Design & Usability
The retro-inspired design looks great, but in use it still feels like the same old NX.
Despite a rocky start, Samsung's NX line has settled into a comfortable pattern. Both the NX300's hardware design and software interface make it easy to just pick up the camera and start shooting, and the metal top plate is a nice premium touch. Otherwise, the shape and feel don't depart from what we saw in the last NX generation.
The NX300 is the midrange model for Samsung's line, replacing 2012's NX210. As such, it lacks some extra comforts. Missing are the electronic viewfinder and built-in flash, but the camera does feature a large 3.3-inch, articulated AMOLED touchscreen. The touch interface pretty darn good, actually, though advanced shooters can safely ignore it without losing any functionality.
Our biggest problem with the design is its lack of control dials—the body has just a single small dial on the top plate. It's the same top control dial that was on the NX200 and NX210, but those cameras had a secondary dial on the rear control pad, which greatly improved the camera's ergonomics. The NX300 just has four individual physical buttons. While this may simplify operation for some, the stripped-down control scheme is a big negative in our eyes.
The floor model we handled at CES was still pre-production, but there's no indication that it will diverge from the NX series' time-honored GUI. It's not a bad menu—the "Smart Panel" portion is actually about as good as it gets—the long, scrollable lists of settings tend to make things more complicated than they need to be.
Upgrades to key areas bode well for the NX300.
The Samsung NX300's key additions are largely internal: a new 20.3-megapixel APS-C sensor, DRIMe IV (is that supposed to sound like "dream"?) processor, and hybrid autofocus system.
Hands-down the biggest issues with the NX series last year were the slow contrast-detection autofocus and the camera's tendency to lock up when shooting quick bursts. The new processor and sensor should alleviate those concerns, though the it's hard to draw hard and fast conclusions from pre-production floor models.
The specs are otherwise basically an incremental upgrade over the NX210, with 8.6fps continuous shooting (vs. the NX210's 8fps), a slightly larger 3.3-inch AMOLED screen (vs. the NX210's 3-inch), and an ISO range that tops out at 25600 instead of 12800. The NX300 lacks a built-in flash or electronic viewfinder, but it does feature focus peaking, a hybrid phase/contrast detection autofocus system, and a maximum shutter speed of 1/6000 of a second.
The addition of phase detection pixels onto the APS-C image sensor is likely to be the biggest improvement, especially in low light and when tracking moving subjects. It's a tactic that we've seen on mirrorless cameras from Canon, Nikon, and Sony, with generally improved results. If Samsung can tie together all these features and deliver seamless performance without the constant processing headaches, the NX300 could really shine.
A solid midrange mirrorless with plenty of promise
At $749.99 with a 20-50mm kit lens, the NX300 represents a fair value proposition compared to its mirrorless peers. Samsung has put quite a lot (of effort, and of money) into developing their imaging business over the last couple years, but despite impressive specs on paper they've always seemed one step shy becoming a legitimate competitor to the major manufacturers.
In 2012, we were consistently impressed by the quality of Samsung's NX-series prime lenses. They're larger than similar lenses from competing systems, but the optical quality is generally superb. The cameras themselves offer impressive burst capabilities, an intuitive user interface, and generally impressive image quality. But when your camera can't focus accurately in low light and constantly locks up during continuous shooting, it's not long before the frustrations outweigh the benefits.
We're eager to see how a final production-level NX300 will perform, and the attention that autofocus and burst shooting have gotten gives us hope for genuine improvement. WiFi integration is nice, but ultimately most photographers just want a dependable, quick camera that performs when it's needed. The NX series has been the overlooked echo of the greater mirrorless camera movement, but perhaps the NX300 can finally deliver on the promise Samsung has shown in the last couple years.
Samsung's NX line of interchangeable lens cameras has always offered an intriguing mix of modern design, attractive features, and high speed at generally affordable prices. While the focus last year was on wireless connectivity, the updated midrange NX300 aims to improve performance where it counts.
The 2012 NXes were solid, but their tendency to lock up during continuous shooting, along with their slow contrast-only autofocus, left quite a bit to be desired. The NX300 is their first 2013 model; it features speedier overall performance and on-sensor phase-detection autofocus pixels in an effort to bid performance gremlins adieu. With a solid user interface, an inspired retro design, and a seriously underrated library of lenses, the NX300 looks like it's on the right track.
The NX300 is slated to be available in March at a MSRP of $749.99 (with the 20-50mm kit lens).