Samsung Debuts Trio of Cameras

Samsung stubbornly forges ahead with new models despite no real traction in terms of unit sales. Today they announced the NX20, NX210, and NX1000 models as their mirrorless camera arsenal. All feature the same 20mp APS-C sensor (previously used in the NX200), along with 8 fps continuous frame shooting, a new version of i-Function, and 1080P/30/24 HD video, a virtual level, and more. 

The NX20 is the latest in the DSLR-like cameras, with a 1.44m dot EVF housed under the prism hump. It's a modest update to the NX11. The NX210 is a modest update to the NX100. The new entry-level NX1000 is the smallest Samsung mirrorless camera to date and is the low cost leader. One nice touch: Samsung is still using the same battery, and uses the same battery across models. It's a pity that the battery is a bit low in oomph, though. These cameras are in the low 300's for number of shots (CIPA standard tests). The NX20 is expected to ship in early May at US$1100 for a kit, the NX210 in late May for US$900 for a kit, and the NX1000 in mid-June (price unannounced).

The big addition to these cameras is WiFi. All three new models support the ability to automatically move images via WiFi when they come into range of a preset connection. They also support remote control capabilities via WiFi. Finally, there are some options for social sharing and emailing images, as well as yet another new cloud variation (Skydrive).

Is that WiFi addition enough for Samsung to start selling mirrorless cameras in significant volume? Difficult to say without having the cameras in hand, but most of Samsung's bet seems to be on the WiFi side, and there's nothing particularly unique about that aspect of the camera. The WiFi capabilities seem reasonable and straightforward, but other than the remote control bit they don't stand out as being something you can't do with an Eye-Fi card in another camera today.

These are attractive, nicely laid out, and well-specified cameras, but they don't really have a strong hook. The 20mp sensor has been slightly sub-par to Sony's 24mp (in my opinion), and the autofocus performance still needs improvement. On the flip side, Samsung's lenses have been better than Sony's so far (again, my opinion based on some side-by-side testing--this is especially true of the 16mm). 

It really feels like Samsung is trying to muscle their way into the camera market solely on "making competent cameras." In today's fickle, viral-driven, oversaturated and overhyped camera market, it would take something more to make these nice cameras really stand out. So far Samsung hasn't shown itself willing to put their full marketing clout behind the cameras, nor are they using pricing as a key attraction. Something's got to give, and soon. Because all the buzzwords and marketing terms are there, but not something of substance that's unique. What does a user really get when picking Samsung over Sony, or Panasonic, or Olympus, or Nikon, or anyone else?

Perhaps Samsung is following the Hyundai example. Hyundai had sort of the same goal: create solid, competent vehicles. But Hyundai used price and warranty to distiguish themselves from the rest of the crowd.

Aside: what is it about camera names, especially ones with numbers? Samsung seems to be imitating Nikon on names: the more digits, the lower end the model. But numbers used wrong are confusing. Quick, what's an NX100 versus NX1000? Did you even notice the extra zero? And 1 seems to mean first generation (NX10, NX100) but not always (NX1000, which is a second generation camera though a new model). I'm sure that some marketing guru is telling these companies that such numbering confusion is okay, as then you can have the remaining older cameras (e.g. NX100) look like they belong on the market at the same time as the new ones (NX200, NX1000). But this is a fool's game. What you're really trying to hide is that the older model was made in too high a quantity and still lingers in your inventory. 

Note to camera makers: if you're going to use numbers, make them mean something. Don't hedge. Make it clear what your latest and greatest are (so the "current" line should be NX20, NX200/NX210, and NX2000, or maybe even NX21, NX210, and NX2100).    

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