8.10.2013

The Samsung NX300. A review.

Samsung NX 300. With a really good kit lens. Sony Nex 5 killer? Yep.

I have to start out with a paragraph of disclosures. It's the only honest way to approach this review. Here we go: Samsung was off my radar until some time in the late Spring of this year. They never seemed to jump over the wall of marketing awareness and imprint on my consumer consciousness. I'd written a lot about mirrorless cameras over the last three years. I've shot extensively with the Sony Nex system and I was an early adopter of the Olympus Pen system and I've reviewed those systems too frequently to list. But a person at Samsung's U.S. public relations agency had previously worked with me during several other camera launches and he reached out to me with an offer.  He/Samsung would send me their new NX300 camera, with the kit lens and battery, if I would agree (loosely and non-bindingly) to shoot with it and post four or five images a week to their Facebook site or send the images along to the PR agency to share on the client's NX300 page. I was curious so I decided to bite. Worse case scenario? At the end of a few months I'd have a camera I could pass along to a niece or nephew and I would have gained some experience with a new camera company's product.

Added info:

I thought I should introduce the NX 300 for people who haven't read previews elsewhere.
The camera is a mirror less, interchangeable lens system which builds on previous Samsung NX models. It features a 20 megapixel sensor that incorporates AF points on the sensor to increase speed during contrast detection AF. The camera does not accept an EVF. It has a good range of settings in the movie mode. It accepts all Samsung NX lenses. It has built in wi-fi. It features a touch sensitive screen. For the rest of the specs you might want to check out the preview at DPreivew.com. The camera, with kit lens, sells for around $700.

When I first received the camera I had both positive and negative feelings. I really liked the design of the camera. It sits well in my medium sized hands and all the buttons seem to be where I would want them to be if I thought about designing a camera. I was impressed with the PR agency that they thought to include an extra battery. That's a great idea. All the mirrorless cameras really need two batteries to get through a day of shooting with someone who's got a heavy shutter finger. Another point in favor of the whole package was the fact that the camera had an easy to master menu. You can go deeper when you need to but most of the operating basics are right there on top and a quick learn.

At the same time there were some negatives with the camera and the package. For years I've been talking about the need for eye level viewfinders and this is a camera that lacks an eye level view finder or the facility to add one on. If there is one mis-step in the marketing of the camera to older shooter this is it. I don't consider a built-in EVF a "must have" but it sure would have made sense to continue what Samsung had done with previous models and add a port on the back of the camera so that real photographers could plug an EVF into the hotshoe and regain a sure purchase on their technique when shooting in situations like full sun.

The second misstep is totally a marketing one. Every camera should have a separate battery charger as part of their basic packaging. It should be there in the box. If you have two batteries and no external charger your camera must be tethered to electricity to charge either battery. You can't shoot and charge simultaneously. Tragic oversight. Corrected with a quick trip to Amazon.com and the expenditure of $34 on a Wasabi Power charger and extra batteries.

As per most mirrorless compact cameras the battery and the SD cards both 
go right in the bottom of the camera. Notice that the tripod socket is centered with 
the lens and far enough away from the battery and card door so you'd 
probably be able to change out either without having to remove the camera from 
a tripod? That's nice for studio users. It's nice for all of us who use tripods.


When I pulled the camera from the box and attached the zoom lens I found a control on the side of the lens called, "i-function." It's a button you can push that toggles through some of the basic controls like exposure compensation, ISO settings, white balance and digital zoom. It's a quick and easy way to access these routinely changed menu items.

The screen on the back of the camera is big and fairly high resolution and the hot shoe is a conventional one. It allows me to use standard flash triggers and standard hot shoe flashes. The screen on the back is slightly larger than 3 inches and it while it doesn't swivel to the sides or flip around so the narcissistic can peer at themselves from the front of the camera it will flip out into a waist level like position or downward by about 45 degrees for an over head, "Hail Mary" shooting stance. The screen is bright and  clear under normal circumstances but there's no way any screen is going to win a fight with the sun or high levels of ambient light.

The menus are rational and well laid out.
The screen is viewable in everything except bright sunlight and very high
ambient light.

The screen will flip up for waist level viewing or cantilever down 45 degrees
for "hail Mary" over the head viewing. And the touch screen works well.


Since I had already committed to using the camera I decided to work around the lack of an EVF and I plunged into the drawers of the equipment cabinets and found a Hoodman Cinema Style loupe that just covers the entire screen. Wow. What a difference that makes. With the loupe in place your view is on par with a good EVF. And I like the stability the hold, with the loupe pressed against my eye, offers.

The marketers of the camera seem to think that the functional built-in wi-fi is a major selling point of the camera. Here's the drill: Download an app from Samsung for your iOS or Android phone and set it up in your phone. Turn on the phone and then enable wi-fi on your camera (there's even a pictogram on the mode dial just for wi-fi). Set up the camera to send the images automatically to your phone and then you will be able to stream images from your phone to your network. I imagine that a news photographer would find this kind of quick access priceless but if you are shooting big files or raw files you may find it less so. In use, with my phone in the same room a full sized, high quality jpeg took between 8 and 12 seconds to upload. That's a long time for someone like me who might shoot a thousand images in a day, in the studio.

But I did find a good use for the wi-fi capability. I did a job on location for a client who could not be on site with me. The job involved setting up a big (Elinchrom Ranger) strobe pack and matching ambient light. We also were using models. It was great to get set up and take a test shot and then upload it to the art director back in her office while we were in the field without tethering a camera to a laptop and all that entails. The art director was able to give us nearly instant feedback on the first test shot. Then we shot until I got what I liked and we moved on to the next set up. It took the guess work out of the equation for the art director and that increased her comfort level without making me jump through too many technical hoops----and that's always a good thing for me. Would I personally accept or reject a camera based on its available wi0fi capabilities? Probably not. In either direction. But if it's there I generally like to at least know how to use it. It was much easier to implement than the wi-fi on my Sony Nex-6. There is even a dedicated button on the top of the camera called, "direct link" that allows you to send the image you are currently reviewing quickly. It's really well implemented; even for an iPhone user like me.

Since I brought up the Sony Nex-6 there  is one direct comparison I would like to make. The Samsung camera comes with a lens that has familiar focal lengths and apertures. The kit lens I received is the 18-55mm OIS (image stabilized) lens that goes from f3.5 to f5.6. It has one switch on the side for AF on or off and the iFunction button that I mentioned above. It comes with the standard petal shaped hood and a nice lens cap. It is much bigger in volume than the Sony equivalent. In directly comparing the performance of the two lenses the Samsung is the absolute, clear winner at every focal length and at every aperture setting. It is sharper, the camera does a better correction for geometric distortion, the lens is contrastier and it has much less of a tendency for flare. I found myself wishing I could put this lens in a Nex 7 instead of the one Sony provides.  The Sony looks good because it "seems" to be a more rugged, metal finish but the bulk of the Samsung lens feels good and the markings on the lens barrel are easier to see.

While the lens seems large for the camera it's well balanced and someone took the time
to match the lens to the sensor in a good way. It's very sharp at all the focal lengths.
Much better than the average kit lens. I can recommend this one.
Also, nice big lens hood.

Notice the nicely designed right hand grip. The big "bump" and the textured leatherette 
combine to create a good gripping surface. I like the body style. I wish it had a matching EVF....

Two controls on the lens.
The top one is the iFunction button that you can set up to toggle through
popular menu choices such as white balance, exposure compensation and
more.  The second switch is a manual focus / auto focus switch. 
Sometimes I quickly switched to manual for tricky focus and 
was happy to find the focus peaking automatically engaged.


I wondered about the rest of the line of lenses and a couple weeks after accepting the camera I was delighted when Samsung sent me the much faster 30mm f2. It's a superb lens. It's sharp even wide open and it's relatively small. Kind of a fat "pancake" lens but it is half the length of the kit zoom. If all the lenses are as good, relatively, as these two I would have to say that Samsung is putting their optical money in the right place. Of course, it's smart to only have one real line of interchangeable lens cameras so that the company doesn't have to spend money on creating multiple lens lines for different formatted cameras with different lens to flange distances.

All of this would be meaningless if the performance of the chip wasn't competitive but it is. I've been shooting mostly in the large, highest quality jpeg setting and the 20 megapixel, APS-C sensor is really good. We can set up low light battles and rattle on about performance at 3200 but I prefer to talk about the performance in the sweet spot (for nearly all cameras) of ISO 100 to ISO 800.

When I compare the Jpeg engines between my Sony Nex cameras and the Samsung NX 300 camera I see a few big differences. In the first place the files from the NX300 seem (and are) sharper right out of the camera at the default settings. For the most part I blame the Sony kit lens but I've also seen this with some of the other Sony lenses as well. Since the Nex 7 ostensibly has a higher resolution sensor I can only think that there's a difference in the chip designs and the way they interface with the lenses that makes a difference. I wish I had two of the Sigma 30mm lenses. One for the Sony Nex cameras and one for the Samsung camera so I could do a meaningful and direct comparison but I don't. I can only depend on what I see when I make comparisons on a big monitor at 100% and in those circumstances the 30mm Samsung f2 lens at f5.6 provides a higher level of detail than the Sigma 30mm on the Nex cameras.

Samsung has also chosen what I think is a more professional approach to contrast and saturation in their standard parameter set. The files are flatter than the Sony's and less saturated. At first blush this makes the Sony files seem to have more pop and sparkle. But the proof is in the processing. The files from the NX300 seem less brittle in post production because it's easy to add just the right amount of contrast to preserve both highlights and shadows (the Sony files tend to block shadows more quickly) which give the appearance of having a wider dynamic range even though DXO measurements seem to say that the cameras in question are nearly equal.

In the realm of saturation the lower saturation of the NX300 makes it easier for me to find a correct setting for flesh tones in the images I do of people. The less saturated each channel is the less chance for anomalies in one channel to influence the color performance of the other two channels. Again, in post processing the slightly lower saturation gives me more control over my image and results in less information being thrown away.

Finally, the NX 300 does a good job with low light, high ISO files. They tend to be clean and manageable at 3200 and teetering on the edge at 6400 but they do maintain their sharpness and their inherent saturation. I'd judge the ISO performance to be on par with one of my favorites, the Sony Nex 6.

Operating the camera.  This took a bit of learning and technique changing on my part. I'm so used to composing in an eye piece that I still pull the camera up to my face when I turn it on and it takes my brain a click or two to register that I don't have an eyecup, only a flat, naked screen to compose on. If I keep my reading glasses handy I can do just about anything indoors with the set up but the Achille's heel for me is operating the camera outdoors. Some of you may have magical powers or new, bionic eyes that allow you to create contrast on a screen where there is none. But for me the screen, like just about any other LCD or LED screen on the market is not professionally usable in direct sunlight or in high ambient light. It's just not.  Remember when everyone tried to tether their laptops to their cameras and shoot outdoors? An instant market cropped up for little black tents that would surround the screens and allow tethered shooters to exclude enough light to see the screens clearly. No one could see the screens in high ambient light. And no one in the world could effectively judge color or contrast without blocking out the light. I think, in fact, that this is where the company, Hoodman, got their start in the photo market in the first place. On movie sets all the screens are covered with hoods to reduce glare and reflection on the screens so that people can actually see what they are getting. (Side note: Someone would make a fortune adapting a hood for cellphones. Once a cellphone user tried one on the beach or in downtown Austin they would never go back to shooting screen naked. 

So, in evaluating the camera I could see that I would have to make some sort of adaptation to continue. I use the Hoodman Loupe with the attachment cords (micro-bungees) in order to secure the loupe to the back of the camera. Once I do that I have a wonderful viewing experience but it changes the whole outline and design of the camera. It's bulkier and you now know that you have something awkward swinging at the end of that camera strap.

But, with a bit of practice you have the equivalent of what we used to have in the Hasselblad days, a good camera with prism finder or excluding waist level finder with which to do your eye-work. For me it works well. The Loupe has a diopter adjustment that makes my screen appear very sharp and detailed and while bulky the Loupe weighs next to nothing. A landscape or building photographer would find nothing at all strange about the set up. A view camera operator would rejoice at how quick and easy the operation of the NX300+ loupe is compared to the heat and fussiness of the traditional dark cloth.

When I go out to shoot in the street I set up the camera with the loupe and I set the controls like this: parameter: standard. All DR (HDR or dynamic range implements ) off. Aperture priority mode. ISO = 100 or the lowest commensurate with the prevailing conditions. In daylight I've started leaving the white balance to daylight (the little sun icon) so I can see some differences between the different times of the day and some richness in colors in the late afternoons. I use the large, super fine jpeg setting.

The top of the camera is pretty straightforward.
A mode dial which includes an "i" setting for information
and a "wi-fi" setting for quick set up.

See the little round black control next to the mode dial? That's a most useful dial as you can zoom with it when viewing files or use it to change exposure compensation or aperture in various modes.
Too bad it's the least positive feeling dial on the camera and the one that feels most plastic.
It does it's job...but not glamorously.


I find the matrix metering does a great job and the single point, S-AF does a great job hitting focus on objects and people 99% of the time.

Occasionally I use the manual focus setting and I'm happy to report that the camera offers focus peaking and automatic enlargement of the subject for critical focusing. That's a good thing. I think every mirrorless camera should have a standard focus peaking feature.

On the street the camera is quick, dependable and looks non-threatening enough to make taking candids of strangers pretty easy and non-confrontational. It's also easy to carry.

Samsung made a choice to include IS in their lenses instead of their camera bodies and that's fine as long as you buy lenses with the feature built-in. I don't have an adapter to use legacy lenses so the lack of in-body IS hasn't slowed me down yet. I like in-body IS just because there will always be lenses in a product line that don't have that feature and it's become obvious to me that the only way to enjoy coffee, aging and steady images is with good image stabilization...

When I used the Olympus EP-3 one of the first things I did was to turn off the touch screen. But interestingly, and maybe because the interface is so logical and simple for me, I've found that the combination of the touch screen and the function button is a fast and convenient way to change major shooting parameters on the fly. I keep it on, mostly. I turn it off if I'm not shooting a lot and have the camera hanging against my torso on a hot and sticky day. Then, the capacitance becomes too alluring for the camera and it starts to click and whir its way to new settings that I really don't want. After walking a while the other day I found the camera had jostled its way into turning on the wi-fi feature which sucks up battery juice more quickly. I turned off the touch screen until I was in the mood to shoot again.

Oh Boy!!! A real, standard hot shoe. I'll use that...everyday.
Hey Sony! Are you listening to everyone's feedback on 
your new Martian interface shoe?

Also, note the full HD logo.
They actually mean it.

I mentioned that the camera has a regular, conventional hotshoe (no doubt the pin configuration is proprietary to Pentax and Samsung cameras) and it's nice that the camera comes with a small flash (tiny) flash which draws power from the camera battery. I used the camera for studio shoot and for a moment I was perplexed that the flash trigger wouldn't fire until I remembered that I had the shutter speed set for 1/250th of a second and the fastest sync speed is 1/160th of a second. My bad. But after my experiences with both Sony's ultra-proprietary Minolta derived hot shoe and their inelegant iteration into a flash foot that sucks for conventional slave receivers it was nice to be able to use the Samsung's shoe for whatever I wanted, without modifications or adapters. Yay.

Video.  I rarely really get into video reviews when I talk about cameras. Most people don't care. I don't usually care----unless the camera's video is good enough to use for projects. And it needn't be the primary camera on a project; sometimes it's nice to have a number of "b-roll" cameras at one's disposal to get wide angle shots of a set up from different angles. I got curious about the video in this camera because I'd been carrying it around for quick snaps and I've been getting more and more interested in the art of using video in a snapshot mode.

The camera offers a wide range of choices for shooting formats. It will give you 1920 by 1080 in 60p and 30p. It will give you a stretched format 1920 by 810 at 24p, it will also give you 720 at 60 and 30p as well as smaller sizes that are set up for sharing. I shot a longish program of video clips about Austin over 100 degrees and ended up with 25 or 3o minutes of 1920 by 1080 60P ACVHD content. I brought it into Final Cut Pro X and transcoded it to 24fps ProRes and put together a small, three minute video. I was impressed by how well the camera handled full sunlight lighting extremes. It seem to open up shadows and keep highlights from blowing without much effort. And the software seem to keep trying to balance things to keep the camera's shutter speed around 1/125th while keeping apertures in the middle area. The sweet spots. I had the ISO set to Auto and the cameras seemed to favor staying as close to ISO 100 as possible.

The handheld footage looked okay and I didn't see a lot of artifacting or shimmer.

Granted, this is a $699 camera package, with the lens included, but I think they would have been smart, given how much thought they put into formats, built in slow and fast mode settings, and whatnot, if they had included a microphone plug for external microphones. I get that this is a consumer camera and most people will never, every pop a microphone into the mix but I sure would have loved one. In fact, I would have enjoyed seeing how the whole package would handle a casual interview with a lavalier mic pinned to the talent's shirt. You don't even need to give me level controls if you give me the input. I'll take care of the rest.

Interestingly, there is a microphone in the Samsung catalog, that fits into the hot shoe of the camera to provide a higher quality experience. It uses the pins in the hot shoe for information transfer. The coolest thing about the microphone is the plug on the side that allows you to add headphones to check your sound. That's smart. Now, if I can only figure out how to get that microphone out of the hotshot and keep it connected to the camera......

I am hoping that the new Android NX camera that is coming out in the first few weeks of September has a dedicated microphone plug and a dedicated headphone jack, along with a way to control sound levels. That would be a great thing. That would make the NX Galaxy Big Ass camera a great tool for shooting video. You would already have a 4.8 inch monitor on the back for composition, an EVF for shooting in direct sun and the means to do a significant amount of quick editing in the camera. It would be a big win.

As is the NX300 makes a very good b-roll camera for semi-pro and pro use and a good, basic video camera for everyday family use. The color and sharpness of the images is very good and the menus are much clearer and more obvious than competitors. There's no confusion on use. You set up the format you are interested in, put the camera into the mode you want (including full manual) and you push the red movie button to stop and start. Nice.

The camera uses SD cards which are now almost free for anything 16 gigs and under. Use class 10 or faster if you want to do much video.

The camera batteries are great. No question. When I shot in the studio last week I got nearly a thousand shots on one battery, and that was with ample chimping and sharing. With two batteries I am pretty well assured of being able to shoot for a full day and still come home with some charge left. Some people report getting far fewer images per battery but I would remind them that batteries have to be well trained to deliver the best results. That means you need to do three or four full charge cycles to get the most efficiency over the life of the batteries. The method is to charge all the way up and then run the battery all the way down (hopefully by going out and shooting with it).  If you are in a hurry try making some movies where the camera is always on and expending juice. Once you do that three or four times you'll be in battery heaven.

The camera has a burst mode of up to eight frames per second but don't confuse it with a sports camera because, while the focus is quick and accurate for a contrast detection AF camera, it's not nearly fast enough to lock on to fast moving action and it's not really going to track that action well if you lock onto it in the first place. Good for a mirrorless camera but even a Canon Rebel will out focus it when it comes to fast moving subject. I don't shoot a lot of sports so I don't care. It focused on everything I wanted it to and I never got into a situation where it would not lock on.

I'm happy I had the chance to try the camera. One or two changes and Samsung has the opportunity to dominate the mirrorless market. They need to add an EVF to the NX 300's next iteration. It's a must have for serious work no matter what the tattoo'ed boys in the silly hats tell you. Samsung needs to put a microphone plug on every camera they make going forward. The future is some mix of stills and video and we might as well have the tools to do both correctly. Or as correctly as we reasonably can, given the price range.

I must state that I like the curved style of the camera and find it, aesthetically, quite pleasant. A couple of times when I was feeling nostalgic I set the zoom lens to a little past 35mm (right at what I computed to be 50mm equivalent on a full frame camera) stuck a Leica 50mm bright line finder in the hot shoe and used the camera the way God must have intended. It was nice. And if I gave up worrying about whether or not the focus was going to work I could walk around shooting with happy abandon.

All in all it's a nice shooting camera with really great files.
If it had an EVF ...... but that may not matter to you.

My overall appraisal? A great file maker. A nicely designed camera. A shooter's camera in desperate search for an EVF (if you are an eagle sighted hipster you can ignore that...).

Here is my list of the pros and cons from my subjective point of view:

Pros: 

1. The camera shoots fast and starts up fast. It can do 8 fps for a about 10 frames and then it slows down.

2. The design is really appealing to me but your tastes may differ. In the best of all possible worlds I would get mine in brown leather but with a black lacquer finish. That would be cute and cuddly.

3. The 20 megapixel sensor is all most photographers really need. Even professional photographers. The sensor is very high resolution and the color is very pleasing. Be aware that it's not necessarily "consumer color", it's a bit more subdued and of lower contrast and saturation. If you need more
resolution than this in a small camera you're doing something I'm not.

4.  The batteries, once properly conditioned, deliver a lot of frames per charge. I average 550 over the course of several days. In one bout of all day shooting I was able to get to 1,000 frames on one battery. That's darn good.

5. The movie mode is well done and works in any of the camera shooting modes. The color is nice, the frames are sharp and there's not much artifacting to speak of.

6. Both the lenses I've had are top notch. I shot an entire advertising project with the kit lens and the veteran art director to whom it was delivered was quite satisfied.

7. The wi-fi is well implemented and easy to set up.

Cons: 

1. I'm sounding like a broken record but a camera aimed (as this one is) toward serious hobbyists should have an EVF. The back screen works well indoors but even the most agoraphobic of us head out into the sunlight from time to time and the back screens none of the cameras in the market are a match for old sol.

2. I think the top mounted dial should have been made thicker and its action made to feel more secure and substantial. Nothing wrong with the way it feels but a few bucks more might have made it "feel" better in use.

3.  If you are going to offer me a full on movie mode with high res file settings I think, even in this price range, that you should give me a microphone input. You could actually do some serious filming with one of these and it's unnecessarily hampered by the lack of an external microphone socket. Yes, there is a microphone you can stick in the hot shoe but that's the film making equivalent of using direct flash on camera. Not very elegant and not the kind of sound quality people would like to have. One little stereo input, please.

4. My only real gripe with the camera for the asking price is the lack of a battery charger that will let you charge the battery outside of the camera. I love to travel and shoot in the streets. If I shoot a lot in one day I don't want to have to "park" my camera in order to recharge my batteries. I'm pretty sure chargers are dirt cheap. The convenience of a stand alone charger is priceless.

So, where do I come down on the camera?

If I were in the market for serious interchangeable lens compact camera and I didn't need or want an EVF I would say that this camera is the front runner in the market and handily beats the Nex 5n in a number of regards. The body is easier to handle. The sensor is at least as good and I like the way they designed the color and saturation better.

Both have fast AF for small cameras. Both have bigger sensors than the Olympus m4:3 offerings.

If you want/need wi-fi then this is the best current implementation in the class. I hear that there are some announcements coming up in Sept. the IFA show that may supply more competition in the wi-fi space but as of now those are rumors and the NX 300's performance is fact.

When I compare the NX 300 to the new Olympus EP-5 directly, with no EVF, I still have to go with the NX 300 because of the bigger sensor. When you add in the fact that the EP-5 IS available with a finder then, if budget is no constraint, the calculus changes in favor of the Olympus. The Olympus current wins in two other regards: A state of the art, in body image stabilization capability and a wider range of very good lenses.  Of course it's hardly fair to compare the cameras in that situation because, fully tricked out the EP-5 body and finder is roughly twice the cost of the Samsung body and lens.

Right now the perception in the market is that Samsung is the upstart wannabe in the market, trying to take some market share from the micro four thirds and Sony Nex offerings but I'm thinking that we're about to see Samsung emerge as a primary player in a four way competition with Nikon, Canon and Sony and it's going to push the smaller players into smaller and smaller sales numbers.

While we grizzled, old timers who still remember loading film into holders complain about every new added feature set I think we are in a shrinking minority. I'll conjecture that in the world market there is strong demand for instant image transmission and more integration of computers and cameras. There is an allure for even me to the idea of being able to send images quickly, when necessary (and profitable) and I think this is an area in which Samsung has a head start on everyone else.

But before I get accused of fanboy-ism and what not let me also say that no part of the market is a stationary target and no one company has a lock on anything for long (except Leica with their lock on exceptional optical performance...). I know that several camera makers have announcements coming up at the IFA show in Berlin in September and the PhotoPlus show in New York in October and I think it will shape up into an exciting competition....just in time for the year end holiday season.

My final take? I think we can make good images with just about anything on the market today. Some are easier to work with and some are harder. All are more than we need for most of the stuff we shoot.
To underscore that thought, when I finished with the bulk of this review I took a break to go visit my friends at Precision Camera. They have a great used department. And there, on the shelves, was a yellow and black Pentax K-01. It looked so cute. I had to have it. They made me a deal I could not resist. I have paid more for a bottle of wine (in the heydays of commercial photography) than I did for this minty little camera that looks like a toy. Why did I buy it?  It shoots squares....

One more thing I found out. The people at Precision Camera did their homework, looked into their crystal ball and decided that connectivity would be a big deal for the tech forward customers and the younger crowd. They have become a Samsung dealer and will be stocking the cooler Galaxy stuff. Nice. Local.

One more disclosure. The people at Samsung have given me this NX 300 camera. It's not a loaner. I tried to be as honest as imaginable in this review. Understand that I have receive a product of value from them and, while there was no implied, stated or even hinted coercion to write this review human nature is complex. Try one for yourself before you buy. Don't rely exclusively on my words. And remember, I like a lot of different cameras. Each has something fun to recommend it.

A quick gallery of NX 300 images....click on them to see them bigger....













Studio Portrait Lighting



















in other news: Belinda and I finished working on, The Lisbon Portfolio. The photo/action novel I started back in 2002. I humbly think it is the perfect Summer vacation read. And the perfect, "oh crap, I have to fly across the country" read. It's in a Kindle version right now at Amazon. The Lisbon Portfolio. Action. Adventure. Photography.  See how our hero, Henry White, blows up a Range Rover with a Leica rangefinder.....


Remember, you can download the free Kindle Reader app for just about any table or OS out there....


35 comments:

Ron Nabity said...

Great review. It's exciting to see more options becoming available, if needed.

Using wi-fi to send a proof photo to a remote client - that sounds very useful.

Re: the on-camera mic: can you use a flash extension cord to get that microphone away from the camera?

Kirk Tuck said...

Ron, not at all sure about a flash extension cord for that. My suspicion is that any cord available will only be pinned for the flash...

Richard Leacock said...

Thanks for the review and all the work that went into Kirk. Always good to have an informative and candid opinion (pros and cons included). Have to second you on the comment about the lack of exterior mic input. Bad, bad, bad...If you have no need for an exterior mic, don't feel you have to use it (the same sentiment that reared its ugly head when video ability was put into an dslr). If it is included into the camera then you use it for better sound. Sound and motion go hand in hand for quality film/video.
Also your comment on the less "juiced up jpgs" making for more amiable editing is bang on, especially for portraits/people. Add flavour to taste ; )

Cheers

sixblockseast said...

Kirk, It's nice to feel vindicated for my leap of faith into the NX system by one of the foremost blogging photographers (you, that is). About one and a half years ago I decided to shun the "big three" and go all-in with a used Samsung NX 10 (which I believe was the first APS-C mirrorless camera ever). At some point I got worried that Samsung might abandon the line in which case I would be left with 3 NX lenses (18-55mm, 30mm, and 50-200mm) and an aging camera that is perfect (for me) in its ergonomics and handling, but whose great image quality does not extend beyond ISO 400. The lack of focus-peaking is the one other minus. So it makes me really happy to see that Samsung are continuing to develop the NX line, with apparently great improvements to the sensor. I skipped on upgrading to the NX 20 because it seemed to have too many shortcomings but the NX 300 looks much better. I'm really hoping that the coming of the Galaxy NX does not mean that there won't be, at some point in the not too far future, a new NX model that has an EVF but does not run on Android. While I like the connectivity aspect of the Galaxy NX, I really don't want to have to change aperture, shutter, and all other settings on a touch screen. Call me old-school :)

Ibarionex Perello said...

Excellent evaluation, Kirk. I would love to see an external battery charger as well. I shoot often enough that I don't want to have to be concerned with down time with the camera. I love the shot of the woman in the pool. Awesome shot. Where you using the zoom lens for that or the 30mm. I think the former.

Claire said...

Great review Kirk, well detailed and sounds fair enough. I can't, however, shake the "assignment" feeling, like doing your part of the contract (which you admitted to from the get-go). I also feel fondness for the camera for your review, but a definite lack of the passion that has been your trademark in some previous reviews (your first weeks with NEX, for instance). Like the NX300 is the nice girl that your parents introduced you too and who's a decent, reasonable and cute partner, but has none of the crazy stupid wild appeal one might want in a relationship. Like the camera pleases you but doesn't take your breath away (and dare I say it shows in the work you've done with it : solid, reasonable and technically very potent, but no flash of the genius that you've so often shown before). That's fine, too. Not all relationships have to be passionate, and the milder ones sometimes (often) live longer. However, when I get buying into a camera system I do need some real excitement, some spark and wild enthusiasm. Despite all its flaws, shortcomings and frustrations, I still find that with the NEX (and your initial review of the 7 was what comforted me in getting one in the first place). I did look very closely at the NX300 when it first came out, but couldn't muster any lust..

Peter F. said...

This is great since there are so few reviews on Samsungs. Sounds like you enjoyed yourself with this camera! Re the EVF, would the slr-like NX20 fit the bill for you? I went to the "camera size" website and compared the two and they seemed pretty close in size (NX20 v. NX300) Or, are you thinking a rangefinder style EVF like the NEX6 is what is needed? Thanks.

Peter F.

Wally said...

I have been watching samsung with interest and they seemed to start with lenses having what looks like a good lineup of well designed glass. They add features to their bodies in a very short time reacting to the market with lightning speed. It also helps that the parent company can eat any Japanese company alive before lunch time and cares little about the fortunes of the competitors, unlike the Japanese camera makers. I suspect they have to up their game in terms of marketing and service at least here in the USA. Agree about the need for an internal viewfinder, dedicated audio mic, and ISO hot shoe. Now if they got Phottix or Pocket wizards to come out with a variation of wireless RF flash controller.....

Michael Matthews said...

It was interesting to watch your posted results with the Samsung evolve with use.

My response changed as well, from 'Why would anyone want it?' to 'Damn, that's fine!'

The major tipping point came with the courthouse columns and architectural detail above them. Portraits evolved, too. By the time you got the the 16 X 9 series it looked (on a computer screen) as if there could never be a reason to buy anything more expensive.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Ibarionex, the image of Amy in the pool was done with the kit lens. Thanks for the compliment.

Kirk Tuck said...

Claire, don't get me wrong. I think the camera is very good and it has personality, which is always important to me. If my review seems reserved it's because I was given one for free and I wanted to make sure that I said only what I really feel about the camera instead of feeling either a sense of obligation to my readers to be either too critical or not critical enough.

My only agreement with the people who represent Samsung was to post a few images. There was no talk or inference of any quid pro quo to write a review. I wrote the review because I've spent a lot of time with the camera this Summer and Samsung's entry into the market will make for very interesting waves in the whole market going forward.

I still own and use the Nex cameras as well. And the Alpha cameras. And the Kodak cameras and now a Pentax camera.....and so on.

Kirk Tuck said...

Once the sensors and the lenses got really good the traditional form factor of cameras really ceased to make much of a difference. I was thinking about that in the pool this morning. Are the days of the big Nikon D4's and Canon 1dx cameras over? Will they only be produced in tiny quantities for an even tinier market that shoots at hockey games and at the Olympics? And what, exactly, is the allure of "birds in flight"?

Andre said...

Impressive. Gorgeous camera design IMHO. The lack of the EVF is indeed an oversight by Samsung. But I must admit that I am really, really attracted to this camera. I did some asking around and by all accounts the (other) Samsung glass is also of excellent quality.

Call me crazy, but some of my best pictures were made with a small Samsung camera a few years ago. Unfortunately it was eventually stolen. Technically was nothing special (and worth literally nothing now with only 5mp) but that old Samsung was -in good light- capable of some superb results.

I see the same with this one: only this camera is technically light years ahead of what I used in the past. And I just love the design. And those lenses are SO tasty. Sigh - I feel a GAS attack coming up...

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the wonder world of Pentax. Be aware that the little K 01 is compatible with every single K-mount lens that Pentax has produced since 1975, roughly 214 models in 20 million samples…but alas, no viewfinder either.

Tom Judd said...

I also thought of a flash extension cord for the mike. Your local dealer probably has one you could try. The pinout, from what I could see in the photo, looks pretty standard. Any cord with that pinout should work. The cord doesn't matter - what you plug into the end does.

JX said...

I just bought this camera myself, and perhaps for all the wrong reasons. In my opinion image quality is quite satisfying regardless of brand or type of camera these days (at least for mye use). What I wanted was a camera with better follow focus than my previous camera (I'm not a sports shooter, but I have kids...). I also wanted a camera with simple and easy connectivity to my mobile phone -- I mainly like to share photos online with friends and family, and do the touching stuff up with Snapseed.

I could have done all this with my mobile of course, but there I only have a fixed lens choice. So when I found that the NX300 checked both boxes, I purchased the kit with the 20-50mm and the 50-200mm lenses. So far I've found the kit lenses to be quite good. A very reasonable price too. The bonus is that it all is compact and light enough to fit into a very small camera bag.

What was very unexpected was that I actually enjoy using the touch screen very much. Who knows -- in a couple of years, implemented correctly and with the correct haptic feedback, perhaps we'll work our mirrorless cameras solely trough screen interfaces?

tecnoworld said...

As a long time NX user I'm very happy that finally the system is getting some attention. Probably Samsung should have started to send out free samples before.

I own nx100, 200 and 300. They are all very good, but the 300 really shines and is, imo, better than any other mirrorless camera and of most aps-c dslr cameras.

The IQ is here to be seen and, if needed, one can look at DxO scores.

The hybrid AF is simply class leading: the NX300 just placed 6th in a AF tracking test on a German Magazine, ahed of DSLR cameras like K5-II and D7100, much ahed of NEX6 and behind small sensor cameras like Nikon 1 V2 or pro DSLR like D4, 1Dx, 7D and about on par with smaller m4/3 sensored G6.

Jpg engine is great and Raw files are even better, with a great deal of DR to be recovered with the enclosed free LR4.

The NX lenses are then gorgeous pieces of glass. Many primes: three class leading pancakes, 16mm, 20mm and 30mm (soon to follow the smallest fisheye lens, at 10mm), a small 45mm f1.8 and two gorgeous lenses like the 60mm macro 1:1 OIS and the 85mm f1.4. Some average/good zooms, like the compact 20-50 and the OIS enabled 18-55, 50-200 and 18-200. What we are still lacking is a fast zoom and a 135mm f2 lens.

So is the nx300 a perfect camera? Almost, but yet there are some things to implement/improve. I really hope Samsung is reading this, or Kirk, please report to your contact, since this is a powerful advice for the marketing division.

1) Much bigger buffer for raw files. This could possibly be done via firmware update, like it was for NX200. The NX300 can only keep 5 Raw shots in continuous shooting, which is ridiculously low for such a high end camera. Please Samsung work on this.

2) Focus peaking during video. Many cameras can do this, eg the new GX7. I'm totally sure this can be done via fw update, so please fix this.

3) Selectable magnifiying point in manual focus mode. Again this can be done in fw. At present only the central spot is magnified, while other cameras (eg again the incoming gx7) can select whatever point in the image. At that point, focus peaking + magnification could become a killer feature and a big selling point for nx300.

4) there seems to be some nr applied in iso 1600 to 3200 even when nr is off. Please investigate on this and let the users decide. Also, allow disabling NR in bulb mode.

OK, those issues could be solved via FW and I hope they'll be soon. Again, please report these to a samsung contact if you can. Now on with the big request for NX30:

Please samsung, PLEASE, make a rangefinder style camera ala GX7 or ala Fuji, or more simply ala NX300, with a VERY GOOD, class leading EVF in the top left corner. Many ppl never liked the mini DSLR look of NX5/10/20, myself included. When I say a good EVF, I mean: very high resolution, amoled, NOT sequential, possibly tiltable like GX7.

Last but not least, if you could implement IBIS in the NX30, that could be the killer camera.

Craig Yuill said...

Well, I'm one of those people who likes to photograph birds. I am quite happy when I get good shots of static or slow-moving birds. I am really happy when I can get a clear, well-focused, well-composed shot of a bird in flight. Why is there an allure to birds-in-flight photography? I think much of it has to do with the challenge of getting successful photos of an uncontrollable subject that is prone to flight (in multiple ways). In some ways I guess it is like hunting, except it is nonlethal and involves using a lens rather than a firearm with a long barrel.

Craig said...

Kirk,

If Samsung is serious about the NX300 and the feedback from the photographers they chose as part of this program you are participating in, how about suggesting the following to them: make an adapter that slides into the hotshoe that has a stereo mic input jack on the side, and a second female hotshoe on the top so you could use both the external mike and a radio trigger or on-camera flash at the same time?

They could easily build one of these, charge $25-$35 USD, and sell a fair number of them. It would be an actual accessory that people would want, vs. the lousy joke that Sony put out to quiet all the users of their non-standard (Minolta-style) flashes such as the FLV-58 in their newer bodies.

James Weekes said...

Great review. I feel like I could pick the Samsung up and shoot. I have a Samsung phone and TV and they are both well made and extremely.

I agree with you 100% about the lack of an EVF being a downer. I am firmly wedded to M4/3 and very happy. I have, due to Tuck's syndrome and a lack of a local camera store as good as Precision, a large collection of bodies, a G2, G3,GX1 (a pair),OM-D and my first, a GF3. The GF3 is the only one I can't put an EVF on. It is almost always the least liked of the Lumixes (Lumices?) I always bring it when we travel due to it's size. It has the 12mp sensor and is disliked because it is tilted towards the P&S shooter moving up to M4/3. What I can't explain is why, when I return from a trip more than 50% of the "winners" come out of that little rascal. I only use it when I want to travel light, but it turns out good shots time after time. I must relax when I use it.

Jorge Arturo said...

Mr. Tuck, thank you for the extensive and honest review, I really like this camera, I'm a sony shooter but I have to say I've been really atracted to the samsung nx line, was really close to buy the nx20 instead of my a77, but the a77 was available (good or bad thing, mmm don't know), then a few days later there she was, a brown samsung nx300 with the 18-55, brown bag and extra battery and charger, too bad I've already spent the money on the a77 (plus a very good deal on the a77), but always had the curiosity of the quality and performance and you completely gave me that answer with your post and with your pictures. What still keeps me away from this line of cameras is the new nx galaxy, for me it really doesn't fit because of the "all screen" back and mostly no buttons, but let's see what samsung will give us later, maybe I'll change my mind. Thanks again.

Dave said...

Always something to think about! Wish I could say how valuable your reviews are in a world awash in fanboy forum warriors & people who write about cameras but couldn't photograph a brick wall.... oh snap.. wait that's exactly what they DO photograph :)

Thanks Kirk! A well thought out review.

Harry Coel said...

Awesome post! imaginary pictures that distinguish the beauty of the Samsung NX300.It shows the most efficient graphic design and best product display. Thanks for sharing with us

Andrew said...

It's almost perfect camera, but how come Samsung overlooked Dropbox sharing option with this "connected" camera. Dropbox is supported in every recent Samsung phone, how come this superb wifi cam doesn't support dropbox?! Mr. Kirk, please ask Samsung guys to implement Dropbox sharing with next firmware upgrade :)

Kirk Tuck said...

Andrew, I'm not sure but I'll ask. I know that DropBox is being supported on the new Galaxy NX camera so I can't imagine that it wouldn't be supported here...

Anonymous said...

Aye, I'm with you on that. Seems like Samsung heard everyone gripe about no EVF, so they put one on the Galaxy NX, but now they lost the buttons. The touch screen operation is just a little too finicky by the very nature of touch screens to change settings quickly enough for me. Also, I think it looked like using Android negatively impacted start up time for the Galaxy NX vs. the NX300 (based on what I could see in a review video though, so I'm not sure if my impression is accurate) though I'm not sure if that can be reduced in future implementations or not (probably Java's fault, lol). Yeah, I would have gone with the NX20, but I wanted the sensor improvements on the NX300 and the lack of EVF isn't an issue for me, though it would be for my parents, so that's what is holding me back from getting them an NX camera. That is NX20, lacks new sensor, NX300 lacks EVF, Galaxy NX lacks clicky buttons. Maybe we'll see a true successor to the NX20 eventually. Also it's not a deal breaker, but I would like to see a few more features make it to the firmware, like multiple exposures and focus stacking. Can always be done later in software though. Finally, does anyone know if anyone has compiled the firmware (it was released as open source) and more importantly, has anyone been able to make any meaningful modifications to it?

Anonymous said...

A lot of people suggest the NX20 when people complain about the lack of viewfinder on the NX300, the reason at least for me, to not go with the NX20 is because it has a different sensor. Yes, they are both the same number of megapixels, but the new sensor uses contrast and phase detection, so it focuses better than the old one. I'm not sure if the new sensor is also improved in other ways or not, it would require taking a pretty detailed look.

Anonymous said...

On that topic, the NX mount has an adapter that lets it use any K-mount lens, though without autofocus, still is tempting for me. In particular the 40 mm limited pancake would be nice, though the adapter adds some size, so I'm not quite sure what the final size is.

Anonymous said...

Yep, I think the lack of real button on the Galaxy is a serious mistake, hopefully their next camera will be more camera focused. Kind of weird that they picked up on the evf for it but didn't think the lack of buttons would bother people.

Anonymous said...

I would really like to know how much can be changed (without reverse engineering) in the firmware they released. I think it would be really awesome if they could get a community of developers attracted to the NX line like the groups that work on CHDK and Magic Lantern. Then Samsung wouldn't need to be the ones being pestered to death with feature requests. Of course the CHDK and Magic Lantern folks had to reverse engineer it all without help, so supporting developers could be another way for Samsung to stand out in the market. Probably won't happen though, one can dream... Also might be cool to be able to use the NX300 was a live webcam.

tem00 said...

Regarding the charger: I like having the option of doing this in camera. I can get an external charger cheaply, but if the camera doesn't already have this ability you are always stuck to the external. Many times I just shoot a modest amount of frames a day, travel light, and enjoy topping off my camera battery charge with my cell phone microUSB car charger. If they included a charger would be nice, but I prefer the in camera option if given a choice.

Jet Tilton said...

I know this is an older post from you, but I recently was able to snag a Best Buy Open Box for $320! Granted it is white, but for the price, it will work....
Still taking some getting used to and it works because of the tilting LCD screen.....and you forgot to mention: IT SHOOTS IN SQUARES.....

danny said...

Thank you for the comment Kirk, awesome. I just bought this camera - still waiting to for the delivery. Once I got this, i will do a comparison review on this little beast (samsung nx300) with the new sony a6000. I think that would be an interesting story. Their suggested list price is about the same, but in the market now, especially the used ones you could get the samsung nx300 for half the price of sony a6000.

i agree about your input regarding the microphone input, I am also wondering if there is a hotshoe in the market that has mic input. that would be awesome.

migueltejadaflores said...

Hey, Kirk -

First, a great and beautifully written review. I read it some time ago, just re-read it and it's fun to read your writing and see your mind at work in the interstices between the words and the lines.

Second, two questions both about this camera, and Samsungs in general. The first is - I recently read a 'rumor' that Samsung is actively developing a monochromatic version of this camera - an NX300 Monochrom if you will. For some bizarre reason they apparently are using the adjective 'Achromatic' (which doesn't mean 'monochrome' at all, sigh...) to describe it. Supposedly it may be released next year. Sort of a much-lower-priced alternative to Leica's legendary (and legendarily costly) Monochrom. Have you heard anything about this camera? Do you think they can pull it off?

Second question - like you, I find it hard to contemplate buying or using cameras with no EVA. I recently violated that rule purchasing a minuscule and dirt-cheap Canon EOS-M with its tiny (and razor-sharp) 22mm pancake lens - and in spite of the bad press it's received, it has a cool and very usable touchscreen menu - and remarkable IQ. It's become my pocketable camera of choice right now. And for an EVF I mounted an ancient Canon OVF atop it, not a satisfactory solution. But coming back to EVF's - Canon has basically another version of the NX300 in a DSLR-style body - either the NX20 or NX30 - which has a usable EVF in spite of its antiquated and clunky old-school styling. Do you think the NX20 with its EVF would be a more usable alternative than the EVF-less NX300? Obviously this is a subjective and personal question, but I'm curious.

Thank you again for writing such readable stuff.

Miguel

Kirk Tuck said...

Miguel, Achromatic would mean "without color" so they can't be that far off on the name. Would I trust them to pull something like that off in a usable way. No.

Do I think you should buy an EVF-less camera? No. That being said the imaging sensor in the NX300 is much better than the one in the 20.

I'd wait and look at the NX-1. Generations ahead.