Samsung's top camera in the NX range is the NX300 - a popular and innovative Compact System Camera (CSC) series. It's predecessor, the Samsung NX20, is more comparible to a DSLR with its chunky hand grip and electronic view finder. But the NX300 does away with the chunkiness yet is still the most impress NX model thus far.
At the core of the Samsung NX300 sits a 20.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor that, despite bearing the same physical dimensions and resolution as its predecessor, now has an enhanced ISO range of 100-25,600. It also shoots Full HD video at 50, 25 or 24 frames per second in the common H.264 format, making it a capable video camera as well.
The sensor itself has been paired up with Samsung's DRIMe IV imaging sensor, which the Samsung claims has better image noise reduction and improved colour reproduction than that found in the Samsung NX210 the NX300 replaces. Samsung's also acknowledged the poor auto focus (AF) performance of previous NX cameras with an entirely new hybrid AF system for the NX300. It pairs contrast detect and phase detect AF, where the former identifies the focus and the latter controls the fine tuning. It's not a new idea but it works well on rival CSCs, which augers well for the NX300.
Not content with just Wi-Fi, the Samsung NX300 joins the emerging class of digital cameras with NFC technology. NFC (Near Field Communication) lets photographers share their photos with other NFC enabled devices (e.g. other cameras or phones) simply by touch, and is sure to prove popular as it becomes more widely adopted.
Like the Galaxy S4 smartphone, the NX300 has an AMOLED touchscreen - a 3.3-inch one with a 768k-dot resolution. It's also hinged, so it can be pulled away from the camera body and rotated about its axis to be viewed from both a high and low angle - a very useful feature for shooting over the heads of crowds, for example.
One excellent feature carried in to the Samsung NX300 from other models in the series is the i-Function button, present on the supplied 18-55mm OIS kit lens. i-Function lets you cycle through common settings (ISO, exposure etc.) that you can then adjust using the focus ring on the lens - a great feature that makes using the NX300 a lot smoother.
As mentioned earlier, the Samsun NX300 is somewhat of departure from the previous design for a top of the range NX series model. While the NX20 before it had DSLR-like styling, the NX300 borrows its looks from its NX210 predecessor. It's a tad chunkier than the NX210, however, with a good size hand grip that makes the NX300 easy to handle. It strikes a nice balance between the slimmer NX210 and the more traditional NX20.
Build quality is decent, but nothing special. The faux leather front panel adds a sense of refinement, but while other manufacturers are using metal to improve the feel of the camera in the hand, the plastic buttons on the NX300 betray a little penny-pinching.
There's also no built-in flash, but unlike some rivals the Samsung NX300 comes bundled an external flash (the SEF8A0). If you're looking for a more powerful option you can choose from a range of Samsung external flash guns, too.
The ample touchscreen on the rear of the camera offers access to a majority of the camera's controls, as do a selection of buttons located around the camera body, although for the majority of our setting changes during testing we found ourselves using the i-Function facility. If and when you do choose to utilise the touchscreen you'll be pleased to learn that all of the icons are of a good size and the camera's menu system easy to navigate.
One of the main areas for criticism on previous models in the NX series was the performance of the camera's AF system. Previous models used contrast AF alone, which is known to struggle in poor lighting conditions, and the NX300 sees a change in this with the implementation of a new hybrid AF system that combines contrast and phase detection AF.
The result is improved AF performance all round and, in conjunction with a bright green AF assist beam, means that you can rely on the Samsung NX300 to focus in a variety of conditions. Samsung also claims that the NX300 offers a continuous shooting speed of 8.6fps and we found it managed to shoot 12 Fine JPEGS at almost exactly that rate.
The NX300 is an easy camera to use, too. The touchscreen menus are logical and clearly labelled, while the NFC and Wi-Fi features work very well.
The core Wi-Fi functionality focuses on simple image sharing - you can send photos directly from the camera or upload them to the web, while you can also share your shots directly to your mobile via a shared Wi-Fi connection. It takes just a couple of seconds to transfer photos with little fuss.
Other smartphone functionality includes the Samsung Camera app that serves as a remote viewfinder, allowing for remote composition of shots and firing the shutter, although unfortunately it doesn't allow for the adjustment of camera settings.
The screen could do with being a tad sharper, but it's still very good. It's one of the most responsive we've used, requiring just the finest of touches to switch between settings and offers a good amount of versatility when it comes to the placing of AF points.
On the whole, the Samsung NX300 takes great photos, with just a few small issues of note. The metering system generally performs well with little to fault, albeit with a slight tendency to under expose. This is easily enough dealt with, however, by setting the camera's exposure compensation to account for it. The story is very much the same with the camera's auto white balance, as it offers reliable result and faithful colours, with very little signs of any colour cast.
We shot the majority of our test shots on the 'Raw&Super Fine JPEG' mode so as to compare the image samples and see if there was any difference. On the whole, JPEGs offer a more pleasing level of sharpness, better contrast levels and richer colours. All of these things are to be expected, however, and if you shoot Raw you'll be able to control these settings manually in post production.
Performance throughout the ISO range is pleasing. When studying converted Raw files, it's noticeable that there is very little noise whatsoever up to ISO 800. Noise begins to become apparent at ISO 1600, but it doesn't have a hugely detrimental effect to the overall image unless you view it at 100%. Noise becomes a bit more problematic at the settings above this, and at ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 it begins to take over the images, with the latter being the highest we'd really want to use.
The NX300 is a great improvement on previous NX models and is a good option for anyone stepping up from a compact. Image quality is excellent, and improvements to performance mean that the NX300 finally challenges the very best CSCs on the market. The NX300 will be on the Australian market starting from around the $750+ mark.