Re-visiting a camera after a firmware update. A new lease on life for my Samsung NX30?

(Disclosure: I've been given the Samsung NX30 and the 16-50mm lens discussed in this review by the manufacturer to evaluate. I am not bound by agreement or contract to write reviews or content on my blog about the camera or lens. Samsung has hired me in the past to demonstrate their cameras. I am not currently being paid by Samsung for any consideration, demonstration, etc.)

I am using the Samsung NX30 as an example in this article because my experience with the bounties of firmware upgrades was just reinforced by the enhanced usability a recent firmware upgrade brought to my use of this camera. A camera I had mixed feelings about until....yesterday.

The Samsung NX30 is a very decent camera for its price point. The camera's shutter and AF are quick and I find the sensor to be at least equal to the APS-C sensors in current Nikon and Canon cameras. The Sony and Toshiba sensors in the Nikons might be a tad better in low light but certainly not by any huge margin. Where the camera always fell down for me was in the implementation of the EVF.

You see, the sensor that tells your camera when you've brought it up to your eye was...stupid. You really had to cram your eye into the eyepiece to block out enough ambient light and there always seemed to be a long gap between that action and the camera actually grudgingly switching over to show you a live image in the EVF.

The regular workaround for this particular issue in just about every other brand of camera that uses an EVF is to allow you to manually choose whether you wanted to use the EVF, or the LCD screen on the back of the camera, or stick with the automatic switching. Adamant about using the EVF? No problem, just set the menu control to make the camera always default to the eyepiece. But the initial menu of the NX30 didn't give you that choice. Your choice on the camera was to decide between the rear LCD screen or the fully automatic setting. There was no option to lock into the EVF. A big oversight.

With this limitation the camera was only really useful to me in the studio while what I really wanted to use it for was walking around in the street making Kirk-Art. Grabbing quick images from the rich parade of everyday life. Or something like that. Shooting in the Summer, in the streets of Austin, is different than shooting in the cloudy, northern climes. We have hours and hours of brilliant, intense sunshine and really, no ambient light facing, exposed, flat screen is any match for that kind of mid-day candle power.

I tried using a big loupe but at that point I might as well be using a hulking, full frame camera. I tried mashing the camera to my eye with gusto but all that accomplished was to give me a big ass headache with gusto. I used the camera less and less even though I really liked and wanted to make pretty images with the Samsung 85mm 1.4 lens. I got a copy of that lens earlier this year (again, as a test optic, for free) and I am pretty captivated with its overall performance. It's a nice bokeh machine. But I didn't feel like the camera was reliable enough to switch viewing modalities for me when needed.

A secondary point was the fact that the brightness of the screen was at odds with what I ended up seeing, after the fact, on my pretty, new, calibrated 27 inch monitor back in the office.  Since we live in a time of too much plenty I pretty much gave up and started using cameras from makers who'd figured out these two parameters. Until this week.

I was made aware that there was a new firmware update available for the Samsung camera so I charged up the battery and did the file upload shuffle. Once I updated it I noticed that the EVF and the rear monitor track more closely. It's still not perfect but now the color and tonal preview through the EVF is quite usable. But there was no mention in the update notes about a menu change in the view/monitor selections. I stumbled across that yesterday. Now you can select to lock in either to the rear monitor OR to the EVF or you can default to letting the camera auto select.  I almost jumped out of my seat. But then I would have spilled my glass of sangria.

All at once the camera had value to me again as a street shooting tool and general art camera. I tried out the "new" system with the 85mm and smiled. Then I decided to take the white, 16-50mm f3.5 to 5.6 OIS zoom lens Samsung sent along with the white NX3000 body and see just how well it worked on the NX 30. I'd tested the lens before and found it to be much sharper and nicer than the original kit lens (and better than the Nikon and Sony kit lenses I've played with)  and it also gives one a bit of extra wide angle coverage; now 24mm instead of the typical 28mm equivalent.

The camera and lens are now a highly functional picture taking duo and I'm finding working with the two to be very enjoyable. This gives me great hope for the upcoming release of the new Samsung NX1 camera body. The view menu is, perhaps, the first thing I'll look at in the new camera... Well, actually I'll check out the resolution and time lag of the EVF first...

Now, none of this should be construed as a new review of the NX30. It's not a camera that will persuade higher end system jumping (although the NX1 might be, if it lives up to expectations) rather I'm writing this to encourage everyone to keep up with firmware updates in every system. On all the cameras in which  you might have an interest. Sometimes a few mid course corrections on an initially flawed camera can have the overall effect of turning around your perspective by materially enhancing the holistic shooting experience of a camera and lens.

I can now shoot the Nikon D7100 and get distortion correction with the 18-140mm Nikon lens, thanks to a firmware update. And believe me, as much as I like most of the things that lens does, it definitely needed the in camera geometry corrections.  The EM-5 seems to have been cured of its "shutter shock" with a recent programming enhancement. And it seems as though the EM-1 is ready to move up to firmware 2.0 with a raft of usability enhancements. All good news.

So now I can use my NX30 at eye level all the time. The function button on the side of the lens allows me to toggle through WB, ISO, Ex. Comp, Aperture and Shutter Speed quickly and easily without having to consult the rear screen. An amazing difference for a dedicated EVF photographer like myself.

Fun when your gear gets better on its own.

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