When I was asked to review the Samsung NX-210, I wasn’t particularly excited about the prospect. I’ve always had a negative predisposition towards Samsung cameras and actually any Compact Camera System (CSC) system for that matter. With electronic viewfinders (EVF) (or complete lack thereof), noisy small sensors, and small lens selection, reasons abound why I held a prejudice against the aforementioned systems.
The Samsung NX-210 arrived in a very nice black box. I pulled out the all metal body and attached the apparently well made Samsung 18-55mm kit lens. It may have been a “kit” lens, but it's definitely one of the nicer ones I’ve handled. My initial reaction was one of surprise. It felt solid, and fit in my oversize hands very well. Battery arrived fully charged and Samsung was kind enough to include an SD card. Now off to do some shooting.
As I go though this review, I won’t bore you with specs, test charts, or noise profiles. While I understand these details perfectly, and have even taught photography workshops, I feel they’re not relevant to the real world reviews I present. All images are shot in RAW, and converted in ACR as Apple has yet to release a profile for this camera. Therefore, I could not use Aperture as my image editor as is my normal workflow.
Samsung NX-210 Body
The camera is small, similar in size to a compact camera. Its metal body gives it a solid feel but it's not too heavy. With the 18-55mm kit lens mounted, it feels very well balanced, well suited to carrying around for a day of shooting. The battery compartment, which houses both the battery and the SD card, locks solidly. The body is not weather sealed and there is no optical viewfinder. There is a pseudo standard hotshoe (more on that later) to install the included and very useful flash accessory.
Ergonomics and Controls
I would have preferred it to be where the video record button is located. The iFN button on the lens is well positioned, easy to reach when holding the lens, programmable and makes selecting functions on the fly a breeze. The dial pad on the back is well designed, and allows very common functions such as ISO and Drive Mode to be selected right away without delving into the menu system. A programmable Fn button, Menu, and Playback buttons round out the camera interface.
Menus and User Interface
The menu system is straightforward and simple. It’s easy to locate the desired function and after a couple hours of use, you should have a good grasp of where everything is located. A few features of note:
- White Balance settings include Auto, Presets, Custom Preset, and Kelvin settings.
- The Picture Wizard (read filters) seem to be included on all cameras these days, but there are also 3 custom tone settings to fine tune the camera’s output.
- The self timer is not limited to 2 or 10 seconds, but it's completely adjustable from 2-30 seconds. Well done, simple to implement and greatly appreciated.
- ISO is selectable in 1/3 stops, providing the user with a more fine-tuned choice.
- Auto ISO. A great feature but I’m at a loss as to why Samsung did not also allow a lower limit to be selected. This is very important when shooting action indoors like fast moving kids at a birthday party.
- Distortion Correction is available, but only available if using a Samsung lens... no problem there and useful when shooting architecture on vacation.
- The menu features 20 languages. I don’t understand why manufacturers only include a few choices depending on the region the camera is sold.
Another very useful feature is the sensor cleaning. There’s a choice to manually clean the sensor as well as at start-up. Why there’s an option to clean at start-up I’ll never understand, as it slows down the camera start-up time. Most people when turning on the camera want to take a picture right away. Make it operate Shut-Off and I’ll set it and leave it there.
The lack of an EVF may be a deal breaker for some, myself included, but I had no problem using the screen in bright sunlight. The 614K dot OLED screen is the usual high quality we've come to expect from Samsung but the screen is fixed to the camera. It's disappointing the camera lacks an articulating display, a feature found on many of its main competitors. Unfortunately, Samsung does not even offer one as an accessory.
The NX-210 comes with WiFi and is compatible with Android and iOS devices for uploading pictures straight from the camera. This worked very well with my Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Note II, but I could not get it to work with my iPhone or iPad.
The included hotshoe does not appear to allow the attachment of aftermarket flash units. The only flash I could get to work was the included Samsung flash and a Pocket Wizard which the majority of intended customers will not own.
The NX-210 comes with the very capable 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS lens. This is a better than average kit lens with a 35mm field of view equivalent of 27-82.5mm and provides (OIS) Image Stabilization. The zoom ring has a solid feel and the manual focus ring is light to the touch. A little more resistance would have been appreciated for fine tuning manual focus.
Of the Compact System Cameras, Samsung (at the time of writing) has the second best selection of lenses in their lineup after the µ43 system but ahead of Nikon, Canon, Sony, and Fuji. Samsung currently has 9 lenses available including the very highly rated 85mm f/1.4, 16mm f/2.4 pancake, and 30mm f/2. Other available lenses consist of a 55-200mm f/4-5.6 OIS zoom lens and a 60mm f/2.8 Macro. For those looking for an all-in-one solution, the 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OIS Super Zoom is an option. Upcoming lenses promised from Samsung include a very travel friendly all-purpose 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 OIS zoom.
The NX-210 uses the Contrast Phase Detect system common in most CSC these days. The NX-210’s AF speed is quick, locking on accurately, even in a dimly lit banquet hall. It also promises 7 frames per second continuous shooting. Just don’t expect both of these to work reliably in conjunction with each other. Again, this is not just limited to the NX-210, but in reality, with a moving subject, especially coming towards the camera, don’t expect the full frame advance rate. In excellent lighting, with a static subject, using MF, it’s possible. Please keep this in mind if this is an important feature. If this is the most important feature, DSLR’s still reign supreme.
All images were shot in RAW, and processed to JPEG, but in reality I couldn’t really see much difference between the two formats when processing the images. I would recommend saving card space and just shoot on the highest quality JPEG setting. The images straight out of the camera are sharp, and required little in the way of processing. The Auto White Balance (AWB) performs its job respectably, and is only really fooled in mixed artificial lighting, something that is generally a problem with most AWB systems. For those with larger cameras like the Canon Rebel Series or Nikon’s entry level DSLRs, you will find the image quality comparable and in some cases even improved.
ISO was fine, right up until ISO 1600. After that, the images fall apart quickly. This is the one area where the NX-210 fails, and performs worse than µ43 or the Sony NEX series and the main reason some may avoid this camera. Although the specs tout ISO up to 12,800, that is a spec best left to the marketing department.
After my initial trepidation and prejudices towards this camera were overcome, I found myself really enjoying using the camera. It was much lighter than carrying around my D700 and requisite lenses. It handles beautifully, controls were well thought out and the image quality was very good. Build quality was excellent and the included kit lens provides a useful range for all around photography. The OLED screen is sharp and clear with brilliant colours and the Scene Modes/Smart Filters provide useful options for added creativity.
Unfortunately, not all is perfect as the NX-210 doesn't accept off-brand camera flashes, there is no EVF and not even an option to add one as an accessory, the screen is fixed to the camera with no articulation and, most of all, the NX-210 suffers from poor high ISO image quality above ISO 1600 falling behind other cameras in its class.
Samsung has a solid camera here, one I can definitely recommend for people looking for good image quality in a smaller package. It's perfect for soccer moms, digital dads and anyone who needs a camera to capture life's special moments.