By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
When we reviewed Samsung's first hybrid ILC (Interchangeable Lens Camera), the NX10, we were impressed with the AMOLED screen, full-manual options and the camera's promising lens system as well as its superb size and ergonomics. The newer NX100 is slightly smaller, looks and feels less like a DSLR but offers a range of shooting options as well as Samsung's latest optics and technology solutions.
ILC cameras have become extremely popular and while some like Samsung's on NX10 and NX11 take on the look and feel of DLSRs, others like Olympus's PEN series have taken the retro shapes of rangefinder film cameras while Sony's NEX line has gone for the slimmest possible size while still maintaining interchangeable lens capability.
The NX100 is a strange beast as it doesn't fit into any of the above form-factor segments. In fact, we've spent enough time with it to say that there's really nothing that looks like this in the market. The swoopy and organic look and feel of the NX100 takes its design cues from Samsung's line of notebooks like the SF510 which has a very similar design treatment.
The result is a sensuous device that looks a lot lighter than it actually is and while compact, isn't as secure to hold as the NX10 and can be a bit slippery. Easily mistaken for a fashionista's high-end camera, the NX100 is actually a full-featured and serious enthusiast's camera with a lot of useful features under the hood.
The biggest feature to consider with the NX100 (or any of Samsung's ILC's) is the large APS-C CMOS sensor at the camera's core.
Four times larger than the 1/1.8 compact sensor found in most point and shoot cameras, APS-C CMOS sensors are DSLR-sized sensors that can handle more photographic data with less noise.
In order to put the 14.2 megapixel sensor to work, Samsung has enabled a straightforward menu control system to make up for the lack of buttons on the back of the NX100 (this is a good thing).
The NX100 is also the first camera to use the i-function ring on its standard 20mm-50mm lens which gives shooters quick control access to adjust aperture, speed, and exposure without having to look away from the lens. Five i-function lenses have been released including the 16mm pancake lens we tested with the review unit.
As a result, the NX100 is just as capable a camera as the NX10 and NX11 even as it is presented in a slimmer case. Samsung's NX lens and accessory system doesn't just look promising, it trumps many of its competitors in terms of lens and accessory choices coming to the market. Samsung has committed to a total of 20 NX system lenses between 2011-2013.
This makes it an excellent system worth considering for new photographers who aren't already heavily invested in lenses and bodies from other manufacturers.
Our review unit NX100 ($499.99 at Henry's with the 20mm to 50mm kit lens) came with a pancake lens (great for street photography and portraits) as well as an electronic viewfinder. Reasonably lightweight, the NX lenses we've tried felt solid and are generally well designed although they are predominantly plastic in construction.
We also tested the system's electronic viewfinder which replaces the rear-screen for visual feedback.The benefit of the electronic viewfinder is that you have an alternate way to view and frame pictures when the ambient lighting is too bright or reflective. The electronic viewfinder is a $200 add-on, we found it to be reasonably bright and easy to adjust but it showed substantial lag. The lack of an optical viewfinder in these new cameras seems to be a trend that will continue.
The NX100's AMOLED screen is bright, superbly saturated and does a good job in most lighting conditions. As for the camera's settings, you can get far and make some great looking photos remaining on the Smart Auto or Program Modes but will get more mileage with the scene-specific settings.
Samsung has these conditions figured out so well, all you need is to flick the switch to such settings as Beauty shot, Close Up, Sunset, Fireworks, Beach & SNow, Night Portrait and others. We tend to shoot in Aperture priority mode as we like controlling depth of field so this was our default setting.
The NX100 has a ISO 6400 upper level although if you stay within the 1600 ISO you can still, sometimes, pull off nice low light shots without too much noise, this is the benefit of having an APS-C CMOS sensor.
The NX100 will shoot HD video in 720p resolution at 30 frames per second which is now a feature of even the most basic point-and-shoot models. It would have been nice if it could take 1080p HD video.
The uncluttered button layout, integration of the i-Function lens control and Samsung's impressive artificial intelligence makes it easy to get great photos from the NX100 in almost any condition. This is a more fashionable and portable ILC that's suited to casual shooters and travelers who want the benefits a simple to use yet powerful camera.
The growing NX system of lenses and accessories is really the key to this and similar cameras. Samsung has put as much energy into the accessories as they have in the bodies and this puts it slighly ahead of the competition who had limited lens selection upon launch. Users wanting a greater range of options resorted to lens adaptors in order to add depth to their systems. Other manufacturers are apparently being cautious and seeing where the market goes before adding lenses to their lineups.
Samsung is all-in the ILC market, the NX100 and the NX10 show just how serious the company is in attracting a range of camera buyers but offers a wide selection of accessories and peripherals to help them grow their photography options.
At $499 entry price with one good multipurpose lens, the NX100 is a more affordable option for new users seeking an ILC.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5