cameras

Samsung NX20 Review

Samsung's new NX20, boasts the same huge megapixel count as the NX210 and the NX200.

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Introduction

Samsung's most expensive digital camera, the new NX20, boasts the same huge megapixel count as the NX210 and the NX200 before it, but it resides in a larger, supposedly more "professional" body. This is also one of the first enthusiast level cameras to feature WiFi connectivity, as Samsung—despite our collective eye-rolling—continues to push this technology even more aggressively in 2012.

Here in the office, we sometimes regard high-end Samsung cameras as comprehensive, but not quite cohesive. All the technology is there, but the end-result may not feel like a specialized tool for photography. In other words: there's reading a recipe book, and then there's cooking. We got the NX20 over to the lab to see if this model would be any different.

Design & Usability

The NX20's full grip and larger body handle very well, but the dials and menus could be improved upon.

A number of key improvements set this camera apart from the old NX10, most notably the AMOLED monitor on the back, which now swings out and rotates for videos and tricky angles. The NX20 is larger than previous NX bodies, and the image sensor receives a huge upgrade, too—to 20.3 megapixels.

The larger body means handling the NX20 is much more comfortable than Samsung's slim profile NX cameras.

The larger body means handling the NX20 is much more comfortable than Samsung's other slim profile NX cameras. The front of the chassis features a protruding right hand grip, which is rubberized all the way around, and a lip at the top of this area gives the index finger something to push up against, so control is precise and accurate both horizontally and vertically. Also, on the rear panel, there's a great sticky rubber thumb rest.

The NX20 has a full mode dial, and Samsung has included comprehensive manual control, leaving room for only the most specific complaints. Bulb mode, for example, is only accessible in manual, and the shutter cannot be released without a lens attached—pretty trivial stuff. The main menu is designed well, with a horizontal tab-based system. The tabs are neither color-coded nor customizable, but some moderately clear icons serve as navigational markers. When you're in a hurry, the quick Function menu allows quick configuration of the most common variables.

Features

WiFi isn't useful enough on its own, but the NX20's phenomenal AMOLED screen and EVF are worth the price of admission.

Samsung is banking on WiFi as their unique feature and we just don't see the point. The wireless connectivity works, but the necessity of loading up custom apps on your smartphone to link both devices is bereft of the seamless connectivity that makes smartphone photography so appealing. While this is certainly something Samsung will refine in the future, WiFi on the NX20 is a rarely useful feature; it just doesn't add much to the experience (yet we feel sure it adds to that price tag).

The camera tops out at 1/8000th of a second shutter speed, which puts it beyond most cameras in its class.

It isn't all bad for the NX20, though. The camera offers burst shooting at a very nice 7.5-8 frames per second, fast focusing even in low light, and plenty of manual control for both still and video capture. The camera tops out at 1/8000th of a second shutter speed, which puts it beyond most cameras in its class. On the hardware side of things, the jump to a 20-megapixel sensor provides loads of resolution, though the best features are by far the electronic viewfinder and the articulated, 3-inch AMOLED LCD.

The electronic viewfinder is particularly appealing, since it's the only current NX-series camera that offers it. While we're always in the corner on optical viewfinders, the EVF on the Samsung NX20 is excellent, certainly on par with the Sony NEX series. While optical finders are more accurate, the EVF provides far more flexibility, including live shooting information, exposure adjustment, and a live preview of your shot without having to lower the camera from eye level.

Performance

The NX20 struggles in a few key areas, but its bright performances outweigh the negatives.

The Samsung NX20 scores well on many of our performance tests, with particularly sharp images and excellent dynamic range. The 20-megapixel sensor also manages to rein in noise quite well in both JPEG and RAW shooting, without the aggressive noise reduction system that we're used to seeing from Samsung's NX line. It's quite effective, though, allowing for shots all the way up to ISO 6400.

Every time you fill the buffer, you have to wait a few seconds before you can even focus and compose your next shot, which is extremely tiresome.

The NX20's color accuracy was a bit sub-par relative to the competition, but it would take a really discerning eye to pick out the flaws. Burst shooting was quite pleasant, at first. The camera is capable of up to 8 frames per second in both RAW and JPEG, but the camera unfortunately quickly locks up when the buffer is full. Every time you fill the buffer you have to wait a few seconds before you can even focus and compose your next shot, which is extremely tiresome when you're capturing action photos.

Video quality is greatly improved on the NX20, but unfortunately the increased resolution has resulted in one major drawback. While motion rendition was extremely smooth, with little noticeable artifacting or trailing, the video was plagued by a high degree of moire. Moire is the ugly colored patterning that occurs over high-frequency patterns, such as brick walls or striped shirts. It's the ugly, distracting result that occurs when the camera tries to take 20 megapixels worth of image information and downsample that to a 2-megapixel HD signal.

Conclusion

An excellent flagship mirrorless camera that is worth serious consideration at its price point

Samsung's NX20 is a sharp, comfortable, all-around excellent camera. We had a ton of fun with it, and scored some gorgeous shots over the past few weeks. Test results were consistent, and we have no problem giving our full recommendation here. It's one of the first high-end cameras with built-in WiFi too, though we're not especially interested in this feature.

The problem with WiFi is that it's a huge waste of time for enthusiasts. If you take a lot of shots and you want to catalog, rate, edit, or upload your photos, you'll want to do that on a computer where you have the connectivity speed, processing power, and screen size to adequately judge the shots you've taken with your camera. Any photographer who's performed more than five minutes of processing knows that actually getting your shots onto the computer is the easiest, simplest, fastest element of the entire ordeal. It's impossible to sell high-end customers on such a gimmick; they're too smart.

Yet, in Samsung's defense, the NX20 is an excellent device. Samsung's design touch isn't as deft as some, but the NX20 is clearly modeled after a true camera-lover's camera. Manual control is comprehensive, hotkeys and shortcuts are everywhere, and the ergonomic body shape is suited to comfort and stability. We love the bright, sturdy AMOLED monitor that swings out to accommodate difficult angles, and the electronic viewfinder is accurate and useful. The same care has been given to outstanding image quality too, with some of the sharpest test results of the year. We spent some time with Samsung's 60mm macro and 85mm portrait lenses, and although this family is only ten models deep or so, we were very encouraged by the sky-high quality of this glass. The NX series officially has our attention.

Ultimately, the Samsung NX20 takes up position just behind the excellent Sony NEX-7, and just ahead of the still-impressive Olympus OM-D E-M5, making it one of the best mirrorless cameras of 2012. Serious videographers need not apply, but the NX20 is a worthy flagship. Believe it or not, $1,100 is a fair price for this caliber of camera, in light of the competition and given the high quality prime options. If you're optimistic about the NX lens family (we're believers), then this is a camera that's easily worth buying.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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