This review is derived from what was originally a comparison review of several mirrorless cameras on bythom.com. As such, it's abbreviated from my usual form.
What is It?
The Samsung NX100 is the fourth of the Samsung mirrorless entries, the first to be non-DSLR like (i.e. no EVF viewfinder). It's a trim camera that has none of the square-edge design syndrome that a lot of small cameras have. It's oddly and subtly curved, much like some bars of soap. There's a clean, slightly retro style to the product, and metal casing makes it pretty robust. Someone spent some time doing something other than drawing a rectangle on their CAD display and doing a teeny bit of corner rounding.
Inside we've got the Samsung APS (1.5x) 14.6mp CMOS sensor and a slightly retuned imaging ASIC from the older DSLR-like NX models. On the back, we've got a gorgeous 3", 614k dot AMOLED LCD, one which can be seen decently in fairly bright light.
In terms of controls, the camera is somewhat spartan and somewhat retro. We have a mode dial and a control dial up top. We have a large easy-to-find control wheel on the back, along with seven dedicated buttons, mostly nicely arrayed. The NX100 also coincided with the introduction of the i-Function lenses, which add yet another control. The On/Off switch is yes, a switch, and it's nicely tucked into a shelf at the back top of the camera where it's not accidentally hit.
Both hot shoe and tripod socket are aligned with the lens, showing that someone who knew what they were doing photographically was looking at the design.
We've got an optional EVF, though not a great one, as well as optional GPS and other accessories via a powered socket under the hot shoe.
There's a lot to appreciate when looking at the NX100: it looks like a photographer's camera and it has a slight specialness to its design that makes you want to pick it up and try it (unlike the Sony NEX models, which look a little alien to a photographer and which don't immediately compel you to pick them out, or the boxy Nikon with it's lack of controls).
How's it Handle?
The Samsung NX100 was a bit of a surprise to me. I'd tried a few other recent Samsung's, including the NX10, and found them a little on the odd side. Not so the NX100. It has the requisite Mode dial (Sony missed that memo ;~) and two Command dials, one on top and one around the Direction pad, ala the Canon configuration. Removing the clutter of icons off the display, the Samsung presents a very photographer friendly screen (settings at the bottom, image on top, much like looking through a traditional optical viewfinder). The menu system is nicely organized and easy enough to figure out. The iFn button on the lens seems like a marketing gimmick at first, but it's just an unusual place to put a rapid-access-to-major-settings button. It functions much like the Panasonic Q.Menu idea, and the implementation is clean and easy to read. Panasonic needs to fire the engineers doing their fonts and icons and hire the Samsung engineers doing it. Message to Japanese camera makers: the Koreans are slowly figuring it out. Watch out!
The "touch" of the controls (in clothing this would be called the hand of the fabric) is nice, plus most of the controls fit very comfortably where I want them to be when holding the camera. The one exception is the Fn button, which should really be switched with the Menu button position. It would have been nice if the three stacked buttons (AEL, exposure compensation, Menu) had recognizable by touch feel to them, but if you use the camera a lot you'll find yourself finding them naturally, I think.
One bit that Samsung didn't quite get right is that the entire body is just slick metal. I said the camera was sculpted like some bars of soap, well it can be as slippery, too. I would have appreciated at least some texture to case. Fortunately, the NX100 is a bit more of a two-hand camera in design (especially with the iFn button on the lens now) than some of the others, so I didn't find the slipperyness to be too big a problem.
Bad news: no built-in flash. No sensor stabilization, and kit lens isn't stabilized. Odd 40.5mm filter size on kit lens (doesn't come with hood). Good news: retracting kit lens makes it relatively small when carrying; well sheltered on/off switch instead of exposed button; the iFn button is actually useful.
How's it Perform?
The Samsung's focus is not at the level of the current Panasonic and Olympus cameras, but it's not terrible, either. Sometimes the NX100 is fast at AF like the m4/3 cameras, sometimes it'll do the overshoot and backtrack like the early Olympus m4/3 bodies did. The NX100 is also in mid pack in terms of jitter during continuous follow focus. If you slowly pan the camera from near to far subject in CAF, you get little gaps in focusing, so it's clear that the NX100 is trying to not jitter too much. But that come can at the expense of slightly out of focus images for subjects that don't move much. The NX100 works well in manual focus. Hit the button, navigate to MF, and twist the focus ring on the lens. The LCD has very good visibility of "in focus" versus "out," though not perfect (I'm actually not aware of anything that would get to my "perfect" mark ;~). Overall, I give the Samsung competent marks in focus.
I find the NX100 perfectly fine at base ISO. A hint more noise than I'd like to see off an APS sensor, but we are talking about a previous generation 14mp sensor here. So far I'd say the Samsung sensor is a bit behind the Sony sensor, but at base ISO I don't think it makes all that much difference. As you boost ISO, the NX100 gets noisier than the lower end Sony NEX models, though the noise is very fine grained with no color blotchiness. Unfortunately, there's a pretty big drop in dynamic range at ISO 3200 and contrast blocks up, bringing colors down in saturation and clarity. All that said, the Samsung is a big sensor mirrorless camera, so it produces a usable image at high ISO values. Personally, though, I still don't like cranking it beyond ISO 800 due to the dynamic range loss.
ISO 3200, no noise reduction
ISO 3200, noise reduction on
I'm not blown away by the NX100, nor am I dissatisfied with it. It's a highly competent camera in an attractive package. The NX100's APS sensor's abilities lag the NEX-5 a bit, but as you would expect from any APS sensor, you can push into some relatively low light before you'll see seriously negative impacts in your images.
Overall, it feels like the Samsung designers were well connected with the photographer in designing this camera. It's one of the more photographer-centric mirrorless cameras out there. By that I mean that those used to traditional camera controls and who want very direct control of settings will find this camera to their liking.
Where Samsung fell down a bit is in a few of the smaller details: slippery grip (easily fixed), no sensor-based stabilization and not all lenses are stabilized, and lack of a built-in flash. The LCD is gorgeous and easy to work with, though, and the controls are all nicely positioned and chosen.
Note: ratings have changed since the original review