Samsung NX300 aims to be prettier, faster, and better connected

Ah, release creep hits Samsung. It’s been only 8 months since the company shipped its NX210 mirrorless interchangeable camera and the company’s already lining up its replacement. Granted, the NX210 did feel a little like a stopgap — it was essentially the same camera as its predecessor with some wireless capabilities tacked on — but if I’d bought one, I’d be a little cranky about now, because the NX300 offers some significant enhancements that potentially make it a much better camera.

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The most obvious difference between the generations is the new retro two-tone design, à la Fujifilm. I find that the lenses look a little too modern, though, to really carry it off. The grip has also grown a bit, with a larger thumb rest area on the back. Samsung dropped the control dial in the back in favor of a five-button control; while I tend to like the dials more than the buttons (they seem faster at scrolling through settings), overall I’m relatively indifferent between the two types of controls.

As for more substantive changes, Samsung jumps on the hybrid autofocus bandwagon with a same-resolution-but-different CMOS sensor that combines contrast autofocus and phase-detection technologies. The new generation of its image-processing system has doubled the clock speed, which hopefully will alleviate some of the functional sluggishness I found with the NX210.

In addition, Samsung increased the size of the LCD and made it tilt and touch-capable. Wireless operation gets streamlined as well; the individual device apps have been combined into a single connectivity app (with the added ability to automatically push photos to the device) and it now has dual-band Wi-Fi support (2.4G/5G). It also gets a bump to 1080/60p video.

One nice touch: the camera will ship with Adobe Lightroom rather than a proprietary software package.

On the not-quite-dead-yet front, the camera offers 3D capture at 5 megapixels for stills and 1080/30p for movies. Previous models won’t be firmware upgradable to support 3D; according to the company, the image-processing systems in earlier cameras can’t handle the bandwidth requirements.

The company’s also rolling out a dual 2D/3D version of the 45mm f1.8 lens it announced last Fall at Photokina. (3D operates by two alternating LCD filters that slide in; the effective aperture is f3.5 in 3D.) The lens is slated to cost $599.99 $499.99 and ship in March.

Here’s how the NX300 stacks up against a few competitors:

Canon EOS M Nikon 1 J2 Samsung NX210 Samsung NX300 Sony Alpha NEX-5R
Sensor (effective resolution) 18mp hybrid CMOS 10mp hybrid CMOS 20.3mp CMOS 20.3mp hybrid CMOS 16.1mp Exmor HD CMOS
22.3 x 14.9mm 13.2 x 8.8 mm 23.5mm x 15.7mm 23.5mm x 15.7mm 23.5 x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 2.7x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 – ISO 12800/ 25600 (expanded) ISO 100 – ISO 3200/6400 (expanded) ISO 100 – ISO 12800 ISO 100 – ISO 25600 ISO 100 – ISO 25600
Continuous shooting 4.3fps
(60fps with fixed AF and electronic shutter)
11 JPEG/8 raw
11 raw/15 JPEG
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder None None None None Optional
Autofocus 31-point contrast AF 73-point
phase-detection, 135-area contrast AF
15-point contrast AF 105-point phase-detection, 247-point contrast AF 99-point phase-detection, 25-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity range n/a n/a n/a n/a 0 – 20 EV
Shutter speed 30-1/4,000 sec; bulb; 1/200 flash sync 1/3 – 1/16,000; bulb; 1/60 sec x-sync 30-1/4000 sec.; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/180 x-sync 30-1/6000 sec.; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/180 x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync
Metering n/a n/a 221 segment n/a 1200 zone
Metering range n/a n/a 0 – 18 EV n/a 0 – 20 EV
Flash Optional
Yes Included optional Included optional Included optional
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical Optical
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p/ 25p/24p; 720/60p/50p 1080/60i/ 30p, 720/ 60p H.264 MPEG-4 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p; 1080 x 810/24p; 720/30p H.264 MPEG-4 1080/60p/30p; 1080 x 810/24p; 720/30p H.264 MPEG-4 AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/ 24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440×1,080/ 30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Stereo; mic input Stereo Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo, mic input
LCD size 3 inches articulated touch screen
1.04 megapixels
3-inch fixed 920,000 dots 3-inch fixed AMOLED
614,000 dots
3.3-inch tilting AMOLED touch screen
768,000 dots
3-inch tilting touch screen
921,600 dots
Wireless file upload None None Wi-Fi Wi-Fi Wi-Fi
Battery life (CIPA rating) n/a 230 shots 320 shots n/a 430 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.3 x 2.6 x 1.3 4.2 x 2.4 x 1.2 4.6 x 2.5 x 1.4 4.8 x 2.5 x 1.6 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6
Body operating weight (ounces) 10.5 (est) 9.7 9.8 10.9 (est) 9.7 (without flash)
Mfr. price n/a n/a n/a n/a $599.99 (body only)
$799.99 (with 22mm lens) $649.95 (with 10-30mm lens) $749.99 (with 18-55mm i-Function lens) $749.99 (with 20-50mm i-Function lens) $699.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
$849 (est, with 18-55mm lens) $899.95 (with 10-30mm and 30-110mm lenses) n/a n/a n/a
Ship date October 2012 September 2012 May 2012 March 2013 October 2012

While it’s pretty full-featured, the camera still has no option for an EVF; the company thinks that a tilting LCD covers any shooting situations in which you might have needed one. I disagree, but I also think I might be in a minority. It’s still pretty expensive, though, especially compared with its strongest competitor, the NEX-5R. That said, Samsung still offers the least annoying wireless implementation, and based on my brief experience with the NX300’s touch screen, it seems nicer than Sony’s.