The NX100 still boasts an APS-C sized 14.6-megapixel CMOS image sensor, NX lens mount system, a 3.0-inch AMOLED rear monitor, 720p HD video recording, a broad sensitivity range up to ISO 3200 (6400 possible with ISO expansion), and a host of fully automatic and manual controls. Another new feature Samsung added has to do with their new i-Function lens system. To help keep you focused on your subject, they've added a unique control system to allow you to easily change camera settings without having to change your grip on the camera. This is accomplished by incorporating an iFn button on the lens barrel, and using this new button in conjunction with the manual focus ring. Using this combination allows you to quickly changes various camera settings, including ISO, Shutter speed, Aperture, White balance, EV Comp., etc. The available settings you can control depend on the exposure mode being used. Overall I feel this was an excellent addition to the functionality of the NX100 (and future NX series cameras). Using this feature almost becomes second nature once you get use to it, and makes changing settings a snap. You simply press the iFn button to cycle through the available options, then rotate the focus ring to change the current setting. It's simple, and offers an intuitive interface.
They've also added a Lens Priority position on the mode dial (small circle with an "i" in it), which offers a neat way for you to change scene mode settings. Instead of rotating the mode dial to the Scene position, and entering the menu to change the mode, you simple press the iFn button and rotate the focus ring on the lens. This makes changing settings quick and easy, and I can see this being used quite often by beginners.
Like most EVIL cameras, the NX100 offers almost as many options and manual setting that one would find on a dSLR. However, don't let that scare you beginners off. The NX100 can be as simple to use as any point-n-shoot. This is possible thanks to Samsung including their Smart Auto exposure mode, which takes all the guesswork out of the photography process. Basically, this fully automatic exposure program turns the NX100 into a simple to use digicam that just about anyone can pick up and start taking great snapshots with. Along with your typical automatic selections of exposure settings like shutter speed, ISO, aperture, etc., Smart Auto also uses intelligent scene recognition. Here the camera will analyze the scene or subject you are framing, and almost instantly choose the best Scene mode setting to create the best possible photos. Or, you can also manually choose from 14 different scene mode settings by rotating the mode dial to the Scene position.
For folks who have a bit more experience, the NX100 delivers. You can gain as little or as much control over the camera as you need or want, with settings like Program AE mode (automatic everything, but with access to more advanced settings), Aperture priority, Shutter speed priority, and full Manual mode. These settings will allow you to learn more about the photography process while you grow in your skill level as well as allow a degree of creativity that's not quite possible with most digicams.
Like I mentioned earlier, the NX100 is quite compact. In fact, this is the most compact EVIL camera from Samsung to date (as of 1/2011). Similar in size and weight to Olympus' E-PL1 or E-PL2, the NX100's exterior measures approx. 120.5 x 71 x 34.5mm with no lens or other accessories attached. With their 20mm iFN pancake lens attached, I could easily see this camera fitting into a large pants pocket or small handbag. I was personally able to fit the NX100 and the 20-50mm iFn lens into my cargo pants pocket, however it wasn't very comfortable due to the zoom lens. The exterior has a more point-n-shoot feel with it's smooth plastic surface, which some will like, and some will find feels "cheap". The enlarged curve at the top of the right hand side of the camera offers a nice grip, in conjunction with the thumb grove on the back. Overall, the camera felt good in my large hands, with most all of the camera's buttons being locating in easy to reach positions. The exception to this is the DISP button, which required me to remove my hand from the lens to toggle it. While a pain, I didn't find myself changing the display settings of the AMOLED screen that often anyways. I do feel some sort of rubberized material on the right hand grip surfaces would have been a nice addition, but that's just me.
For your framing and viewing pleasure, Samsung has incorporated their fabulous 3.0-inch AMOLED screen on the NX100, which made its first debut on the NX10. Replacing the LCD displays of the past, AMOLED screens offer a much "richer" looking image, with increased contrast as well as more accurate color representation. Some claim they can also be more responsive than your typical LCD display. Like we saw with the NX10, this display is quite nice with a clear picture that can be seen in most any lighting condition. The anti-reflective coating on the screen worked well, however we did still find a few angles which reflected right lights. This never caused any issues thought, thanks mostly to the bright backlight. One thing I'd like to note is that this display looks so good at times, it can be deceiving. Some of your photos may look awesome on the display, but once you blow them up on your monitor they might not look quite as good. This can be said for most any of your high-quality displays on the market today though. The menu system on the NX100 is similar to past Samsung models we've tested, with logically organized pages that are legible thanks to a good font size. Navigation is a breeze, thanks in part to the 4-way pad and the rotating control wheels. Overall, this is a very responsive GUI.
Like its predecessor, the NX100 is fast. From power-on till the first image was captured measured just 1 second. Shutter lag, the delay between depressing the shutter and capturing an image, was almost instantaneous when pre-focused, and averaged between 2/10 and 4/10 of a second including autofocus time, depending on the amount of change required by the lens. Rapid shooting in single shot mode allowed me capture images every 1.2 seconds. You can also choose from two sequential modes; Continuous and Burst. Using continuous mode, I was able to capture 7 14M/SuperFine JPEGs in 1.9 seconds (3.68fps); surpassing their claim of 3.0fps. However, once you hit the eighth frame, the camera slows to about 1.5fps for a few frames, and then speeds up, then slows down again. Burst mode allows you to choose the frame rate (10, 15 or 30fps) and lowers the resolution to 1.4M (1472x976). It then captures a rapid sequence of 10, 15, or 30 images (depending on the setting you choose) with one press of the shutter release.
All of the above times were captured with the camera using JPEG format. Switching over to RAW mode didn't slow the camera down at all. The only differences in performance we noticed was in frame depth and processing speed (aka buffer dump). You'll only be able to capture up to 4 frames in Continuous mode before the camera starts to slow, and it takes the camera quite a bit longer to process the huge 26MB or larger RAW files. Our tests were done using a Sandisk Extreme (Class 10, 30MB/s) 4GB SDHC memory card, 20-50mm iFn zoom lens at 20mm, Program mode, ISO Auto, Preview on, 14M SuperFine JPEG image quality, and all other settings a default unless noted. Times may vary depending on camera settings, media, and lighting conditions.
The quality of the NX100's photos was no surprise, since it uses the same processor and image sensor found on the NX10 we reviewed last year. Like it's older sibling, the NX100 was able to produce beautiful images both indoors and out with the kit 20-50mm iFn zoom lens attached. With help for the lens, the NX100 was able to produce nice sharp photos that show good overall exposure and pleasing colors. It looks as though Samsung has made some adjustments to the camera's contrast settings when using the standard Picture Wizard setting. On the NX10 we noticed that contrast was a bit too strong, however from looking closely at our NX100 samples, contrast appears to be quite nice. Either way, you have the ability to fine tune the look of your photos with the Picture Wizard settings, all of which can be fine tuned themselves. This allows you to use a preset that's close to what you are looking for, then you can adjust the color, contrast, sharpness, and saturation to your liking. You also have the option to shoot in RAW format, allowing you to process the raw light data from the imager later on your PC or Mac.
While the NX100 does not have a built-in flash unit, I was still impressed with it's ability to capture usable photos in low lighting. While on a hunt for the perfect Christmas tree this year, my family and I visited a small tree farm not too far from our home. With the NX100 in hand, I was able to capture some great shots of the kids with Santa in a room with Very poor lighting. Smart Auto mode worked really well, in fact I personally found myself just leaving the camera in this mode while out snapping photos. Overall, it produced some of the best photos I captured, choosing very similar settings to those that I would have chosen manually. While you can see some noise when pixel peeping, and white balance may not be perfect, the camera did an excellent job of capturing what I actually saw in that small barn. I was also impressed with how well Smart Auto handled ISO selection, keeping the sensitivity as low as possible. Overall, I had no fear of taking the NX100 into a low light situation, however I highly recommend you pick up one of Samsung's external flash units if the budget allows. While I did capture some nice shots, a good flash could have made them awesome shots.
Like its sibling, the NX100 handles noise rather well, thanks in part to the larger APS-C CMOS image sensor. In my opinion, the NX100 performed quite well all the way up to ISO 3200. Sure, you can see a good deal of noise at 3200 when pixel peeping, however you'll also see a decent amount of fine detail too. In certain situations, I think you could make some decent prints with these photos as well. From ISO 100-1600 is where the camera really shines. Like I mentioned earlier, I had no problem capturing some keepers when the camera chose settings as high as 800, or up to 1600 when selected manually. While a flash unit would have come in handy, I think most users will be pleased with the NX100's performance when using it in typical indoor situations where a flash would be mandatory with just about any other point-n-shoot. Couple this performance with Samsung's F/2.0 30mm or F/2.8 20mm pancakes lens, and you've got yourself one awesome low light camera in my opinion.
Video quality was similar to that of the NX10. The NX100 still uses the same MPEG-4 H.264 compression format, which helps the camera capture nice clear video while keeping file sizes manageable. I found the camera coupled with the kit 20-50mm iFn lens was able to capture some nice 720p HD video both indoors and out with decent audio quality. Playback was nice and smooth, and there is very little noise present. For those who like to produce more creative videos, the NX100 does offer the ability to manually control the aperture. You can choose the AE (Auto Exposure) mode in the menu, with options for Program (Auto) or Aperture priority. This adds to the overall appeal of this camera, especially to those with some actual high-quality video capture experience.
Bottom line - Samsung has created yet another worthy competitor in the EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) category. The NX100 performed as expected, with speedy shooting performance, excellent image quality, and awesome low-light ability. Their new i-Function lens system was very handy when making changes to camera settings, and I was very impressed with quality and accuracy or Smart Auto. With a street price of about $550 US with the 20-50mm iFn zoom lens, the NX100 is also competitively priced. That said, I have no problem giving the NX100 a high recommendation for anyone in the market for a powerful, yet compact, digital camera that will allow you to explore and grow in your photography (and videography) talents. Other fine models in this category to consider include the Panasonic DMC-GF2 and the Olympus E-PL2.
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