Samsung NX11 review

Is the interchangeable lens Samsung NX11 a DSLR rival?

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The Samsung NX11 compact system camera is the latest in the brand's NX lineup, but does it bring enough to the table to rival a DSLR?

The 14.6 effective megapixel Samsung NX11 upgrades the original NX10, with some refining design tweaks and additional lens compatibility, a 20mm ‘pancake’ plus 20-50mm zoom,launched alongside it. But although it is a compact system camera (or CSC) like its predecessor it still takes its style cues from a conventional bridge camera or digital SLR, rather than a pocket compact.

The camera comes in two parts, the body and the lens. An image stabilised 18-55mm zoom came with our test kit, providing a 35mm equivalent focal length of 27.7 to 84.7mm. Since like all CSC’s the NX11’s body is mirrorless, it occupies about half the physical depth of even an entry level DSLR, such as the Canon EOS 600D.

Samsung NX11: Build

Even with lens removed the NX11 body would struggle to fit into a jacket pocket however, as could be achieved with a rival CSC without optic, such as an Olympus E-PL2 or Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2.

The larger size is partly because, unlike them, the Samsung offers the advantage of a built-in viewfinder plus AMOLED (not LCD) screen directly beneath for framing up shots as well as reviewing them. Neither viewfinder nor monitor is angle adjustable however.

The Samsung and standard lens were retailing for around £479 at the time of writing - £100 less than an alternative body-only DSLR such as the Canon EOS 600D or Nikon D5100. Like them, but unlike rival CSC’s using the Micro Four Thirds system (Olympus, Panasonic), the Samsung also features a large APS-C sized CMOS sensor.

In theory the larger the sensor, the more light captured, the better the resulting image. So let’s see how the NX11 pans out: could this be the ultimate marriage of smaller form factor yet DSLR-like image quality?

Samsung NX11: Controls

Whilst the NX11 resembles a shrunken DSLR, design wise, its controls have also largely been shrunk to teeny proportions; we would have preferred the backplate buttons slightly larger for less fiddly access. The notable exception here is the raised and ridged 10-option shooting mode dial adorning the top plate, with the usual mix of full auto (including Smart Auto) and more creative manual options.

The lens provided is an iFunction lens, (first introduced alongside the more compact-styled NX100 model), so some camera functions can be controlled via the lens using the built-in ‘iFn’ button. Place the camera in Program mode, for example, press the ‘iFn’ button and you can directly access exposure compensation, ISO and white balance, appearing as a toolbar at the bottom.

Overall the build quality of lens and body is reassuringly solid at 353g without lens, although we could have done with a larger handgrip. Also, like the Sony NEX range, the more slender body here makes the camera feel a little top heavy with lens attached.

Samsung NX11: Screen

The fixed rear 3-inch AMOLED screen is certainly one of the jewels in the NX11’s crown. Even if its resolution is a just short of best in class 614k dots, Samsung claims its monitor is 3000 times more responsive than LCD, and its dynamic 10000:1 contrast ratio certainly delivers, the image relayed at the time you are shooting, being one of the more fluid and life-like we have seen on a consumer digital camera.

The sharp edges and clearly defined subjects provide an almost three-dimensional appearance. The only thing that could be improved here would be able to tilt the monitor, like Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-GH2, Nikon D5100 and Canon EOS 600D, to allow for otherwise awkward low and high angle shooting.

The on-screen display is so crisp and clear on the Samsung that we were bracing ourselves for comparative disappointment when viewing the results on our desktop PC instead. As the screen has the wow factor we found ourselves constantly using it for lining up shots in preference to the smaller 640x480 pixels electronic viewfinder directly above it.

Samsung NX11: Speed

Small and light cameras are all about spontaneity and if choosing the NX11 over a conventional DSLR, that will undoubtedly be your goal. Happily then the Samsung doesn’t disappoint for spur of the moment, shoot from the hip snapping to removable SD or SDHC card.

Flick the on/off switch and almost as fast as your finger can slide over to the shutter release button the NX11 is ready to take a shot, with a brief pause while the camera’s contrast AF system makes its focus adjustments as you squeeze the shutter release button down halfway. Take the shot and a full resolution JPEG is committed to memory in just over a second, which is fast.

While as a default it’s the AMOLED screen that bursts into life upon power up, if you move an eye level with the EVF instead, a sensor just below switches off the AMOLED screen and powers up the EVF instead. This is another neat time saver, and does away with the usual need for a dedicated button for doing the same.

Another feature worth mentioning is the NX11’s lens priority mode, found on the top plate dial. This unique mode ‘recognises’ which new lens has been attached and does all the computations for you. This is useful if you own more than one lens and want the camera’s settings automatically adjusted to sync up with scene or subject.

Samsung NX11: Battery

The Samsung comes supplied with a BP1310 lithium ion rechargeable battery which slots into the base of the NX11’s handgrip. Around 400 shots per charge, or 200 minutes of continuous operation, is slightly better than expected, and proved sufficient for us to head out for a full day’s shooting with the camera.

Samsung NX11: Pictures

With the NX11 there’s the ability to shoot unprocessed Raw and/or compressed Super Fine, Fine and Normal quality JPEG files. We also get High Def video capability, with a frame rate topping out at a respectable 30fps.

Resolution however falls short of the Full HD we now expect at this level, with 1280x720 pixels being the highest on offer, and with mono sound. HDMI output is provided under a side flap however, as is regular AV/USB.

In terms of crispness, the NX11’s sensor and lens conspire to deliver some great looking video footage, and further good news is delivered by the fact that the camera’s auto focus responds near instantly to any lens adjustments, so footage is only soft for the briefest time if zooming in or out – so brief it’s hardly noticeable.

However the familiar bugbear of the built-in microphone picking up the noise of the photographer making such adjustments and generally handling the camera remains.

The Samsung further takes a cue from recent compact cameras from Casio Exilim and Sony Cyber-shots by including a sweep panorama mode, as well as a smattering of digital filter effects.

Here we get the tried and tested miniature, fisheye and sketch alongside halftone dots, de-fog and soft focus options, with further Photo Style Selector choices including a saturation boosting vivid option. Plenty of in-camera control then, alongside the ability to leave the camera on its default settings and point and shoot too.

We were able to achieve some lovely results with minimal effort and post processing needed, subjects standing out well against their background, skin tones flattering smooth and colours healthily vibrant. A nicely compact tool for raising the game when it comes to friends and family photography then.

Samsung NX11: Verdict

Though the Samsung ‘NX’ range for us lacks the charm of the Olympus Pen series (including the latest E-PL2), and the approachability of the Panasonic Micro Four Thirds models (such as the GF2), things are obviously steadily improving and we haven’t been as impressed with a Samsung camera since its EX1 high performance compact model (read our review here).

Body and lens pricing is very competitive when compared with DSLR-styled Micro Four Thirds alternatives and actual entry level DSLRs, and the ability with this latest NX iteration to control camera functions other than focusing and framing via the lens is itself is currently a unique Samsung sales pitch and neat solution to boot.

In practice however use of iFunction is not a great deal easier than having a dedicated button provided for adjusting key settings, so shouldn’t influence your purchase decision one way or the other. That being said, against stiff competition this is a competent, good value and user friendly re-booting of Samsung’s DSLR-styled NX model.

Incidentally, for those who geotag their images, an optional GPS module is available for the NX11, which is good news for would be travel photographers.

Samsung NX11 launch date: Out now

Samsung NX11 price: £400-£549 online, link Samsung