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For the last couple of years, Samsung has been pushing hard into the mirrorless camera space, but has found little success outside of Korea. Despite some great lenses, its NX line always seemed to have one glaring flaw. Every time we shot a burst of images with the NX20, for example, the camera would lock up. You'd snap off a couple images and the camera would just display a "Processing..." window, refusing to do anything for 5-10 seconds while it cleared its buffer.
But that started to change with last year's truly excellent NX300. This year, Samsung has followed up that success by topping off its mirrorless line with a new flagship: the NX30 (MSRP $999.95 w/ 18-55mm kit).
This new model takes the image quality of the NX300, plugs it into the body style of the older NX20, and adds a unique pull-n-tilt electronic viewfinder, a tilt-n-swivel AMOLED touchscreen, and some of the fastest autofocus performance we've seen in a mirrorless camera. It's also a camera with enough processing muscle to charge through even the most challenging bursts without issue, meaning you can enjoy all the positives the NX series has to offer without any of the historical shortcomings.
Despite some serious upgrades under the hood, the NX30's design doesn't differ greatly from the NX20. The body is fairly compact compared to a traditional DSLR, though it's on the large side for a mirrorless camera. The grip is chunky and comfortable, with a nice rubberized finish. The rest of the body is mostly smooth plastic; it doesn't have the most premium look, especially compared to rival flagships like the Panasonic GX7 or Olympus OM-D E-M1, but the camera is lighter as a result.
The most intriguing feature of the NX30 is the unique EVF, which can be pulled away from the body and tilted upwards. Between the EVF and the tilting AMOLED screen (which now swivels away from the body as well as articulating up or down), you have no end of options for framing your shot. The screens themselves are also bright and extremely sharp. The Super AMOLED screen is as good as we've come to expect from Samsung, while the EVF is perfectly passable, if not up to the high standards set by some recent flagships.
Once again, the NX menu design is top-notch. There are two ways to adjust settings on the camera: through the main menu, or through the quicker live view menu (triggered by hitting the Fn button). The main menu is best navigated via the rear dial/control pad, while the Fn menu is extremely responsive to touch operation.
You can really see Samsung's experience with touch-based interfaces shining through here, with virtual scroll wheels for adjusting shutter speed and aperture on the same screen as adjustments for focus, ISO, and other crucial settings. It's the same menu that we've seen with previous Samsung cameras, but (as with the NX300) the superb responsiveness finally does the UI design justice.
For the last several generations, Samsung has been loading its mirrorless cameras for bear with plenty of useful features that appeal to both hardcore photographers and casual shooters. The NX30 is no different, though the improved processing power really adds an extra layer of polish that had been somewhat lacking in the NX20 and NX200.
In terms of raw power, the NX30 can manage 9 fps shooting with a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 of a second. While that isn't much better than the NX20, the burst mode is much more usable for two reasons.
First, the autofocus speed is greatly improved thanks to phase-detection AF sensors embedded on the sensor. Second, the improved processor can actually push that much information around, and the buffer has been expanded dramatically, so rattling off a burst doesn't lock the camera down immediately. In addition, the built-in flash offers a high-speed sync mode that will let you use those faster shutter speeds when you want some extra light.
For video shooters, the NX30 also offers 1080/30p shooting, a 3.5mm mic input, audio level control, and even clean HDMI output—though we weren't able to test that last bit at CES 2014. You can transfer all of these photos and videos to a PC or mobile device via WiFi, with simple connectivity thanks to built-in NFC. Samsung has lots of different creative uses for the in-camera WiFi, including a remote viewfinder app with full exposure control and even what they're calling remote Baby Monitor.
If you only looked at the spec sheets of the NX30 and the NX20 side by side, you might not be so impressed. After all, the NX20 also had an electronic viewfinder, a compact but comfy design, a 20.3-megapixel APS-C sensor, 8 fps burst, and a tilt-n-swivel AMOLED screen back in 2012.
But the NX30 is less a revolutionary advance in camera quality than the fulfillment of the NX series' longstanding potential. Practically everything that let us down with the NX20 has been remedied here, with the addition of greatly improved connectivity and—if the NX300 is anything to go by—excellent image quality as well.
Shoppers looking for an powerful mirrorless camera have been downright spoiled in the past year with tons of high-performing cameras coming in at relatively affordable prices. While models like the E-M1 still cost a pretty penny, it's not difficult to find a great ILC these days.
What is hard is finding a model with an electronic viewfinder, a tilting screen, tons of speed, and creative features for under $1,000 with a kit lens and a copy of Lightroom 5.
The NX30 provides all of that. If this were two years ago, we'd be ready to call the NX30 a crowning achievement, pending some actual test results. But in 2014 it enters a market that already has the Panasonic GX7 and the Sony Alpha NEX-6, both of which tick many of the same boxes. But while each of those models will appeal to a different shopper, we're big fans of what they all represent: high-end cameras at affordable prices, with features and speed to burn.
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