After the announcement of the NX30 I decided to skip this camera and wait for the next generation, but I read several very good reviews on the web and there was a good offer to buy it quite cheap. Therefore I decided to give it a try as the new camera had some very tempting features for me. The most relevant features for me are:
- Better dynamic range (according to an AP review) and better high ISO performance
- Focus peaking for manual focussing
- Touch AF
- Better implementation of WiFi features
- Improved ergonomics
- iFn Plus (enhanced customisation of button functions)
- Responsiveness of the camera (no lock up when processing photos)
Revisions of this article
- March 11, 2014: Initial version.
- March 12, 2014: Added chapter about High ISO, updated EVF impressions.
- March 13, 2014: Improved chapter about High ISO, added chapter about Software/Firmware and Performance.
- March 14, 2014: Improved text about EVF & Display, Pro/Contra list added, Other reviews added.
- March 15, 2014: Chapter about Auto Focus added, changed my mind on the tiltable EVF, short summary on IQ, added conclusion.
- September 28, 2014: A separate field report is available.
The NX30 comes in a box which looks quite similar to all the other Samsung NX cameras.
In the box I found the following items:
- Camera 😉
- Strap (bigger than the strap of the NX20 and in a new design)
- AC adapter and USB cable to recharge the battery (the NX20 had a separate battery charger)
- Battery: BP1410 (incompatible with the batteries for the NX20)
- Some paper like a quick start guide, quick reference guide and more.
- Two CDs containing Lightroom 5, Samsung iLauncher and the complete manual as PDF file
Actually I don’t like points 2, 3 and 4. I think I will use the old strap from the NX20 with my NX30. I don’t know why they introduced a new battery which is incompatible to the old ones. This is quite annoying as I have to replace all my batteries and there are currently no additional batteries available. As there is no battery charger, too, I have to think about a solution for my next holiday in two weeks. I can’t travel with only one battery so I might buy a “powerpack” which can charge the battery in my backpack. This is the biggest drawback of the new camera so far and this is very(!) annoying in my opinion.
Hands on – Ergonomics & Build quality
The most obvious change is the larger hand grip. Holding the camera is much more convenient as this grip suits my hands much better. It feels very good in the hand and allows to hold heavier lenses more easily. The new hand grip allowed Samsung to rearrange the buttons on top of the camera and also on the back. The green button for a custom action (I never used) was replaced by a WiFi quick start button.You can customise the function that is called when pressing the button. I set this to open the Remote Viewfinder. The wheel on the top slightly changed it’s position, which is good, but it is also harder to use. The wheel on the NX20 was easier to rotate. Maybe I get used to it in some time, but at the moment it feels stressful for the finger especially when you use this a lot (e.g. for zooming in playback mode or changing settings generally). There is a new control to switch the drive setting which can be quite handy. The control to change the camera mode is higher as before and the surface wrinkling is better than before. This makes it easier to change the modes with the thumb.
On the back we have only some minor changes. The three buttons around the rubber for the thumb have been mirrored more or less. There is also a minor grip to support the thumb. Generally this seems to be a good idea, but it might be disturbing depending on how you put your thumb on the back of the camera. The AEL button is a bit too close to the Menu button. I repeatedly pressed the AEL button instead of the Menu button. I liked the solution on the NX20 better.
The button for the optical preview (on front of the camera) feels very cheap and pressing it is much louder than on the NX20. On the left side is a new jack socket for an external microphone. Other than that there are only minor changes like some additional indentations.
Generally the build quality is on par with the NX20. It is not too bad, but it feels a bit too plastic. The hand grip is yielding a bit in case it is pressed hardly. Other than that I can’t complain about the build quality at the moment, but that might change after some time like with the NX20.
Display & EVF
The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is improved and slightly smaller than on the NX20. Technically it has a higher resolution, but I can’t see a difference in sharpness. What you can actually see is a better contrast and the colours are more saturated. The EVF can be pulled out and it is possible to tilt it upward. In a previous revision of this article I wrote, that this feature is not that important for me, but after some days I changed my mind on this. It is a really handy feature after you got used to it. You can use the EVF in more situations, e.g. when you need to hold the camera in a low height or for filming. Additionally it is quite comfortable to have more distance with your nose from the display on the back. The dial to adjust the dioptre setting is now only accessible after you pulled out the EVF so you can’t change it by accident . I am wearing glasses and I can’t see the EVF completely without vignetting, what a pity, but due to the smaller display size I do see more than on the NX20.
The display is slightly larger and brighter than the one on the NX20. The effective size for the composition of the photos is around 7.4cm (3.9″) on the NX20 and around 7.7cm (4.0″) on the NX30. The touch functionality of the display is very useful, especially for the Touch AF feature and when using the keyboard. Technically it has a higher resolution, too, and I can see a slight improvement in sharpness. What you can actually see is a better contrast and the colours are more saturated. Due to the enhanced brightness and the better contrast it is easier to use in direct sunlight, but it is not bright enough to replace an EVF. Actually this is only true when the screen is not completely full of fingerprints. A drawback of the touchscreen is that you probably have many fingerprints on your display which can obstruct the visibility.
The following functions are available: MobileLink, Remote Viewfinder, Baby Monitor, Auto-Backup, E-Mail, Facebook, Picasa, YouTube, Dropbox, Flickr and Samsung Link. The WiFi implementation has been greatly improved, but some of the limitations are still present.
The touch display is very handy to type in the login credentials for all the services. Using the NX20 this was very annoying.
You can’t send RAW files with the camera. I can understand that you can’t upload RAW files to Facebook, but uploading them to Dropbox would be a nice addition. Why is it not possible to simply convert the RAW files to a JPEG file prior to the upload process? Neither is it possible to convert them manually. There is a workaround though. Go to the playback mode and open the image editing tool (Fn button). There you need to apply one effect and then you can save the image as JPEG file.After the first login I had some trouble setting up the Flickr connection. Nevertheless, after a restart and another login it worked. E-Mail, Facebook and Dropbox worked immediately. I haven’t used Picasa or YouTube, yet.
Previously the Remote Viewfinder is supporting more modes than just the SMART mode. You can switch between P, A, S and M mode and you can control most of the settings you can also set using the Fn screen. It is also possible to set the focus point. This is a huge improvement compared to the previous implementations and makes this feature finally usable.
I haven’t taken enough photos to say something qualified about the overall image quality, but I already made some tests regarding the ISO capabilities, see below. From what I saw during the High ISO test there seems to be a bit more contrast, a bit better sharpness and a different (warmer) colour rendering. But those differences are quite minor and mostly negligible since you only see them on pixel level. According to the mentioned AP review the dynamic range has improved greatly, but in some short tests I couldn’t confirm this, yet. Nevertheless a problem in RAW files has already been corrected with the NX300 ad this should already lead to a better usable dynamic range. Overall the photos seem to be quite similar to the ones you could take with a NX20.
During the first high ISO test I came to the conclusion that there is a difference in the brightness of the images taken with the NX20 and the NX30 using the same exposure settings. This astonished me a lot since normally the same exposure settings should lead to a very similar brightness of the images. I followed this curiosity and took several example shots using the NX20 and NX30 with different ISO and shutter speed settings, but the same aperture.
|1. – NX20, ISO 200, 0.5s
||2. – NX30, ISO 200, 0.5s||3. – NX30, ISO 200, 0.3s|
You can see that the second image is brighter than the other images using the same settings for the exposure. So I played around with the shutter speed and got a comparable brightness with a shutter speed of 0.3s using the NX30. That means the NX30 and the NX20 have a difference of 0.6 EV using the same exposure settings. From a practical viewpoint this means you can work with a lower ISO value on the NX30 than with the NX20 to get the same brightness. For the high ISO test we have to use a higher ISO value (e.g. ISO 200 on NX30 and NX320 on NX20) to get a result which is comparable. If you compare the photos using the same ISO number on both cameras you won’t see a major difference in ISO performance.
So I took sample shots for comparison having this results in mind. The results are not scientific, but can give a first impression. Those images are processed from RAW files using Lightroom 5 and I haven’t applied any noise reduction or sharpening. I used the same white balance for every image and the aperture and shutter speed are the same for every row. The first column is showing the darker images of the NX20 just for comparison between the equal ISO settings.
100 / 100 / 160
200 / 200 / 320
400 / 400 / 640
800 / 800 / 1250
1600 / 1600 / 2500
3200 / 3200 / 5000
6400 / 6400 / 10000
12800 / 12800 / –
– / 25600 / –
My personal conclusion is that the promised high ISO improvements are really small with a negligible relevance in practical use. Quite disappointing (for me).
Software / Firmware
Here I am going to describe software related features that are interesting for some reason…
- Help screens between mode changes (in NX20/1000/…) have been removed. Finally!
- Minimum shutter speed: Can be customised very well. This is a major advantage as with previous cameras since the shutter speed values were sometimes a bit too slow for me.
- Touch AF: This really saves time and is one most liked features. Tracking AF is sometimes not reliable though.
- Focus Peaking: Very useful when using manual focus (e.g. for legacy lenses). Works very smooth but has some problems in dark situations. Overall I got better focussed photos when used with legacy lenses.
- Interval capture: Quite useful for time lapses, but not needed if you have a proper external remote control.
- Auto ISO Range: Choosing the maximum ISO range for ISO Auto is quite useful, but why is this limited to a maximum ISO number of 3200? Why can’t I choose 6400?
- Bulb Mode: The long term NR can’t be switched off and the limit is four minutes. Hilarious! This makes it difficult to shoot star trails for example.
- DMF / DMF Responsiveness: Why is this not available on all lenses?
- iFn: There is a new mode called “iFn Plus”. You can choose either to use the “old” way (iFn Standard) or iFn Plus. I don’t know why I can’t use them together. I would love to do that as both modes have quite useful features.
- Key Mapping: Again, there are not to many options to choose from. Why is this so restricted?
- Double tap to zoom in/out in the playback mode is very handy.
- The software operates smoother than before (see chapter Performance) and I had no crash yet.
- The added possibilities for (external) flashes and microphones are more than welcome.
- Nice to have: A distance scale in manual focus mod, but not when using DMF.
Just some short words about this. The user interface feels more responsive than before and the removal of the help screens between the modes are speeding things up, too. You can now continue working with the camera when the image files are processed/saved and the screen is not locked during the process anymore. The buffer performance has been improved, too, and I can shoot more photos in a row without any hassle. Overall it is a huge step forward, especially that the camera is not locking up anymore speeds things up a lot!
Generally the auto focus speed depends on the individual lens you have attached to the camera. There are slower lenses like the 30mm f/2 and faster lenses like the 45mm f/1.8. In normal and bright light there is not a huge difference in AF speed compared to the NX20, but I had the impression that the slower lenses are focussing slightly faster than on the older cameras. In dark situations the auto focus has been improved. It is not really much faster, but the NX20 gave up quickly and often couldn’t find anything to focus on. The NX30 has more patience and might be a bit slower in some cases, but in usually it managed to set the focus correctly even in difficult situations.
However I had some problems with the AF. For some reason the NX30 randomly stopped to focus and the only thing I could do about it was to restart the camera. I tried pressing the shutter button and I also tried using the Touch AF functionality, but the camera/lens wasn’t doing anything except moving the AF area around. Today I missed some shots as a result of this. Annoying!
I made a short video to show the difference regarding the shutter sound of the NX30 and the NX20. The shutter speed is set to . In my opinion the shutter sound is not really less noisy, but a bit shorter and it sounds more pleasing to the ears.
Generally Samsung is heading into the right direction. The NX30 has introduced several improvements, but some features are way too restricted (e.g. bulb mode) or not well thought out (e.g. JPEG transfer only in WiFi mode, new batteries). The ergonomics are on a high level and especially the new hand grip is a major improvement. The new hardware is now up to date, but Samsung seems to be stuck with their sensor development. Since they introduced the 20MP sensor the changes were only minor and this continued with the NX30. The image quality is good, but not much better than before. The EVF is a double-edged sword as there are pros (e.g. tiltable, higher resolution) and cons (e.g. smaller size). The display is useful as it can be used as touchscreen. The power supply with a new type of batteries and recharging in camera only is annoying and a step back. The firmware/software has some new fancy features implemented (e.g. new settings, WiFi enhancements), but is a bit buggy as of now (v1.0). The new options for flashing and filming, especially audio recording using the microphone port, are more than welcome for serious photographers.
Personally I’ll not keep the NX30 as I am dissappointed with the sensor and the bugs in the firmware. The new batteries are a major dealbreaker at the moment as there are currently no new batteries available for a reasonable price. I’ll need at least one spare battery for my next journey and I am unwilling to use “powerpacks” as workaround. Also Samsung’s pricing policy is quite bad for early adaptors (price was lowered by 100€ two days after I bought the camera). I’m sure I’ll replace my NX20 someday as I love the other improvements, but currently I am unwilling to pay so many Euros for a software update and some plastic (handgrip, tiltable EVF) especially when the capital loss is so high.