I've been using the NX10 for about 2 years, and loved almost everything about it. With firmware updates it matched the later nx11 in everything. Just wish it had a tilting screen.
That, and more has been added to the nx20. The amoled screen is bigger than the earlier camera and can swing out 180 degrees and rotate 180 up and 90 degrees down. The eye-level view finder is far better than the nx10s, though I seem to be having some minor trouble with the diopter adjuster - it keeps getting knocked, which never happened on the nx10.
Handling is fantastic. At first it felt a bit awkward, but I soon got used to the slightly different control positions (caused by the larger screen.) The extra wheel around the +control is a superb addition. This makes moving through the images (even when magnified) faster, and gives you a choice of how to change setting such as the aperture in manual (either the wheel or the iFn.)
If you're taking landscape or architectural photos, the built in level will come in handy. Accessed by pressing the display button (no longer a separate button, but up on the + control) this shows both horizontal and vertical alignment. It's a bit sensitive, but still useful to have. Add in the option to have grid lines (2x2 and 3x3 plus diagonal) and converging verticals should be a thing of the past - unless that's what you want.
WiFi. For a lot of people, this may be an important selling point. If you're one of those who always post on facebook or similar, then you can post you pictures straight to one of several sites. BUT, this only works with jpgs (which makes sense.) On the other hand, while you can also email pictures, you're still limited to jpgs.
I thought that maybe the WiFi would be useful for transferring images to my computer without using a card reader or usb cable (the camera is usb 2.0, my card reader usb 3.0.) In the instructions, it states that you'll have to turn off your firewall! Not a hope in hell of that happening. More irritating is the fact that once you have sent an image, you can't send it again, even if the transfer failed. So I'll ignore these features and stick to the card reader.
The final WiFi piece of the puzzle is slightly more useful, though it may become more usable with later development. You can use your android phone as an external screen and remote release for the camera. Range is approx 7 meters, but you have little control over the camera settings and worse (for me) the camera operates in "Smart" mode - the setting recommended for beginners. If you can live with the limitations, it works quite well, though there is a delay between operating the phone and the shutter firing.
Now you may think I've been a little negative on the nx20, so why the 5* rating. It's simple. The image quality. These 20mp images are really superb. I took a photo of a dragonfly with the standard lens from about 60cm. Every vein in the dragonfly's wings is visible. Like it's predecessors, the colour is excellent, being neither too vibrant nor overly subdued. Add 8fps for 8 frames - even the bracketing uses this speed where possible - and it should be quite good for sports. Maybe not motor sport though. There is a 30 frame burst mode, but that's only records 5mp images.
If like me, you use old lenses via an adapter, you'll be pleased to know that you can use manual focus assist (zoomed viewfinder) by pressing the OK button. This isn't in the manual.
Overall, this is easily a match for all but the top dslr's, but without their weight penalty. The raws are excellent and most of the features are a major step up from the earlier cameras. I personally have little use for the WiFi, and I haven't even touched the video or "creative" modes, other than taking note of them for future experiments.
If you have one of the earlier Samsungs and are looking to upgrade, you won't be disappointed. If you're coming from a compact or bridge camera, then you can make use of the beginners mode (set on by default) and know that you'll have a camera that will grow with you as your skill set expands. If you're looking for a camera that's lighter than your current dslr, then you'll probably look at that manufacturers csc range. But you really should take a look at this too. It has one of the best sensors for colour rendition, plus the Samsung lenses are a match for all but Leicas'. Give it a try. You won't regret it.
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. Unsurprisingly, Samsung models appear to be the most consistently reliable although it is unclear why that should be. I don't have any such Samsung device, so I cannot explore this any further.
The camera provides a generous range of still image qualities from full resolution down to a minimal 1.1MP (in 1:1 format only) and the manual (on disk) helpfully suggests the effective print size limits for the differing resolutions. Full HD movie mode is also provided with a built in stereo microphone, the two sensors for which are located either side of the EVF housing. The movie button is just about within reach of the thumb if moved from the rubberised rest. There is built-in image stabilisation, which at this price level is definitely expected but is of the optical variety and built-in many of its lenses but not any of the pancakes (as with Panasonic). There are advantages to both systems; if in-body, you only need pay for it once but it need not be optimised for the various lenses; if in-lens you are paying for it in every lens so fitted (although perhaps not with the shortest focal-length lenses where it may not be useful) but it can be optimised for that lens. The OIS is apparently switchable on some lenses but not on the kit lens (or the 50-200), which also provides another switch for auto and manual focussing. Should you need to switch off OIS, as when using a tripod, you can do so via the menu system. The shutter speed range is from 30 seconds down to 1/8000 second which should cover just about every possible eventuality, plus bulb.
The built-in iFunction system (some lenses only) can help as an adjunct to the Scene mode in that it will optimise the lens and shutter settings for a shot. The Control Wheel, when used in this mode, will change one or more of the settings when rotated.
The camera supports an ISO range from 100-12800 which is slightly wider than with many other cameras. The best images are, not unexpectedly, obtained at settings of 100-400. Those obtained at 800 and higher will start to show the effects of noise, which is not too great or offensive up to 3200. At the two highest settings it is a little gravelly in appearance but, somehow, Samsung have been able to just about eliminate colour noise so the overall image is still very usable. Colour rendition is slightly affected by increasing the ISO setting. As the higher settings are most likely to be used in the poorest light, the ability to capture an image regardless of quality is more important than the finest rendition. Colour rendition at the lower ISO settings appears to be very accurate and smooth and possesses an undefinable but very obvious delicacy of tone, and skin tones are extremely good. The camera controls dynamic range very well without user intervention and is able to simultaneously demonstrate detail in both shadows and highlights without clipping at either end in more situations than several competing models. You can check for clipping by viewing its histogram which is provided separately for each colour plus another for luminance.
Exposure can be selected from multi-point down to centre-weighted and then to spot. There will be times when the latter two will be needed but I have yet to use them with this camera. The default multi-point metering appears to be pretty accurate, with a very slight under-exposure sometimes; this is preferable to overexposure and is easily adjusted in software. The dynamic range of the camera is exceptional and I challenged it by deliberately shooting scenes where there was both strong or fairly strong shadows and bright sunlight. In many instances, I would expect either or both of the extreme shadows or highlights to be heavily clipped but the amount evidenced is mostly minimal unless there is something bright white or highly reflective within shot and occupying a significant proportion of the image area. This is excellent performance!
The shutter is quiet in operation and, without the clunk of a fast-rising mirror (which the camera does not use), the sound level is low and not overly obvious or likely to draw attention from an wary subject. There is an option to have or to switch off sound effects, for example the noise of an SLR when the shutter is released, but there are situations when you would need to switch them off (if photographing a wedding or a concert). However the loudest noise you will normally hear from the camera is that from the flash which will automatically rise if light levels are sufficiently low. There is no means to raise it manually or by a release button. The flash is comparable in power to those of other cameras and mostly suited to a maximum range of 3-4m. A more powerful alternative is offered, but nothing currently comparable to the more complex and expensive models offered by Canon, Nikon or Olympus or those of some independents.
There is no evidence that either body or lens is in any way weather-proofed, although that is a feature that some other models selling at similar price levels provide. Although it may be light shower safe, the more adverse weather conditions of heavy rain in association with high winds (as seen during summer 2012) or snow should be avoided or appropriate precautions taken. As I write this review in the summer months, I cannot currently attest to the camera's cold weather performance although the general advice is to store the battery in a pocket under 2 or 3 layers of clothing to keep it warm and only to install it the camera when needed.
Using the standard kit lens, focussing appears to be reasonably fast and accurate using automatic focussing. However, the manual focus cannot be described as silky smooth but, in normal use, you are more likely to focus by wire. The zoom ring is also far removed from being silky-smooth and there is both a very slight scratchy feel and a noise that accompanies it. This could be picked up by the microphones when using Movie mode which are in very close proximity. You can focus manually or adjust the focussing point if or when needed, for example if focussing on an image in a mirror of if through a wire fence which can upset some cameras' focussing. However, it isn't as fast as some cameras - Olympus' recent OM-D is very fast and accurate in this respect with most of its lenses! The available markings on the lens are mostly for focal length, those for its switches aside. There is an indication on screen for focussing distance, shutter speed and aperture should you want them.
The camera offers a wide range of features, some of which are controllable from its menus, and some by physical controls both on the body and the lens. These provide a range of scene modes which cover most of the usually expected options and also a range of image effects including the usual monochrome mode and also a pseudo-fisheye effect, which may work best at shorter focal lengths. The camera also provides a built-in electronic spirit level which helps to keep the camera level and an option to have an on-screen grid (as some others also do) that divides the screen vertically and horizontally. All of the remaining usual menu items are present including white balance adjustment, exposure over-ride etc. Some of the available buttons can be set to perform certain fixed functions from within the menus. Exposure accuracy is very good due to there being more than 200 exposure measuring points and the focus points can be selected when necessary. Face recognition is also built-in but I was not able to find just how many faces it would recognise as a maximum, although 5 or 6 were well handled. There are enough bells and whistles to keep a new owner busy for a while.
The standard lens is a very good performer and is optically as sharp as some of the best of this type and focal range, but it is said to be slightly prone to chromatic fringing which can be corrected in software. The 50-200 telephoto zoom which is sometimes offered in a twin-lens kit is significantly better in this regard and also in its general performance, although the kit lens is no slouch. However, there is a slight issue for buyers of this camera; you will be effectively limited to Samsung accessory products as there is currently no independent lens support for the NX fitting. Reviews of other Samsung lenses seen elsewhere suggest that they are reasonably priced and perform exceptionally well and that need not therefore be an issue. It would be interesting to know who manufactures Samsung-branded lenses as they do not, to my knowledge, have an optical division.
The camera supports all three flavours of SD card, although only one at a time but with no provision for any alternatives, and with capacities up to 128Gb, although most users would probably prefer to use either 4 or 8Gb for stills use (providing several hundred shots at the minimum) and reserve the higher capacity cards for video use. No such card is provided with the camera but that is normal practice. The battery is said to be good for at least 4500 shots on a single full charge and may provide many more. That is exceptional; 2500-3500 is more usual. With that many shots on offer, there may be a lowered demand on buying a spare battery although I have always bought one for my digital cameras and recommend the practice as you can never know when one will expire.
In the box, which is unbelievably small and well-packaged, is the camera body, lens, camera strap, a data transfer lead, battery and charger. A lens hood is also provided with the UK model although some sources state otherwise. Although the camera supports transfer to a TV via HDMI, the necessary cable is not provided and you will need to buy one - the fitting at the camera end appears to be fairly standard. There is a Quick Start Guide and a CD which contains the full user manual, which you may prefer to print or install to your system, and the camera software which includes a basic image editor and a RAW conversion utility. There are upgrades for both available on Samsung's site. Users wanting more advanced software facilities may prefer Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (Camera RAW v7.1 provides full support for the model) or one of the other RAW processing software available, although not all need currently support any specific model although updates are often provided.
In terms of features and performance, the camera is as good as many competing models but it retails in the USA at the same numerical value in dollars as it does in GBP. Its UK price, with 20% VAT included (approximately £800 when originally reviewed), does therefore seem rather high and I would expect it to fall by possibly 10-15% in due course. The limiting factor for some may be the availability and range of lenses and other accessories. The Samsung lens range is currently limited and there are relatively few suppliers (but currently not Amazon.uk although that may change). There is no evidence that independent manufacturers such as Tamron or Sigma have yet made a move towards supporting the brand's previous models or that they might yet do so - they appear to have only just realised that the Sony Nex, and Olympus' and Panasonic's micro fourth thirds models are very popular and are in the process of catching up. Samsung's lenses, have in technical reviews seen elsewhere, been rated as very good or outstanding performers so that buyers need have few concerns in that respect, only on availability and lack of alternatives.
Should you buy the camera? If you have no prior commitment to another brand in terms of lenses or accessories, then definitely yes. If you have such lenses, you may want to keep them and to be able to use them. It may require using an adapter and they may or may not exist for any other fitting. However, Samsung's lenses are very realistically priced and their performance far exceeded my preliminary expectations, for which attributes Samsung deserve serious credit and applause. Unfortunately, the camera as supplied is slightly over-priced although it does have several redeeming and unusual features. If those and its excellent colour performance are important to you, they may well over-ride other considerations.
Samsung has developed a reputation for the delicacy of its colour handling with previous camera models, and that is continued with this one despite the use of a relatively new sensor. Skin tones are especially well-handled and are devoid of the orange-tan effect sometimes seen. Other colours, whether intense or subdued are also very well handled and appear very accurate. This single feature may attract the fine art, wedding and portrait photographers away from their usual brands. Photographers who prefer their images slightly more punchy can easily and possibly finely adjust them in software, or use the Picture Wizard to select either the Vivid or Retro settings for a slightly coarser effect.
In summary, an excellent feature set, excellent quality images with well-controlled exposure and focussing but in a slightly over-priced body. Lens availability may be an issue as there are few stockists at present. However having used several of the Samsung NX-branded lenses, some initially in trials, they exhibit a level of optical performance which matches and occasionally surpasses those from manufacturers with the highest of reputations - see my review for Samsung's 85mm f1.4 lens. As the lenses are all reasonably priced, the performance-per-£ is extremely high and should attract greater attention. The camera deserves 5-stars for the quality of its images, but its pricing, a slightly less than smooth manual focus action (possibly because the auto-focus system is always engaged) and a less bright EVF and screen than the advertising would have you believe demand a slightly lowered rating. If possible, I would have preferred a 4.5-star rating - 4 stars, which I initially gave, was a bit too mean.
The more the camera is used the better it feels and some of its features are becoming more clear. There are some features that will be hidden until suitably equipped accessories are attached. For example, the 85mm f1.4 lens provides an AF/MF switch which is not that unusual in itself but, when in AF mode, you can then manually fine-tune the focussing to concentrate on whichever feature of your subject is intended to be most sharply in focus as the on-screen image is temporarily greatly magnified (about 10-15 seconds duration). Other lenses with AF/MF switches will not necessarily provide that facility, just those with Continuous Focus mode. Overall, the camera should not disappoint!
POSTSCRIPT @ 05-2013
Since writing the original review, the retail price of this camera has been significantly reduced. At the current price (about 1/3 less than when originally sold) almost every negative comment becomes irrelevant. The features provide far better value at the lower price level and place the camera in a superior position to just about every competitor at a similar price and some way above. Samsung's lenses are at least the equal to those from the top two or three rated brands and are in some instances able to offer superior performance at lower pricing. Consequently, it can now be highly recommended as a worthy successor to a bridge camera or to any compact, whether high spec or not.