Samsung refer to this as a CSC - a Compact System Camera. In the US, it would probably be termed as EVIL - an Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens camera, which provides a clearer idea of what it actually is, although other descriptions may also be used. Consequently, always-on Live View is an important feature. Although designed to resemble a dSLR, there is no direct optical viewfinder but you do have the now usual 3-inch screen, which in this instance is AMOLED and folds out from the body and rotates around a horizontal axis so you can shoot at low or high angles with relative comfort and ease both in landscape and portrait orientation, and the EVF. There is a small dioptric adjustment knob at the side of the EVF to correct for individual users' vision.
The camera is sold as a unit; there is no body-only option. Were it available in that form, some may prefer the more compact 20-50mm lens offered with the non-dSLR-style bodies. Some retailers are offering it complete with the 50-200 zoom as a kit at around the same price as the standard outfit alone, which effectively provides a significant discount and a very useful additional basic outfit.
The NX range is now established and has been around for a couple of years or so. The lens range is growing slowly and an 85mm f1.4 has recently been announced (as at September 2012) currently only for the US market at around $1000 and is now on sale in the UK about £800. It is a rather bulky beast if illustrations provide an accurate impression and it is unlikely to feature in many people's kit. There is no fish-eye or extreme wide-angle, or a long telephoto zoom currently in the range - the 50-200 is the longest, but hopefully that situation will change!
The EVF provides a bright, but not outstandingly bright, image at an effective 800 by 600 resolution (equivalent to 1.44 million pixels), whilst the main screen provides a lower 640 by 480 resolution. The EVF comes alive only when the camera is close to the eye and is designed to be viewed from a distance of approximately 2cm rather than in close contact. On a camera with a retail price of just under £900, it is a little mean for the resolutions to be that low although, being AMOLED, it partly compensates with its higher contrast! Personally, I did not find the screen to be quite as bright as with some other recent cameras, especially not the Olympus OM-D, although it is perfectly usable in all but the brightest light, when the EVF will be a better option. Samsung claims to have treated the screen to reduce reflections, and it did not appear to suffer too much in that respect. It is slightly smaller in size than most other APS-C size dSLRs but is lighter than most. The lens in this instance matches in physical size that most often provided by its competitors, and offers a slightly greater than 3:1 18-55mm focal range and has a rather large 58mm filter thread. A petal-shaped plastic lens hood is supplied and fits over the lens by a bayonet fitting. It can be reversed when not in use.
The camera uses a recently developed and upgraded APSC-sized CMOS sensor, which is also shared with a couple of Samsung's recent top-of-the-range compacts, although it is unclear whether or not it is of the 'backlit' type, with slightly more than 20 megapixels at its disposal. As Nikon have recently released the D3200 at a considerably lower price and a similar construction and lens, which it considers as entry level with a mostly lower specification level than the NX20 but with 24 megapixels (although its images do not have the same delicacy as those from the NX20), Samsung may have to move quickly as I am sure that other manufacturers will at least try to match Nikon to introduce an equivalent MP count in their next entry-level models and may need to beat it for higher level ones.
The kit lens appears to possess an all plastic body although the mount which attaches to the camera is metal, as is its mate on the camera body. However the camera body also appears to be of the same plastic material, polycarbonate or similar, which although very strong is much lighter than metal. I do not have the impression that there is an internal metal frame, although there may be one, but the body does not flex when gripped as do those of another popular brand (not the two top ones). Many other cameras at around the £900-1100 price mark will have magnesium bodies for lightness and strength and Samsung may have replaced this expensive component with some equally expensive electronics which help provide some of this camera's performance gains (see later comments). However the feel and appearance of the camera do not quite provide obvious evidence of quality that I would generally expect for the level of outlay although other manufacturers seem to be following a similar concept for their non-pro models.
The strap, mostly nylon, is more than strong enough for the camera and probably most heavier lenses when attached and is of the type that needs to have its loose ends threaded through the buckles to secure. If done correctly, it is very secure but I have seen comments where users of other cameras using this style of strap have failed to realise that and just threaded the ends through the loops. The consequences are obvious!
There is one slightly unusual feature of the camera and that is that its internal electrical contacts are at the top, just below the EVF housing; every other brand I know has theirs at the bottom. I don't know of any particular advantage of this arrangement and I have never seen it mentioned in print or on any web-site.
In use, once the battery has been fully charged (about 1.5 hours from new but possibly longer when substantially or completely discharged, and when the charger light has turned green) and installed, the camera does seem to be slightly slow on start-up and also in shooting (apparently corrected in the 1.01 firmware). There are reports from several technical reviewers that after shooting 8 or 9 shots in rapid sequence, it will stop briefly and then continue but rather more slowly than before. However, on checking, I have found that there is a firmware update - v1.01 at the time of writing - although Samsung provides no information about the benefits of the upgrade or upon the available software upgrades (see subsequent comments).
In addition to the usual APSM and Scene shooting modes - and a few others - found on almost every other camera, there is a Smart mode. This is essentially auto-everything and reduces the number and variety of options available from the Fn button. Choose one of those four modes, and the number of options opens up significantly. One such is the option of an on-screen horizontal/vertical grid to help alignment and composition which is found elsewhere, there is also a diagonal grid which I have not seen previously although its possible advantages defeat me. The other options becoming available include white balance, vivacity and the various effects modes (equivalent to Olympus' Art Filter feature).
In terms of features, the camera is aimed at the serious amateur user, and possibly semi-professionals although there are claims made about its professional potential. I do not see that Samsung cameras have yet the prestige, history of longevity or the depth of system accessories that would attract the pros. However, for the less demanding user, most menu settings come with a short tip or explanation about what it does, and this is more typical of low- to mid-level cameras. For many users, and perhaps those unused to a less-often used feature, it may help when the full manual is unavailable, e.g. out in the field.
One feature that this camera provides is full Wi-Fi capability which could, in practice, provide for the wireless transfer of the images to a PC or to a web-enabled TV or printer. You can also do that via cable, which is provided. The camera also offers GPS facilities but you need an optional module to fully work with this feature. Curiously, Samsung offer a single GPS module but their own web site clearly states that it is incompatible with this camera! Whilst useful for some, I do not envisage either the WiFi or GPS being much used, the latter perhaps more useful for travel photographers and tourists.
There is a built in flash which, when not in use, fits over the EVF housing which is standard with this type of design, and is manually raised by pressing the release button to its left (marked by a lightning symbol) although it will rise automatically in poor light. There is a proprietary hot shoe which could accommodate either the GPS module or one of its external flash guns - according to several sources, the SEF-42A and SEF-220A are compatible with this camera but not the other of Samsung's flashes but the web-site says that none of those external flashes is compatible with the NX20. It is certainly curious that Samsung are stating that both its GPS module and external flash guns are not completely compatible throughout the NX range; either this is an error or they have a problem that needs investigation! In any event, there is a conflict between information in the camera manual and its web site that needs resolution.
There is a small focus assist LED which is high enough up on the body not to be accidentally covered in normal use and the green light it emits is certainly bright enough to do its job at moderate distances, although its range is limited. The Wi-Fi antenna is also adjacent to the EVF housing and it should not be touched when the facility is in use. There are suggestions from some sources that, when using the Wi-Fi to connect to some Android smart-phones and tablets, it will latch on and remain connected to some more reliably than with others. Read more ›