One of the more memorable gadgets from our time at CES earlier in the year was Samsung’s retrolicious NX300, a camera that brought with it a style out of yesteryear and blended it with technology from today. Now that it’s available, we’ve spent more time to see what this mirrorless is really made of.
Continuing with Samsung’s compact interchangeable range, the NX300 brings with it technology we’ve seen before in past models, but refines the build and design to make the camera experience better and easier to master.
The casing is made from a combination of metal and plastic, with the design providing a noticeable protruded grip for the right hand to take hold of.
In the NX300, Samsung has provided a 20.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor supporting ISO ranges from 100 to 25600, with auto-focus working with a total of 105 points in phase detection mode, or 247 when using contrast auto focus.
Images can be shot in both JPEG and RAW, with up to 8.6 frames per second for either mode, though the drive mode exists in either single frame, continuous, self-timed, bracketed, or a burst mode that drops the quality down to 5 megapixel images.
Video is included too, with Full HD 1920×1080 offered by default, with 3D’s 1920×810 used when a 3D lens is attached, and 720p available also.
A flash isn’t included in the body of the camera, but a small one that can be attached to a hot-shoe mount on the camera is included in the box. That said, with the hot-shoe mount, you can always attach any flash head.
Controlling the camera is handled through one of three ways: touchscreen, physical controls on the back of the camera, and Samsung’s “i-Function” buttons the company has been including in many of its lenses for years.
Two control dials are located up top, allowing you to change settings such as aperture or shutter speed for the small black wheel or even zoom into images, with the right control dial useful for changing camera modes.
There’s the typical range of manual modes – P, S, A, M – as well as an auto mode, i-Function specific mode, dedicated WiFi mode, and then several smart modes for creative photography, night mode, fireworks, macro, and more.
That touchscreen measures 3.3 inches and uses AMOLED technology, a well as a vertical vari-angle screen, meaning it can be pulled out to look down on, or even positioned at an angle to be seen from below. It’s not a full 90 degree angle for viewing from below, however.
Wireless technology is included, as this is one of Samsung’s Smart Cameras – Smart Camera 2.0, in fact – so you’ll find 802.11 b/g/n, with Near-Field Communication (NFC) built into the body to make the handshake between wireless devices – smartphone and camera, or tablet and camera – easy as pie.
The battery is an 1130mAh brick, and charge can be taken through the microUSB port on the side, meaning there is no external battery charger needed.
An HDMI port can also be found on the right side under the same flap the microUSB port is found under.
A copy of Adobe’s Lightroom is bundled in the box.
Available in three colours, Samsung’s NX300 takes a stab at remaking its interchangeable models into something a little more classic, with a metal body that features a leather look.
In a way, it’s like looking at an interpretation of what old camera would have evolved like today, with your choice of either black, brown, or white plastic leather finishes, making the old new again, essentially.
In the hands, this is one of Samsung’s better set of ergonomics yet, providing a comfortable traditional grip (left hand under the camera, body flat against the pinky finger line with thumb and fore-finger resting against the lens).
While there’s no viewfinder, you will find a massive 3 inch LCD able to be pulled out from the body with some vari-angle control.
It’s not as versatile as the tilting screens Canon uses, with only vertical control, but it means at least that you can shoot images from above or below the camera by setting up the screen to be slightly angled.
An upside to this system is that the screen is one of those nifty touchscreens Samsung is uber fond of, meaning you can touch to focus, sort through the menus quickly, and use an onscreen keyboard for typing things in that draws inspiration from Samsung’s Android phones which is so much more responsive than previous Samsung cameras.
Why would you want to type things?
Because this camera supports WiFi, allowing you to jump onto a hotspot and send pictures over email, Facebook, SkyDrive, or video over YouTube. We wish there were more apps available, and are sure social networks are probably missing that you might want to use, but that’s where your phone will come in.
Samsung has made apps available that make it possible for a handset to connect to the camera directly and grab the images, sharing them through the phone.
Better, if you have a Near-Field enabled smartphone, you can start this up using this feature. In fairness, we had more luck just downloading the app and connecting than starting the process with NFC on either the HTC One or Samsung Galaxy S4, but you might have better luck.
Switching it into the camera modes and you’ll get into the real meat and bones of what photography is all about: taking pictures.
On the NX300, the body is solid and the buttons are fairly tight, and with a combination of rear controls, i-Function on the lens, and touchscreen options, there are plenty of ways for most people to get started with the camera.
The automatic mode labeled “auto” does a good job of the basics, while the smart mode (a camera with an “s” inside) allows you to select the scenes you want to use. Some of them aren’t fantastic, and we struggled to get a good shot out of these, so moved onto the manual modes.
As expected, these worked a treat, and whether you’re interested in controlling the aperture, the shutter, or doing it all in manual mode, you’ll find this camera responds nicely.
We mentioned the ergonomics before, and with only one proper control wheel up top (the black one), a rear button normally used for exposure control allows you to quickly switch between aperture or shutter using that same wheel, reminding us of the control scheme Nikon uses for its beginner DSLRs, which is comfortable.
Pictures from the camera are the real test, though, but there’s good news here, too.
In daylight, the NX300 is an excellent camera, providing lovely vibrant colours with the right exposure settings, and a decent amount of detail depending on the lens you’re using.
Images shot of some lovely Labradors down at the Guide Dogs NSW training centre showed some solid detail in the fur and faces of the pips, while the leaves had crisp colours.
At night, the camera is capable of some solid shadows even despite the noise.
Up close with the face at Luna Park resulted in sharp sculpted eyelashes, while Vivid Sydney’s Harbour Bridge produced excellent fluorescent colours.
The downside for this camera seems to come when you jack the ISO up to compensate for the lack of light, which in turn makes everything soft and floral when you zoom to 100 percent.
Most people won’t worry about this, we’re sure, but details seem to go missing, especially once you’re at ISO6400.
While some of this can be attributed to the sensor, there’s also another factor, and that’s the kit lens Samsung ships with this camera, an 18-55 f/3.5-5.6.
It’s not a fantastic lens, and while it’s fine in daylight, isn’t great in low light. It also lacks macro support, making it very difficult to get close to anything in either environment.
The lack of a built-in flash is also a touch annoying, and while we appreciate the included flash you can have sit on top small as it is, it dents the sleek lines and simple look this camera has.
One positive thing about the NX300 relates to the power.
Following some of Samsung’s other choices, there is no external charger for the battery as there has been with other cameras in the past, and there is also no proprietary charge port. In fact, Samsung has taken the high road with this camera and stuck with the microUSB port nearly every smartphone charges from to recharge its battery.
That means going on vacation won’t need an extra battery charger, and you can merely plug the camera into the same plug you’re using with a Galaxy S4, or HTC One, or LG, or any other smartphone that isn’t made by Apple, as microUSB is the international standard.
It’s hard to get into every nook and cranny of a camera, but what we’ve seen in the Samsung NX300, we’ve liked.
Overall, Samsung has designed a camera that looks good, is comfortable to use, and offers versatility.
We’re sure that not every camera owner will like its design, but amateurs and enthusiasts will find a great camera here, just make sure to buy a better lens as soon as you can.