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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 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Although color accuracy is merely passable, the combination of a high quality kit lens and an impressive sensor results in remarkably sharp images with wide dynamic range. The noise reduction algorithm is functional but not overly aggressive, and it keeps many shots usable well into the highest sensitivities. It's hard to take an ugly shot with the Samsung NX20.
Acceptable, but behind the best in its class
Color accuracy is above average, but it isn't among the NX20's best features. Our test returned an error value of only 2.89, a little bit ahead of the 3.00 median, with errors restricted almost exclusively to yellows and reds. This could cause human subjects to appear very slightly unnatural, but most other subjects and shades should be fine. Saturation, thankfully, is decent too: over by only 2.3%.
Color scores are almost the same as the Samsung NX200's, suggesting either an identical sensor or identical software, or both. Each camera is ahead of the Olympus E-M5, but for the most accurate camera in this segment, look to the *Nikon V1, one of the most accurate cameras we've ever tested.
Noise Reduction & Detail Loss
The quirky noise reduction system isn't overly aggressive, but it works in some strange ways.
Shots captured with the NX20 are generally free of image noise at low and moderate ISO levels. We were happy to find that—even without reduction software—noise levels do not cross 1.00% until ISO 6400. Chroma and luminance noise make up a fairly even share of the total noise, and ultimately this manifests as pixelation at low ISOs, and as color splotching at high ISOs.
For those hoping to maximize the NX20's noise reduction capabilities, there is something unusual to be aware of: although the software is very effective at removing noise above ISO 3200, this is actually not the case at 3200 and below. Turning on noise reduction will actually increase image noise from ISO 100 to 3200—very strange.
The differences are minimal, only 0.14% at the most. Still, for the absolute best in-camera noise reduction, use the system only when shooting ISO 6400 or above. To help you remember, 3200 is conveniently the limit of the auto-ISO function, so if you need to access the menus in order to change the ISO, swing by the noise reduction setting while you're there.
Manufacturers love to saddle high-end bodies with low quality kit lenses, but the NX20 has not fallen in with this trend.
To our surprise and delight, the Samsung NX20, when paired with the 18-55mm kit lens, is one of the sharpest cameras of the year. And that's saying a great deal, since we've seen some incredible, record-setting performers already in 2012.
Admittedly, a healthy dose of software edge enhancement is in use here, producing some fairly noticeable haloing in high contrast areas. However, the effect is by no means extreme, like we might see in a lower quality camera. Raw sharpness figures regularly exceeded 2400 lw/ph at MTF50, especially at the middle focal length. On very rare occasions we observed detail dropping below 1000, however these results were limited to the very edges of the frame, and just as often we observed detail spikes above 2700 or even 2800 lw/ph.
This is overall an extremely impressive performance, especially for a kit zoom lens. It's easy for manufacturers to get away with cheap kit glass, especially as we near the high end of the lineup. Thankfully, Samsung has done no such thing, even though the camera is aiding sharpness considerably.
Moving subjects are handled beautifully in videos captured with the NX20.
Video quality is up and down with the NX20. Contrast trailing and artifacting are nonexistent, and the footage is generally very smooth.
However, just like the Fujifilm X-Pro1, which deliberately omitted a low-pass filter to improve resolution, the NX20 suffers from extremely distracting moire when shooting patterned scenes. And just like X-Pro1, if you can stomach this effect, you'll end up with some pretty sharp video footage. Both horizontally and vertically, the sensor can achieve 500 lw/ph of detail under full studio illumination. That's on the lower end of the spectrum, which is disappointing, given how stellar the kit lens performs with still image sharpness.