The NX300 debuted at CES at the start of the year, but it’s only now that the finished product is ready to ship. It sits at the very top of Samsung’s compact system camera (CSC) line-up, with a new 20.3-megapixel APS-C sensor, and marks the first time Samsung has used a fold-out screen on a CSC.
Bright and easy to use in direct sunlight, this 3.3in AMOLED display is a real winner. As well as being articulated – allowing you to tilt it up by 90 degrees and down by 45 degrees for hip-held or overhead shots – it’s also touch-sensitive. The menus are elegant and easily prodded, but, if you prefer hardware controls, the most important features are accessible via the buttons.
Physically, the NX300 sits at the chunkier end of the scale, despite lacking an integrated EVF. You can downsize the 18-55mm kit lens for a shorter 20-50mm version (30.8-77mm equivalent) and save a few bucks in the process, but you’ll still have to accommodate a body that’s almost as wide as an entry-level DSLR. It’s easy to forgive this, though, since the space is well used with that large screen around the back.
We performed our tests using the 18-55mm lens. This demonstrated slight focal fall-off towards the corners, and obvious barrel distortion on the raw files, which was corrected for in JPEGs. There was slight evidence of chromatic aberration along contrasting edges and fine lines, but had no trouble with complex detail, keeping areas of dense texture – such as marsh grass and lichen-encrusted wood – sharp across the frame.
Maximum aperture runs to f/3.5 and f/5.6 at wide-angle and telephoto respectively, and while experienced photographers are likely to stick with aperture priority mode to alter depth of field, Samsung provides another option. The NX300’s fantastically intuitive Lens Priority option lets novice users achieve the same effect with a quick twist of the lens ring or swipe of the screen, without having to learn that wider apertures are used to throw backgrounds out of focus, for example.
The NX300 also offers a few unusual scene modes, for cityscapes, streaking headlights and blurred water. Like Lens Priority, these put amateurs and pros on equal footing when it comes to shooting tricky subjects: pros are more likely to dial in the settings; other users can use the shortcuts.
The NX300 is a much faster camera than its predecessors, with combined phase detection and contrast autofocus locking on in 0.08 seconds, with no discernible hunting in good light. It’s far faster than the Canon EOS M, which felt ponderous in comparison. Burst mode delivers 8.6fps in JPEG mode, and the maximum shutter speed is 1/6000 second.
For handheld shots, sensitivity stretches to ISO 25600, with compensation of three stops in either direction in 1/3EV increments. Low-light performance is good, with grain holding off as far as ISO 800, and remaining light even up to ISO 3200. We’d have no hesitation pushing it towards the upper end of the scale to cope with low-light conditions, rather than slowing the shutter or attaching the bundled external flash. Image quality is second to none, with accurate colours, superb detail and an almost complete absence of compression artefacts on JPEGs.
The NX300 shoots 1080p video footage at up to 60fps. You can set the footage to fade in and out at the start and end of every shot, mute the mic, and switch on the wind-cut feature, which should help dampen the sound of a breeze on your soundtrack. In our tests, however, wind was still audible when shooting both at the coast and on an open racetrack.
The captured footage is on a par with the stills. It’s clean and accurate as far as colours and illumination are concerned, and the soundtrack was full of detail. You can edit the result in-camera, too, by setting in and out points during playback.
Finally, the NX300 offers support for NFC, for image sharing with Android devices (although not iOS, sadly), and built-in Wi-Fi. The latter accommodates both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks, and allows you to share images directly with your tablet, PC or compatible TV, and back up to PCs, Macs and SkyDrive. Sadly, however, there’s no support for Dropbox.
All in all, it’s an impressive package, and one of the best CSCs available, pairing excellent image quality with well-laid-out controls and a great set of idiot-proof presets. It’s well priced, particularly since it includes a copy of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4, and it’s a serious rival to the Sony Alpha NEX-6; it’s only the Sony’s EVF that keeps it out in front.