This flagship 20.3MP, APS-C sensor ILC makes the best use of Wi-Fi yet
If there were any doubts that Samsung is making a name for itself in the camera business, they were put to rest with two simultaneous introductions this year. The Galaxy camera turned the tables on the mobile phone world by finally creating a camera that runs on a mobile operating system. And photography enthusiasts were awed by the specs on the company’s new flagship interchangeable-lens compact, the NX300 ($749, street, with 20–50mm f/3.5–5.6 lens; $798 with 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 lens, shown; $999, street, with 45mm f/1.8 2D/3D lens).
Built around a 20.3MP APS-C-sized CMOS sensor, the NX300 boasts an impressive top shutter speed of 1/6000 sec and a tilting 3.3-inch AMOLED touchscreen. Plus, its built-in Wi-Fi lets you pair it with an iPhone or Android device, so you can push images to your Facebook page or copy them to your phone as you shoot. But can it make images that you’d want to share?
In the Test Lab
Our standard test procedure is to use the software that the manufacturer supplies with the camera to convert RAW files into uncompressed TIFFs for analysis, applying the software’s default noise-reduction settings. With the NX300, Samsung went the route of Leica by shipping the camera with Adobe’s Photoshop Lightroom 4.
We applaud this, as Lightroom is one of the best options for photographers with a RAW workflow (we always encourage people to shoot RAW for the best results and the most flexibility in post-processing).
Since Lightroom does not vary noise reduction automatically, nor does the camera maker offer default settings for it, we tested the NX300 as we did Leica’s M Monochrom: We applied 0%, 25%, 50%, and 75% luminance noise reduction with a goal of holding noise to a Low or better rating at as high an ISO as possible, while also preserving as much resolution as possible. For the test results in the chart on this page, we applied 25% luminance noise reduction from ISO 100 through ISO 400, 50% at ISO 800, and 75% at ISO 1600 and above.
Under these conditions, the NX300 earned an overall Image Quality score of Excellent from ISO 100 through ISO 400. By ISO 800 resolution dropped just below our cutoff of 2500 lines per picture height, the threshold for an Excellent rating. But noise garnered a Low or better rating all the way up through ISO 3200.
As is usually the case these days, the NX300 easily achieved an Excellent rating in our Color Accuracy test, in this case with an average Delta E of 5.5.
We measured enough noise at ISO 100 to warrant some noise reduction even at the camera’s lowest ISO. With a modest amount of reduction, noise squeaked into the Extremely Low rating band, while resolution checked in at 2540 lines per picture height. At ISO 400, resolving power dropped off to precisely 2500 lines. A surprisingly large amount of resolution held on through ISO 6400, where the NX300 turned in 2370 lines. Thereafter, resolution dropped more sharply, ending up at 2000 lines at ISO 25,600—still a respectable amount.
In the Field
Like many cameras lately, the NX300 has a somewhat retro style while also offering a fully modern interface. The body is metal, with ample rubber across the front and a nice rubber pad on which to rest your thumb. The texture of the rubber mimics the leatherette on a vintage rangefinder, and there’s even a snazzy brown option.
We liked the tilting touchscreen’s usefulness in framing images and adjusting settings, but at times we lamented the lack of an available electronic viewfinder for eye-level shooting.
The lone command wheel (we would prefer two) and the shooting mode dial compete for space. Often, when making an adjustment by rolling the wheel to the right, our finger hit the mode dial and stopped sooner than we would have liked. This clumsiness could have been prevented by a slightly different placement of the wheel or dial. Otherwise, Samsung made good use of the available space for button placement.
We would have appreciated more customized controls, though. As it stands, you can assign functions only to the trash button and Direct Link button—and the latter accepts only Wi-Fi sharing options.
The touchscreen controls were responsive. You can swipe from one image to the next in playback mode, and cropping is as simple as tapping a few virtual buttons and adjusting the size and position of the crop by sliding your finger across the screen. Other adjustments, such as adding filter effects or changing brightness, are equally easy.