SAMSUNG NX2

 Remote Viewfinder

 With a host of Wi-Fi functions for sharing, transferring and backing-up, is the Samsung NX20 the start of a SMART revolution to change the way we distribute pictures? PAUL CARROLL finds out...

Samsung burst onto the CSC market in February 2010 with the launch of the 14MP NX10. I was lucky enough to try one out for a while, though I have to admit that with Samsung new to the CSC market and without much pedigree in the interchangeable lens camera domain I wasnexpecting much. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the handling and picture quality which it produced.

Now, two years later, Samsung has shaken up the market yet again with the new higher resolution NX20 that claims to be the worldfirst CSC with integrated Wi-Fi technology for easier sharing, uploading and backing up of images. But will the SMART functions be of any real use to photographers? And has the slow performance of the NX10 been resolved to offer semi-pros a realistic option under ?1000? Well, with internet dongles and Wi-Fi passwords at the ready Iabout to find out...

ONE SMART COOKIE

Setting the mode dial on the top plate to the Wi-Fi option provides access to the NX20seven SMART functions; Mobile Link, Remote Viewfinder, Social Sharing, Email, SkyDrive, Auto Backup and TV Link.

Mobile Link is a quick and easy way to get images from your camera and on to your smartphone or tablet, and comes in handy if you canbe bothered to download all your pictures and simply want a few on your phone to show off later. To get started youneed to install the free app Link’onto your smartphone and with that completed sharing couldnbe easier. Simply launch Mobile Link on your camera/phone, select some images to share and, hey presto, they appear in a new Link’folder in your gallery app. This worked seamlessly on my Samsung smartphone/tablet and the apps are also available for the iPhone, although there isncurrently an iPad version.

SHOOTING REMOTELY

I had a similarly positive experience using the Remote Viewfinder function. With the required app installed and the two devices connected, what the camera saw via the viewfinder was displayed on smart gadgets-though disappointingly the display was the same size on our tablet as on our phone, so didnfill the screen. On the positive side though, it was incredibly easy to set up and you can even take a picture direct from your smart device.

On your phone, shooting options are limited to flash (auto/off), self-timer (off/2/10sec) and resolution (20.3/2.1MP). From the NX20 camera you can also zoom in or focus but thereno control over exposure settings. The last point may limit your creativity a little as youconstrained by Auto Exposure settings, but it opens up new possibilities for remote capture. Imagine being able to set up your camera discretely for various wildlife, street photography, or in positions where itimpossible to be able to look at the LCD or viewfinder, and still be able to see whatgoing on in front of the camera and take a shot remotely.

Both Mobile Link and Remote Viewfinder use the NX20own Wi-Fi hotspot to connect —so you doneven need a Wi-Fi network —and tests showed the connection was good for at least 100 metres.

A SOCIAL ANIMAL

Connecting to the number of other NX20 SMART functions does require a secured Wi-Fi network where you will need to enter a password. Social Sharing boasts options for uploading to Facebook, Picasa, YouTube or Photobucket, making it possible to upload your pictures without a computer.

You will need to be signed up to a social media service first and then from the camera enter your username and password to enable connectivity to your account. The NX20 does not boast touchscreen functionality however, so entering your details using the on-screen keyboard and selecting a letter at a time via the D-Pad is a little slow, and particularly frustrating if you would like to caption or comment on your images. You can t tag pictures either so you really do still need a computer to effectively manage all your social media content, but if you want to get some images uploaded quickly, Social Sharing is a great tool.

You can also email images. The camera automatically resizes them to a sensible size, which makes sense for zipping shots off to friends, but means you cansend pics to be printed at a decent size. Again using the onscreen menu and D-Pad is cumbersome to compose emails, and captions are limited to just 65 characters.

The TV Link control makes it possible to transfer images onto DLNA-supported devices, i.e. smart TVs. Unfortunately I donhave a DLNA TV —I spend all my cash on cameras —but it works the same way as DLNA on my Samsung smartphone and I had no problems viewing images via the AllShare app; Iimagine itthe same on TVs.

BACK-UP

The Auto Backup feature is only available for PC users not with Macs, but with the supplied software installed it makes transferring your images from the camera to your PC a doddle. Set-up was quick and easy, and once done all you need to do when arriving home from a shoot is select Auto Backup on the camera and images are copied over from the Wi-Fi network to a folder on your computer. Transferring 5GB of pictures only took about 20 minutes on my Wi-Fi network, which while slower than it would be hardwiring the unit via USB, is pretty respectable. You can just leave it running while you do something else.

SkyDrive allows you to backup photos directly from your camera to MicrosoftSkyDrive cloud service on the internet, so you can access them from anywhere with an internet connection. You can sign up to SkyDrive for free at http://skydrive.live.com and receive 7GB of cloud storage, but if you want more youhave to pay —100GB of data costing ?32 a year. 100GB remains the maximum storage available so itprobably not going to be a solution for backing up every image ever taken, but could be a really useful tool for holidays when your memory card is full to the brim. You could simply get everything uploaded to your SkyDrive cloud and your images will be there waiting for you when you get home. You could even use services such as Adobenew Creative Cloud and do some high-end editing in a tropical Internet cafe somewhere! Again, as the case with all the NX20Wi-Fi features, set-up and syncing was easy with a single 20.3MP image taking around about one minute to upload to SkyDrive online.

CAMERA FEATURES

Aside from all the SMART functions what else does the NX20 have to offer? There16 scene selection modes alongside the creative P/A/S/M options, the 221-block segment metering system, Contrast Detect AF, 3in swivel type AMOLED screen, 100-12,800 ISO sensitivity range, pop-up flash and Full HD video at 30fps.

To keep the body dimensions small thereno mirror or optical viewfinder in Compact System Cameras, so the NX20 uses a 1.44m dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) in addition to the rear LCD for composing your shots. Just like in an optical viewfinder exposure settings are displayed, but the advantage of an EVF is that exposure is also previewed, brightening and darkening as you adjust settings and controls. The virtual horizon guide can also be overlaid.

Therea specific NX mount for Samsung CSC lenses with nine current options on offer, including three pancake primes and zoom lenses up to 200mm. Several of the newer lenses, including the supplied 1855mm kit lens, feature Samsung i-Function technology. Essentially ita button on the lens which allows you to alter shooting settings by rotating the manual focus ring. I didnget chance to use it much during my short time with the camera, but it did seem pretty effective. The NX20 also benefits from the brandImage Stabilisation system, OIS, allowing sharp shots at slow shutter speeds such as 1/15sec and the top 1/8000sec often preserved for pro cameras, which allows you to freeze some fast moving subjects. The pop-up flash unit has a Guide Number of GN11, but if youafter a more powerful or versatile flash system accessories, the GN42 or GN15 are available, and therea nifty compatible GPS device too.

HANDLING

The DSLR styling of the NX20 with its relatively large handgrip for a CSC and bevy of externally mounted controls on both the top plate and rear make it a comfortable camera to handle. The D-Pad gives access to settings such as ISO, AF and Drive mode with dedicated buttons for EV Comp, Exposure Lock, Metering mode and Video Capture.

Plus the majority of controls can be adjusted without having to delve into a menu.

The advantage of an EVF, however, is that you can navigate menus without taking the camera away from your eye, and as most of the settings used while shooting are located under the Function Menu —which is accessed via the well placed Fn button —this feels intuitive to use. The dual control of a scroll wheel on the top plate and thumb dial on the rear also make it comfortable for adjusting both aperture and shutter values in Manual Exposure mode, which will be appreciated by more experienced photographers. The good handling news doesnstop there either.

The LCD screen with its swivel control is excellent for framing from awkward positions and is always a massive hit for anyone who likes to shoot video. If youmore of a stills person though the permanently on screen virtual horizon guide is an absolute Godsend for making sure your camera is level. Why doesnevery camera have this?

PERFORMANCE

The major drawback I found with Samsungfirst CSC, the NX10, was itparticularly slow performance, and unfortunately things havenimproved much.

Westart with the not so bad, the Contrast Detect AF; when in good light itpretty responsive, and for the majority of users shooting everyday stuff shouldnbe a problem. In low light itnot terrible either, although it does have a habit of cutting the Live View feed temporarily which suddenly snaps back in before it takes a photo. The pictures were in focus, but it can be rather disconcerting.

The major performance drawback though is the speed in which the NX20 both writes data to the card and allows you to navigate settings. If you like the message ’appearing regularly on screen youlove this camera, but if youlooking to quickly dart between shots or settings, you won. When simply selecting an autofocus point or upping ISO settings I felt like I was waiting a few seconds for the menu to pop up, so much so I thought I hadnpressed the button properly so pressed it again only to deactivate the menu and have to start again. This was very frustrating. Write to card times are pretty sluggish too. Yes the NX20 does have to write large 20.3MP files, but if you do happen to be shooting both Raw and JPEG yoube waiting six seconds to write a single image, which can be a pain if youimpatient! And if you do a continuous burst of eight full resolution Raw and JPEG frames, expect to be twiddling your thumbs for around 40 seconds until the buffer is clear and you can shoot again. Those tests were done using a Class 10 standard SDHC card.

IMAGE QUALITY

The 20.3MP sensor developed in-house by Samsung records a 5472x3648px image, which is enough resolution to print a massive A2 (2xA3) reproduction with only a small amount of blowing up in software required.

The supplied 18-55mm lens kit offers an equivalent 27-83mm focal length in 35mm format and, as is often the case with entry-level lenses, the optical quality isnthe best available. Shooting wide open at 18mm edge sharpness suffers badly and the barrelling is fairly pronounced too. At 55mm things are a little better with improved edge sharpness and only a minor amount of pin cushion distortion. A plus is that I couldnfind much evidence of Chromatic Aberration (coloured fringing along contrast lines) in camera processed JPEGs. When shooting at the maximum aperture at 55mm and getting very close to your subject however, some lovely creative shallow depth-of-field effects are possible, with some nice bokeh too.

The ISO range extends between 100-12,800 giving you lots of low-light shooting options, but unfortunately the NX20 doesnhandle noise quite as well as weseen on other CSCs, such as the Olympus OM-D. In processed JPEGs noise build-up in blocks of colour is noticeable from ISO 800 and does become pretty heavy at ISO 3200 with some loss of detail, and by ISO 6400 image edge sharpness and colour loss start to affect the picture quite badly.

Shooting directly into the midday sun, the NX20221-block segment metering system coped well with the dynamic range only blowing out the very brightest highlights and retaining detail in the shadows without too much noise.

On vivid and bright subjects like flowers, colour reproduction is pretty reasonable and skin tones are quite accurate overall, but in general I thought colour reproduction lacked some punch.

CONCLUSION

The Wi-Fi enabled SMART functions of the NX20 are pretty impressive in terms of their range of functionality and simplicity of use. Some might consider them a bit gimmicky, and to be honest at the outset I didnthink theybe up to much, but I was pleasantly surprised and think that if I owned this camera I would genuinely use them in day to day life. They are not going to replace your computer or completely revolutionise how you social network, but they do have good practical uses.

Social Sharing and email functions let you flaunt pictures there and then, so you donhave to wait until you get home. A Remote Viewfinder will dazzle your mates, as well as help you take shots you might not otherwise be able to, and Microsoft SkyDrive cloud storage could be a really useful tool for backing up images while youaway. Whatmore, while the auto back-up feature to transfer photographs onto your computer is slower than hardwire transfer it just makes things that little bit, well, smarter!

Unfortunately, however, itthe SMART functions which are highlights of this camera and it rather goes downhill from there. Sitting at the top of the Samsung CSC line up the NX20 ?900 price tag is fairly hefty and the manufacturer states the NX20 is aimed at the enthusiastic amateur or the professional photographer.’Thatrather optimistic. With such slow performance it is certainly not a pro-level camera, and with picture quality that does not live up to the standards set by some of the latest CSCs available, such as the Olympus OM-D, it may only appeal to those interested in having the latest SMART features.

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