THE GOOD: Comfortable, intelligent design; nice LCD; capable of producing excellent images.
THE BAD: Default image settings could be better; sensor cleaning on resume from standby; middling EVF; no override for EVF eye sensor; annoying raw software.
THE BOTTOM LINE: While there are enough drawbacks to keep the Samsung NX10 from being a no-brainer choice among interchangeable-lens cameras, it's still a well-designed model that's fun to shoot with and capable of producing very nice photos.
For the Samsung NX10, the whole feels like a lot more than the sum of the parts. Except for a nice design, surprisingly good lenses, and its status as the first interchangeable-lens camera (ILC) with a relatively large APS-C-size sensor, there doesn't seem to be anything particularly outstanding about the camera's feature set, performance or photo quality when taken individually. Nevertheless, my overall experience with the NX10 and opinion about the camera is a lot more positive than the individual ratings would indicate.
Larger and heavier than compact designs without EVFs (electronic viewfinders) and smaller than an entry-level dSLR, the plastic-bodied NX10 feels pretty well-constructed and comfortable to grip. Though the buttons and switches are a little flat with less travel than I'd like, they're laid out intelligently and where point-and-shoot upgraders will expect to find the settings. The four-way navigation switches bring up white balance, metering, ISO sensitivity, and AF/MF adjustments (with a typical set of options for each). The center OK button allows you to select your focus area (if you're in selection AF mode) as well as choose from four different sizes for the AF area--a nice feature. Fn navigates the rest of the options: resolution and compression, AF area, flash, color space, Smart Range (which brings back some highlights, though it doesn't seem to bring back detail in shadows or open midtones) and optical image stabilizer settings (always on or on focus lock). Samsung uses a pretty typical display layout for its user interface, although I have to admit I find its occasionally faux-analog aesthetic more appealing than most and the AMOLED renders extra-crisp icons. Next to the thumb rest and easily reached are the exposure compensation and autoexposure lock buttons; just above them in a slightly less comfortable-to-reach location sit the drive mode and movie record buttons.
The NX10 has a couple of notable drive mode options. While it only offers three-frame bracketing, it supports up to three stops in either direction, which is a nice deal for HDR enthusiasts. It can also bracket up to three sets of image (saturation, contrast, sharpness, color tone) Picture Wizard settings. The camera also has a 30fps/30 low-resolution shot burst mode, which is most useful for analyzing golf swings.
The mode dial atop the camera contains the usual access to PASM, scene, Smart Auto, and movie modes . While Samsung offers the same handful of scene modes as the rest of the crowd, its Smart Auto delivers a twist. Like others, it automatically picks a scene mode if it can match your shot to its criteria, but unlike the rest it actually tells you which mode it's chosen, such as macro or portrait. Unfortunately, if it's chosen wrong there's no way to correct it. Despite the dedicated movie record button, you've still got to be in movie mode on the dial, which I find annoying--and it doubles as a settings reset button when you're not in movie mode, which is kind of dangerous. For a full accounting of the NX10's features and operation, download a PDF of the manual.
I generally like Samsung's NX lenses--I used the 18-55mm kit lens, 30mm prime, and 50-200mm telephoto. They feel relatively well constructed, despite using plastic mounts. (The 50-200mm mount might be metal, but if so it's pretty plastic-feeling metal.) The zooms have image stabilization built in while the 30mm doesn't, which is one of the few drawbacks to relying on optical image stabilization--it's not in every lens. All the lenses are comfortable to operate, with smoothly rotating zoom and manual focus rings. The 50-200 does feel a bit overweighted for the body, though. All three are reasonably fast, and thanks to internal focus, quiet. They don't focus as close as I'd like, however; 10 and 11 inches for the 30mm and 18-55, respectively.
While it doesn't deliver class-leading performance, the NX10 does quite respectably. It powers on and shoots in 0.8 second; though relatively fast, keep in mind that it defaults to sensor cleaning on startup disabled, which adds at least a second delay. More irritating, when sensor cleaning is enabled it occurs every time the camera comes out of standby, not just on startup and perhaps shutdown like most dSLRs and ILCs. In bright conditions, it takes 0.5 second to focus and shoot, which is at the top of the range what we consider acceptable for the price and class. Ditto for its 0.7-second shot lag in dim light. Raw shooting takes a hair longer than JPEG--2 consecutive raw shots run 1.2 seconds vs. 1.0 for JPEG--though both represent reasonable times for the class. The flash recycles pretty quickly, though, bumping up to just 1.5 seconds. Despite comparatively good frame rates for burst performance, shooting action with an EVF camera is more miss than hit in general, making speed here kind of moot.
The LCD is nice and bright, if a bit contrasty, and sharp enough to use for manual focusing. But the EVF isn't great; it's low resolution, which makes it hard to use for manual focus, too contrasty and a bit jerky on the refresh. Plus, there's no way to override the automatic switching between the LCD and EVF when you put the camera up to your eye--or accidentally block the sensor with something.
After much gnashing of teeth and straddling of fences, I finally decided the NX10's photo quality deserves an 8 over a 7. It's capable of producing some excellent photos, though pickier shooters are definitely going to want to change the default settings. I'd also recommend shooting raw, but no third-party software supports Samsung's files yet, and it ships with the powerful but impenetrable SilkyPix, which isn't customized very well for Samsung; for instance, it can't report any of the non-EXIF information that usually resides in a raw file, such as the image preset settings, and doesn't use the same processing preset conventions as are in the camera.
Though its defaults deliver relatively accurate results, Samsung's image controls are as frustrating as those on many entry-level dSLRs; they don't tell you what the inherent settings are for each of the different presets, instead leaving everything zeroed out. And Samsung gives you no indication as to which of the presets will provide the most neutral results.
It's notable that the NX10 delivered exceptionally low numbers on our noise tests, and the photos of the Color Checker charts at the various sensitivities used to derive the numbers do look very good. While it's usually true that high ISO sensitivity photos exhibit less noise in sufficient light than in low light for a given setting, I've never seen quite as dramatic a gap as with the NX10. So if you need high sensitivities in order to be able to get faster shutter speeds in bright light, the NX10 fares quite well. But that doesn't translate to great high ISO shots--about ISO 800 and above--in low light. While the camera preserves color saturation at high ISO sensitivities, you can see a lot of color noise and clipping in the shadows. And while fine details look okay at middle ISO sensitivities, it's generally because in its default settings Samsung applies excessive sharpening. As a side effect, though, artifacts get exacerbated in areas that might otherwise exhibit little noise.
All three lenses we tested--and right now, that's all there are--performed about the same as their typical inexpensive counterparts for dSLRs. The 30mm pancake prime displays relatively little distortion and good edge-to-edge sharpness. At its widest, the kit lens displays a bit more asymmetrical distortion than usual. At 50mm, the 50-200mm lens displays some distortion--not a lot, but more than one expects to see at 50mm. The aperture on the 18-55mm lens produces extremely round, nice-looking bokeh on point highlights.
The NX10 generally renders bright, saturated and pleasing colors. The NX10's color settings (dubbed Picture Wizard) are a bit of a mystery. On one hand, for outdoor shots in bright daylight, Calm delivers the most accurate rendering, albeit a little flat, while the default settings boost saturation (and possibly contrast) until the color is borderline wrong. However, on our test shots of a Color Checker under daylight-balanced lights, the default settings produced relatively accurate colors and the Calm setting yielded extremely low-contrast and generally poor results. The bundled raw software doesn't provide analogous profiles to the ones in-camera making it difficult to match (the closest it comes is something called Super Neutral).
The NX10's video looks OK if you don't look too closely. It's decently exposed and relatively sharp with no significant compression artifacts. But there's also moire on fine details, a propensity to the wobblies (more than usual), frequently jarring exposure adjustments and thin, mono sound.
As I said from the outset, the Samsung NX10 feels like more than the sum of its parts. Though I have nitpicks and quibbles with almost every aspect of the camera, I still enjoyed shooting with it and was able to get photos I liked--and ultimately that's the true test of a camera. Shooters looking to step up from a snapshot camera probably won't notice a lot of the image issues, though as with most ILCs you won't get the action shooting upgrade you might be looking for. Enthusiasts lost among the various models might want to pause and think about Samsung's proprietary lens mount and current dearth of lenses, as well as a lack of usable raw software, but if those don't bother you then there's a lot to like.