Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Samsung NX30 camera
Small in size, but packs plenty of features and produces great quality
- Good overall performance and image quality
- EVF can angle upwards
- Plenty of features to play with, including Wi-Fi
- No dedicated button to switch off the screen
- Doesn't come with a charger
- Not weather sealed
Samsung is onto a good thing with the NX30 interchangeable lens camera, but we shouldn't be surprised: NX cameras have been good since the release of the NX10. The NX30 can capture clear and vibrant images, and it has lots of features that allow it to be used by pros and beginners alike. Well worth considering if you're in the market for a new camera and aren't attached to another manufacturer's lens mount.
Price$ 1,099.00 (AUD)
Packed with features, the Samsung NX30 is the type of camera you should consider if you're looking to make the jump from a compact camera (or a smartphone camera) to one that can take interchangeable lenses and offer greater quality. It's geared at enthusiasts who are keen on photography and already know what they're doing, but at the same time it also has plenty of features to aid beginners in the photography game.
What is the NX30?
The NX30 is a brand new model in Samsung's NX line-up of cameras, and it features a 20-megapixel CMOS sensor that sits behind an NX lens mount. The NX mount can take any of Samsung's lenses that support this mount design, and currently there are about 10 lenses in the ecosystem. These range from an 18-55mm kit lens, to various prime, zoom, macro, pancake, fisheye, and even 3D lenses. It’s an important consideration for this camera because you can't just plonk lenses on it from anywhere.
Physically, the NX30 body has a magnesium alloy chassis with polycarbonate panels, but it doesn't have any weather sealing (some of Samsung's lenses do, though). It's a relatively small camera, and it feels light and comfortable in the hand thanks to the lack of a mirror box, which is what makes some digital SLR cameras so big and cumbersome. The lens you use will dictate the overall weight of the camera, but even some of Samsung’s bigger lenses don’t have much weight to them. There is a curvy handgrip and plenty of well-positioned controls.
Visit the second page of this review for sample images taken with the NX30.
The 20-megapixel sensor has an APS-C size, and this is bigger than what can be found in other interchangeable lens cameras, such as those from Olympus and Panasonic that use the Micro Four Thirds mount. This should theoretically give the Samsung an edge when it comes to shooting in dim lighting conditions, mainly in terms of managing the amount of noise produced in a picture when a high ISO value is used. That said, even Micro Four Thirds cameras are more than capable of handling reasonably high ISO speeds these days.
Features for days
If there is one area in which Samsung can't be faulted, it's in packing as many features as it can into a product. The NX30 is no exception. In the past, we highly praised the first NX Series camera, the NX10, mainly because of this fact. That camera was among the first mirrorless, interchangeable lens cameras to have a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) and a flash. Other models at the time had these features as optional accessories.
The NX30 includes an innovation in its EVF: there is a mechanism that allows the EVF to be extended and angled upwards for easier framing in certain scenarios, such as when you are shooting something from a slightly low angle or on a tripod. It's a well thought out and engineered feature that adds usefulness to the NX30, and it’s also a differentiation point compared to other cameras.
The EVF itself isn't the best we've seen in terms of quality, but it's not shabby at all. It can be used easily to compose a scene while letting you view all of the settings you are using — it basically replicates the AMOLED screen on the back — and it's clear enough to allow you to manually focus.
Focus peaking, which is a feature that has made its way into many cameras in this market segment, is also available in the NX30, and it's a great help when using the manual focus mode as it puts a shimmering outline on the parts of your image that are in focus. This makes it easier to detect if your desired target is actually in focus, especially while looking through the EVF.
At this point, we should point out that if you end up regularly using the 3in, hinged OLED screen on the rear, the battery will drain quickly. Keep this in mind if you are on a day trip, and curb your playback and general use of the screen where you can. The camera doesn't ship with a stand-alone charger; charging takes place via a micro-USB cable port on the camera. For us, a dedicated charger would be a more convenient way to charge it (Samsung told us it's an optional accessory).
Unfortunately, there is no dedicated button to switch off the OLED screen if you want to keep using the EVF (though there is a sensor to disable the screen when you bring the camera to your eye to use the EVF), so if you want to switch off the screen you will have to flip it around and make it face the body.
The hinged screen does come in handy when you want to frame a picture from a higher or lower perspective than the EVF allows. It's also a touchscreen. If you plan on using it as your primary framing aid, then you can make use of its advanced touch-to-focus functions, which includes focusing and one-tap shutter release. Conveniently, you can also use the touchscreen to tap-to-focus, and to tap-to-expose. The focus square that you see on the screen has white corners on it, indicating that it can be separated. Simply hold down on the square and drag your finger to separate the two functions. The focus point and exposure point can then placed in different areas of a photo, allowing the metering of a shot to occur at a different place to the spot you want to keep in focus.
You can change exposure effortlessly when in manual or semi-manual modes. There is a dial for your index finger at the top near the shutter button and a rotating control on the rear for you thumb. While framing a photo, it's easy to use the index finger control for shutter value changes, and the thumb control for aperture. There are dedicated buttons that bring up the white balance and ISO values, too.
If you're using of one Samsung's i-Function lenses, then you have at your disposal an even more user-friendly way to change settings. At first we were sceptical about how these lenses work and if they are of any benefit, but we've come to the conclusion that they are quite convenient. Here's the breakdown: if you press the Fn button on the lens repeatedly, it will toggle through all of the exposure settings and you can use either the focus ring on the lens, or the index finger control at the top, to make changes to those values. You can make all of these changes to the exposure without taking your eye away from the EVF to look at the physical controls on the camera. The only controls you'll need to know are the Fn button, and the dial or lens ring.
The Fn function can also come in handy if things like f-stop numbers scare you. In the i-Function menu, the aperture is portrayed in values from one to 12 and you can see the effect each value has on the depth of field in a scene. We'll also point out that any changes you make to the exposure can be seen instantly on the OLED screen or through the EVF. The EVF is a little more dull than the OLED screen, and it feels somewhat cramped compared to some of the bigger EVFs we've seen from the likes of Sony and Panasonic, so keep in mind that your image might look different here than on a TV or monitor.
Transfer photos wirelessly
This may not be a feature that will get regular usage, but it's worth pointing out for the possibilities it opens up, not only in transferring photos, but also when framing them. To use the Wi-Fi feature is easy: simply enable Wi-Fi on the camera, connect to the Wi-Fi network that it transmits, load the app on your phone (called Samsung Smart Camera App), allow the connection of the phone on the camera (that is, press OK). NFC can also be used.
You have the option of copying files to and from the camera and the smartphone, though by default they are a small size, rather than native 20-megapixel photos. You can change this setting if you're at home using Wi-Fi and want to see the full resolution, but if you're travelling and want to quickly share a photo you've taken to Facebook or another social outlet, you should stick with smaller size, which will be easier on your mobile data allowance.
As mentioned, the Wi-Fi can be used for more than file transfers. It can be used to turn your phone into a remote viewfinder. This means you can see what the camera lens sees through your phone and snap a picture by tapping on your phone's screen. Not only that, you can change key exposure settings, the focus point, and with the right lens, even affect the zoom. It's a feature that may seem like overload, but it can come in useful when you want to take group selfies with the camera mounted to a tripod, or when you want to frame a picture from an unusual perspective and can't physically get behind the camera's controls.
What we're saying is, the wireless features on the NX30 work well enough to be useful in the scenarios we've put forth, and no doubt in others that we haven't thought of. Samsung even has a baby monitor app that allows the camera to be used, well, as a baby monitor. Another reason to use the Wi-Fi might be to transfer images while you’ve got the camera set up on a tripod. The SD card sits in the same compartment as the battery, which means you can’t remove the SD card while the camera is on a tripod.
Video can be shot at up to 1080/60p, with good results, and there is a slow motion feature that can be used when you take the resolution down to 1024x768 (1x slower than normal speed) and 640x480 (1.5x slower than normal speed). It's fun to play with the slow motion setting whenever you get a chance, especially if you don't have the skills to perform such an effect on a video in software. However, the videos will be very small. Other video features include the ability to live stream via HDMI, and there is a microphone jack.
But specs and features don't mean anything if the results aren't pleasing to the eye, so let's hop straight into how the Samsung NX30 performs, and then we'll get into all of its special controls and features.
Next page: Image quality and sample images
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