall.
The side of the lens contains two buttons. One is the lock switch that allows you to pull back the lens fully in so it sits flush with the lens body. The second is the i-Function button which allows you to change various shooting parameters by use of the focus ring. Compared to a digital camera, i-Function does speed up the process. Compared to a real DSLR setup such as found in Nikons, i-Function is slower. In my old Nikon D50, you can hold a button and use the dial to change settings with the visual indicator being the top LCD display. Each button is mated to a specific setting and over time you can remember and it will become second nature.
The lens performance is average. Not the fastest but not the slowest. Sharpness is good but not excellent. Some softness in the edges but for the most part it’s a good performer. The motor on the other hand is noisy when auto-focusing. I would rather take the 18-55mm model because of OIS.
General Impressions - Samsung 20mm Pancake f/2.8 i-Function Lens
Samsung was nice enough to let me try out the 20mm Pancake lens for the Samsung NX series of cameras and I really like it. This is a prime lens meaning it’s a fixed focus lens with no zoom capability. It does not contain Optical Image Stabilization (anti-shake), but it’s a relatively quick f/2.8 lens which makes OIS useless and it doesn’t have the focal length to make OIS useful.
The Samsung 20mm Pancake has 6 elements in 4 groups and is Aspherical in nature. The minimum focal distance is a close 0.17m and maximum magnification out of this lens is 0.18x which means you can focus closer to the object than any of the other lenses in this review. If you want accessories for this lens, look for 43mm sized filters. The weight of the lens is only 89g and the lens mount is metal which is perfect.
The construction of the 20mm Pancake is of standard quality but being so thin in depth and having little to no extra buttons and rings on it makes it strong enough. It doesn't flex or creak in any weird way which is a good thing and the focus ring is free and easy to rotate.
The lens has only a single button, which is the i-Function button that allows you to change various shooting parameters by use of the focus ring.
I love the 20mm Pancake because it’s fast, simple and brilliant. The lens has very good sharpness, great bokeh, less distortion and it gives a natural color balance to photos. Some lenses give a cooler white balance but I like mine a little warm. The only problem is the price. This can go for $399CDN and you’re only getting f/2.8 in return. At least for this amount of money you should be getting f/2.0 or f/1.8. And here again we can see a compromise of the Samsung lens lineup, there are not that many to choose from.
General Impressions – EVF10 Electronic View Finder
Samsung was nice enough to let me try out the Electronic View Finder for the NX100.
With the NX100, you don’t really need to purchase the EVF because you have that great 3.0” AMOLED display at your disposal. The AMOLED works in sunlight as well so I’m not sure why you would want to spend $200CDN and use an EVF which is a step back in every regard.
I never like EVF’s and this is no different. The EVF10 from Samsung gives 0.83x of magnification, 98% coverage on the NX100 and 17mm of eye relief. Using the EVF is like looking through an old VHS based camcorder. The resolution is like a bad webcam and you can see every little pixel. And the size is too small for me that I have to try to squint and fit my eye inside so that I can see. I cannot do with an EVF.
How it performs
Let me first off say that the NX100 is eerily to the NX10. The same AMOLED display, the same CMOS APS-C sensor, the same startup feel, the same Samsung shutdown logo, the same menu layout, the same shutter sound, the same menu sound, just about everything with the NX100 is identical to the NX10. So if you want to see how the NX100 performs, read my NX10 review under this same heading. The firmware on the NX100 is 1.01 and the lens firmware being tested is the 1.00. Both are latest firmware updates.
I had some issues with the Samsung NX100 and you can see it below in the video section. The problem I experienced was during playback navigation of my photos in a organized format, the NX100 showed corruption. The photos either turned all green or all pink with horizontal artifacts, but once viewed the photos full size, the problem disappeared. Once back in organizational mode, the problem reappears. This may have been caused due to incompatibility between SD cards, so just beware. The problem doesn’t happen with some other cards.
It's clearly evident when paired with the Pancake 20mm and 20-55mm that the NX100 performs like no point-and-shoot digital camera. It has auto-focusing speed that mimics DSLR cameras and that is great to see. I prefer to use the Pancake 20mm f/2.8.
The internal focusing motor on the lens is quiet and non intrusive. All you hear is a very faint motor whine when focusing.
General Impressions – GN15 Flash
There is no internal flash unit on the Samsung NX100, thus you have to shell out extra money in order to have an external flash unit that performs identical to an internal flash unit. The guide number is a little bit powerful than the NX10 (15 versus 11 for the NX10 internal flash).
There is no way to have the flash positioned any differently. No way to rotate, no way to utilize bounce flash, the GN15 flash unit is just a fixed position direct flash.
Here we see another compromise you will make when purchasing the Samsung NX100 system. You must purchase an internal flash whereas with all others, you get it by default. I’m not sure I’m willing to pay up to $200CDN for a small flash with a guide number of only 15. That’s stretching it for me; I can’t give any justifications for why anyone would do this.
The Samsung NX100 with its APS-C sensor trumps any point-and-shoot digital camera out there by providing image quality detail that is very good. I was surprised at how easily you could distinguish details captured in the photos. Images coming from the NX100 are generally sharp and have nice natural saturation. There are times when you need to play around with exposure compensation though.
Samsung has always had problems with its noise algorithms in regards to ISO speed and while the problem is still present with the NX100, it has gotten better. This is mostly due to the size of the APS-C sensor as it helps reduce noise in photos. ISO 100 and 200 looks clean for the most part and offers the best noise and image quality detail. ISO 400 is where you see some noise but for the most part the image is still clean. ISO 800 is where noise starts to creep up but it is still very much useable but the detail from ISO 1600 is manageable. There is ISO 6400 on the NX100 and I do not recommend using it unless there is no other way to grab the photo as a thumbnail.
One negative that needs fixing is the way the camera chooses the white balance. The camera likes to go for a cooler cast of white balance. A way to fix this is by manually selecting the WB you need. The Auto ISO problem still remains. Sometimes the camera chooses an ISO speed that is note quite quick enough and the photo becomes blurry because of the camera shake, something OIS would have definitely helped with.
I noticed in certain bright situations with the Pancake 20mm, that the camera did experience shutter lag for some odd reason. When shooting an object in a bright setting, you press the shutter release button and a second later it would execute the shot. Not sure what the problem was but it does happen.
Please read my Samsung NX10 review for full analysis of the picture quality and video quality portion of the review because these two cameras have turned out to be almost identical. You still have interlacing issues with horizontal or vertical lines within video recording and you also still have rolling shutter issues with the NX100. The same things I experienced with the NX10, I experienced with the NX100.
Video quality on the Samsung NX100 and Samsung NX10 comes no where close to what one can achieve with the Kodak Zi8 HD Pocket Video Camera. The Kodak will run circles around the NX100 and NX10 all day long and have their video quality down pat. Incidentally Kodak is the opposite of Samsung because they have to most improve their picture quality because that is an area where the Zi8 struggles massively.
If I thought at the conclusion of my Samsung NX10 review that it was a hit and a miss, and was not a complete package just yet, how could I like the NX100 more? There wouldn’t be any logic in that.
I feel the Samsung NX100 is like the Samsung NX10 but in a smaller body. Problem is that they had issues getting it down to that smaller body and had to make compromises with construction, no internal flash unit, no optical image stabilization of any kind, and they haven’t really improved on their video quality. I can’t help it feel that this was a rushed product and really serves no purpose in the Samsung digital camera lineup. I don’t know what they are trying to achieve, maybe they wanted to make a DSLR transition product. The naming convention doesn’t help either because it should be the reverse. This digital camera like body should be called the NX10, the DSLR-like body version should be called the NX100.
At the end of the day, I’m not sure how I can justify purchasing the NX100 because it does become pricey. It’s not exactly inexpensive either. If we are to use the regular price of $599CDN at Best Buy Canada and add at least $200 for an external flash and maybe a lens down the road, I’m not sure if I could do that when you can get considerably better DSLR systems for the same price. If you buy it on sale for $399CDN, then that's a different story and would be much more attractive.
If we’re comparing both Samsung NX100 and NX10, I would still go for the NX10 over the NX100.