Review: Samsung NX210

To say Samsung’s latest compact system camera offering is “feature-packed” seems like an enormous understatement. The new NX210, the company’s latest mirrorless interchangeable-lens model, inherits the 20-megapixel APS-C CMOS image sensor from its brother, the NX200, which was introduced less than nine months ago. However, the NX210 has been outfitted with a bunch of upgrades: quicker continuous shooting (claimed 8fps over the NX200’s 7fps), an optional cable release, an external microphone and — the biggie — Wi-Fi connectivity that enables speedy photo and video sharing either to the web or to your smartphone.

The look and feel of the 210 is identical to the 200. It’s edgy, determined and purpose-built. It lacks the smooth rounded corners typical of the average point-and-shoot. The wave-like bulge that makes up the grip is both gracefully executed and very comfortable. It juts forward just enough to give your hand plenty of purchase without detracting from the aesthetic essence of the piece. The controls on the top and back of the body are clean and simple. The video “go” button is perfectly placed for right-thumb access. The software interface is one of the best in the compact system camera space, and it’s easily seen through the bright and punchy 3-inch AMOLED screen. The display is clear at almost any angle, and it’s even easy to read in bright sun.

For stills, the best shooting option has always been RAW — it harvests all the image data available from the sensor and allows the user to make the bulk of the creative choices after the fact. Unfortunately, RAW image processing is a bit problematic for the NX210. Not that it can’t do it, it’s just that the processor is ponderously slow. If you’re going to be making extensive use of the camera’s built-in Wi-Fi sharing options, or you’re not inclined to muck about with your pics too much, then JPEG should be your default.

The NX210 is workman-like in delivering sharp and detailed stills at ISO 1600 and below. When the ISO jumps to 3200 and above, however, Samsung’s strong noise reduction algorithms stomp on detail and sharpness.

There’s a nice hidden focus feature when you flip to “manual” on the lens barrel: a slight twist of the focus ring boosts the display’s magnification by 5x for accurate focus and then switches back to normal perspective when the shutter button is depressed slightly. It’ll surprise you the first few times, but this feature is more than a little handy both for stills and video.

Samsung claims the NX210 will shoot eight frames per second in continuous AF mode. However, I was hard pressed to get that many because the AF often struggled with moving images and panning. This is not so much the camera’s fault because, like other compacts, the NX210 utilizes a phase detection auto focus (AF) system that rivals DSLRs in speed and accuracy. Actually, it rivals DSLRs under most circumstances, but not when it’s required to follow quick action and achieve consistently sharp images.

While it’s compelling enough as a picture-taking machine, an extra selling point for general consumers is the camera’s capabilities as a picture-sharing machine. Samsung has loaded the NX210 with Wi-Fi connectivity and on-board web sharing options.

It’s awfully easy to e-mail pics and videos to anyone, and you can also upload directly to Facebook, Picasa, YouTube and Photobucket. Samsung has also created two smartphone apps called MobileLink and Remote Viewfinder. The MobileLink app provides instant sharing of images and videos to your phone, and the Remote Viewfinder app offers a remote shutter release and timer, as well as resolution and flash adjustments. Both are functions you’ll adopt quickly. There are versions of each app for iOS and Android.

Like most of its competitors in this realm, the NX210 makes pleasing video. It’ll produce five flavors, ranging from full 1080p (16:9) to the lightweight, web-friendly 640×480 or 320×260 varieties. Samsung layers in a little extra by offering all-manual video controls and options for quick playback and slow-mo.

Samsung’s designers have made one glaring omission to the NX210’s control center: direct access to flash adjustments. Normally positioned at 3, 6, 9 or 12 around the circular Smart Dial, Samsung has chosen to bury the flash function’s controls in a menu that takes a minimum (if you really know the camera) of five clicks to find. That thumb/menu dance equals lots of wasted time and potentially lost photo opportunities. It seems insignificant, but the inability to easily change the flash settings and adjust its intensity on the fly definitely hamstrings this camera.

Save for the flash adjustment blunder and the high-ISO softness, the NX210 does most of what you could ask for in a mirrorless interchangeable compact — it makes good stills and video, it’s easy to hold, and it has a tack-sharp and crisp (even in the sun) OLED screen with a software interface that is truly easy on the brain.

To do better in the interchangeable compact realm, you’re going to have to spend a fair bit more for the likes of the Olympus OM-D EM-5, a Sony NEX or Lumix GX series — none of which have Wi-Fi. So in spite of its flaws, and especially if you’re the “social” type, the NX210 is an excellent camera for showing off more of your life in living color.

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