The Samsung NX10 was the first mirrorless camera with an APS-C sized sensor and consequently it enjoyed significant attention when it was first announced 2 years ago. However, it was quickly overshadowed by the Sony NEX series, which delivered arguably better image quality in a smaller package.
However, Samsung did not sit idle. The company released three more cameras (NX5, NX100 and NX11) with the same internals as a stop-gap measure while working on the all-new 20MP sensor. Samsung NX200 is the first camera utilizing this sensor as well as the new image processor.
Body and design
The NX200 is very different to its predecessors. The earlier NX series cameras were all plasticky and curvy, while the NX200 is (mostly) metal and angular. The overall look is elegant yet understated. The camera clearly is designed to appeal to fashion-conscious consumers.
The top and the front panels of the NX200 are made of metal. The grip area on the right side of the body is covered with a very nice rubber-like plastic. The entire back plate is made of the same soft plastic material. Did I mention it feels nice in hand? Overall the NX200 is very comfortable to hold. Build quality is also top notch.
The size of the camera is rather small. It's slightly slimmer than the Olympus E-P3 in all dimensions despite having a larger sensor. Actually, it's almost as small as the Samsung EX1/TL500. But the small size also means there is not enough space for an EVF or built-in flash. The small clip-on flash (SEF-8A) comes with the camera and draws its power from the camera body. In operation it's very similar to the flash included with Sony's NEX series cameras.
Compared to the NX100, the NX200 loses the remote control socket, and Samsung's proprietary USB connection is now replaced with the standard Micro-USB type socket. While the former is regrettable, the latter is very welcome and probably long overdue. I wish other camera makers followed Samsung's example.
The screen is the same VGA OLED panel used in the previous NX series cameras and also, incidentally, in the Olympus E-P3. It's nice. In fact, it's almost too nice: it makes colors look richer and exposures brighter than they are. Unfortunately, the glass protector plate is very reflective and as such reduces the screen visibility in broad daylight. Don't even think about judging exposure by the screen image. The histogram is your friend.
The kit lens
The NX200 is sold as a kit with the Samsung 20-50mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. This lens is very similar to the Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42 mk I. It's collapsible and very compact in its folded state. The outer barrel and the mount are made of plastic, but the inner barrel is metal. Like the Olympus 14-42 mk I, the lens focuses by moving the front group back and forth and (again, just like the Olympus 14-42 mk I) it is not a speed demon.
Opticaly this lens is surprisingly good at its widest setting, but at the 50mm it suffers from heavy spherical aberrations which create dream-like halos around bright objects. This effect disappers on stopping down.
Controls and menus
The NX200 has a decent amount of external controls. There are 7 buttons (not including the shutter release), two control wheels and a mode dial. Oh, and the second wheel also functions as a 4-way controller, which brings the total amount of buttons to 11. Not bad for such a small camera! Unfortunately, the AEL/AFL button is not one of them and there is no way to repurpose the movie button to function as AEL/AFL. It's possible to assign one of two available functions (DOF preview or one-touch WB) to the delete button and that's it in terms of customizability.
While the camera loses some buttons compared to its predecessors, it also gains some much needed refinements. For example, on the previous 'three-digit' NX camera, the NX100, the top control wheel was too easy to turn accidentally. This problem is rectified in the NX200: both control wheels now require just the right amount of force to turn. The quick access menu (which is summoned by pressing the Fn button) is now organized like Olympus's Super Control Panel, which is very convenient. Another welcome addition is the 'direct manual focus' (DMF) mode which works exactly like the one in the Sony NEX cameras: after the camera locks focus, you can turn the focusing ring on the lens and the camera will show the magnified view of the selected focusing point. Unfortunately, it has a bug which also plagues Sony's NEX series: if the camera can't lock focus, the DMF mode doesn't work.
Those quirks and issues aside, the NX200 is a very easy camera to shoot with, and its UI in general is very well thought-out.
I almost forgot to mention Samsung's i-Function control scheme that allows you to use the focusing ring on your lens as the third control wheel. In my opinion, this is just a gimmick, but some people like it.
Shooting with the Samsung NX200
Ok, so we have discovered that the NX200 is very satisfactory as a physical object, but what about using it as a camera?
Well, I have both bad and good news here. Let's start with the good ones.
The NX200 is significantly faster than its predecessors. AF is almost instant in most lighting conditions. Switching between different modes, selecting focus points, browsing the menus - everything feels snappier. The shutter lag also is reduced.
The live view image now has noticeably higher resolution (on the previous NX series cameras it was interpolated from 320x240 and looked very crude, with jagged diagonal lines and lots of moire). The magnified view for manual focusing now offers 5x and 8x magnification, but there is one significant drawback — when using MF lenses, you can magnify only the center of the frame. I hope Samsung will fix this in future firmware updates.
The meter is a bit hot. I discovered that in most situation I have to dial in up to -1 EV to get properly exposed images. The good news is that it overexposes consistently instead of jumping all over the place.
The shutter sound is still very soft and pleasant. To my ears it's approximately twice as silent as the shutter in the Olympus E-P3.
Now to the bad news. RAW files are about 50 MB each. It means that the camera eats quickly even through the biggest memory cards. It also means the write times are L-O-N-G. With my rather speedy Class 10 cards, it takes several seconds to write a single file. During this time the camera allows to take another shot, but doesn't allow to adjust its settings. After taking the burst of 7 images, the camera completely lock-ups for almost a minute. I tried an UHS-I card and the writing speed was much faster. I don't recommend using other (non UHS-I) cards with this camera.
The NX100 had a very good battery life, that's why I was unpleasantly surprised by Samsung's decision to use another (smaller) battery in the NX200. As a result, the battery is good only for 200-250 shots.
I also have to note that Samsung's dust reduction system is next to useless. The first time I took the lens off the camera, I got a dust spot on the sensor.
Just this week, Dpreview sample shots caused quite a stir in the Samsung NX community because they looked unexpectedly horrid. I did not test the camera at higher ISOs, but I took a few shots at ISO 400 and did NOT notice significant loss of detail. I think the NX200 does just fine for a 20MP camera. I also like the colors straight from the camera — they're slightly unusual, but they look great.
Right now Capture One is the only RAW converter that supports NX200 RAWs. As expected, RAW files are noisier than JPEGs, but they show very good resolution - slightly better than the Panasonic GH2. C1 renders colors surprisingly close to the in-camera JPEGs, so in the end it could be the best RAW converter for the NX200 (I suspect ACR, when it adds support for NX200 RAWs, will have the typical greenish-yellow Adobe look).
One advantage the NX200 holds over Micro 4/3 is its silky-smooth images at the base ISO which is great for landscapes. My Panasonic GH2 is a great camera, but it produces grainy images even at ISO 160.
In terms of dynamic range the NX200 appears to be halfway between Micro 4/3 and Sony NEX.
Some sample images from the NX200:
The Samsung NX system is often overlooked, which I think is a bit unfair. I hope the NX200 will help the system to gain some prominence. This camera is not revolutionary, but it is a giant step forward for Samsung. For me, previous NX series cameras were fun, but quirky. The NX200 is still fun, but it is much less quirky than its predecessors. It's a very simple and straightforward camera designed mostly in a no-nonsense fashion, it handles well and takes beautiful images. What's not to like?
The new 20MP sensor is clearly much better than the old one. Finally NX series users have a camera that does their excellent lenses justice. There are rumors that Samsung may introduce a high-end rangefnder-style body with the built-in EVF, and if this rumored camera uses the same sensor - I will be very interested.