Samsung’s new top-end compact system camera is the first to offer an online connection for photographers in the field as well as at home, but does this built-in Wi-Fi have any real benefits?
Build and handling
Although shaped like a DSLR, with that familiar inverted pregnant bump that houses the viewfinder and the pop-up flash, the NX20 is a good deal smaller than the smallest mirrored models. The main part of the body is quite slim, but the front-to-back distance is doubled at the eyepiece. Samsung has saved a few precious millimetres in the depth of the body by making the lens mount protrude slightly to take up the flange depth required by the lenses. This clever trick makes the bodies appear smaller while retaining a decent distance between lens and sensor so corner quality does not need to be compromised.
The right-hand grip is slightly more pronounced than it was on the last classic-shaped body, the NX11, and provides a more secure hold when the larger wide-aperture lenses are mounted. An indent on the rear, to house a thumb, doubles the insurance. Samsung has introduced sensors at the eyepiece to allow the camera to automatically switch its display methods between the electronic viewfinder and the rear screen according to which is in use. Whether at arm’s length, compact-style or at the eye, as you would use a DSLR, the camera’s principal body-mounted controls are all easy to find. For anyone progressing from a previous NX body, whether ‘classic’ or ‘style’ in design, all access points are exactly where we would expect to find them. The system is logical enough, too, for those coming from other brands, as well as those taking up photography for the first time. The camera’s menu system is straightforward and extremely easy to follow, but the default help guide, which will drive you crackers before you find where to switch it off, explains every menu setting surprisingly well.
Every Samsung lens, apart from the 30mm, is now equipped with an iFunction button, and it is worth making the effort to use it. In this incarnation of iFunction, Samsung allows us to customise the functions that appear on the screen when this lens-based button is pressed. We can opt for just one, which seems a shame, or any number up to six. More used to the function button on the rear of a camera, I have been making a special effort to try the iFunction lens method, including scrolling the options with the focus ring, and have found it a very good way of operating. It takes time to get used to, but I think it’s worth trying.
Some nice touches arrive new to the system in this model, and include a screen-based electronic level and an optional electronic shutter mode that allows the shortest opening to be reduced from the 1/4000sec mechanical limit to an impressive-sounding 1/8000sec.
Image: Low noise at ISO 400 makes handheld macro achievable even in dim conditions
It is a shame that Samsung hasn’t seen fit to correct a particular handling issue that arose in the NX200, however – that of manual-focusing screen magnification. When the camera is set to AF mode, the ability to manually override the system is always available. By turning the focusing ring of the lens, the area under the now inactive AF point will be magnified on screen to allow the user to see clearly the detail that needs the focus.
When operating in manual-focus mode, though (rather than just turning the ring while in AF mode), only the centre of the screen is magnified – and the magnified area cannot be shifted across the scene. In most situations this is really not much of an issue, as I suspect those using manual focus will be few and far between in any case. For anyone buying the really nice 60mm macro lens, though, it is only natural they will want to focus manually – that is what macro photographers do, after all – and they will probably want to focus somewhere that isn’t right in the middle of the frame.
If the camera is mounted on a tripod life becomes quite hard, and if not, the focus-reframe method makes things easier – but also usually makes subjects out of focus at such close range.
Another small, but significant, complaint is that there is no option, among the extensive lists of post-capture edits, to turn a colour picture black & white. Images can be shot in black & white along with all the same options there are for post-capture processing, but oddly the edit I would have thought most people would want is missing. This is only a recent thing, as every model up to the NX200 allowed b&w conversion.
The NX20 features a hotshoe for when flash units more powerful than the built-in, pop-up gun (GN 11m @ ISO 100) are needed. Samsung quotes only two compatible external guns, the SEF42A and SEF220A but, in fact, all of its previous guns for NX and even for the EX1 work perfectly. For more power, flashguns from the old GX-series DSLRs can also be used, but only in aperture priority mode. The benefit of using the GX guns, though, is that some feature wireless flash communication for synchronising groups of guns for more interesting lighting set-ups. Built-in flash control options include ±2EV flash exposure compensation, and rear and front-curtain sync. The shortest shutter speed that can be used with flash is a useful 1/180sec, which makes outdoor fill-in a more likely option with fast lenses. One wouldn’t expect a flash-sync socket on a camera like this, but the hotshoe is capable of triggering the usual array of manual and wireless adapters.
Another small point is that the NX20 uses a new remote-control shutter system that plugs into the camera’s USB socket. This is the first model to move away from the pin-type control as used on Pentax DSLRs and all previous GX and NX bodies (expect the NX200, which didn’t feature a remote release). It makes sense to save the space in the body, but the new USB release does not seem to add any extra functionality to the basic operation of the previous model.
Despite the compression of its raw images, the NX20 still finds dealing with these large files a challenge. Once an image is captured in raw and JPEG simultaneously, and the image has appeared on the rear screen for instant review, the camera will not allow any changes or further reviewing until the data is passed to the memory card. And it can take up to 9secs for the processing light to stop flashing, and for the camera to be free to allow anything other than apertures and shutter speeds to be altered. If you decide you picked the wrong white balance, or want another chance to check the composition, then you have a long wait. It seems slightly odd to me that the world’s largest manufacturer of DRAM memory should allow its flagship camera to be so underpowered. It also would surely be better to fit more memory, rather than compress raw files just to smooth their passage.