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Samsung NX20: First Impressions

Barney Britton | Product Reviews & Previews | Published Apr 19, 2012

Positioned here to the left of the new NX210, the NX20 is Samsung's flagship mirrorless camera, and like its predecessor the NX10 it features a DSLR-like form factor with an electronic viewfinder. 

On a recent trip to Samsung's Seoul headquarters I got the opportunity to use the new NX20, and get a feel for how it performs. I only had a short time with a pre-production camera, but overall, my impressions of its handling and performance are very positive. Certainly, anyone who has used and liked the NX20's predecessor, the NX10, will find little to complain about in the new model, and much that is very familiar. 

Where it sits in the lineup

The NX20 sits at the top of Samsung's totally refreshed NX lineup, above the NX210 and NX1000. All three are based around the same 20MP CMOS sensor and all offer eight frame-per-second continuous shooting and Wi-Fi-connectivity and control, but the NX20 includes a handful of feature unique within the range.

The NX210 doesn't include a viewfinder, nor is its OLED screen articulated - making it less expensive - but it steps forward from the NX200 by adding Wi-Fi, faster continuous shooting and the option to use a cable shutter release and proprietary external microphone. The NX1000 is less expensive still, and features a plastic body, VGA rear screen and retractable kit zoom. Here we'll mainly look at the features of the NX20 that it offers over these other cameras, since they are what makes it the range-topping model.

Articulated 'Clear' AMOLED display

Externally, the most obvious difference between the NX20 and its predecessor is an articulated rear screen. The 3" AMOLED display offers VGA-equivalent resolution in the now-familiar Samsung 'pentile' arrangement, giving a perceptual resolution higher than its relatively-low dot-count of 614k dots might suggest. It's the same underlying OLED panel that we've seen on all of the NX models so far, and as such it is contrasty and detailed, with a wide viewing angle. Articulation makes the screen that bit more usable, of course, especially when it comes to shooting video or stills from high and low angles.

In terms of handling, the NX20 improves on its predecessor by adding both articulation to the rear display screen, and a higher-resolution electronic viewfinder. 

The NX20's display itself might offer the same specification as the previous-generation NXs, but there is one significant design change - the air-gap between the display and protective covering has been eliminated by filling it with a UV-cured resin that reduces internal reflections to improve contrast and visibility in bright lighting conditions. Samsung claims that this 'Clear AMOLED' display offers a 20% improvement in contrast ratio and, although I wasn't able to test the NX20 alongside an NX10, it does seem to deliver a genuine benefit in terms of clarity, and I was impressed by how usable the screen is in direct sunlight. 

Aside from the articulated screen, the NX20 handles in a very similar way to the NX10. The main difference from more recent cameras like the NX100 and NX200 the provision of an electronic viewfinder, but the grip too has been changed - it is now more pronounced, making the NX20 a generally 'rounder' and more comfortable camera to hold. Where the NX200 looks sharp and stylish, the NX20 looks softer, curvier and more welcoming.

At the heart of the NX20 is a 20.3MP Samsung-made CMOS sensor - the same sensor as that used in the NX200 (and the other newly-released NXs). From the rear, you can see the NX20's 3in Clear AMOLED screen, which is articulated along its leftmost edge, and its SVGA electronic viewfinder.
From the top, the NX20 looks a lot like the original NX10, but there are are two significant additions to its exposure mode dial - 'Wi-Fi' and 'C', for accessing the camera's wireless functionality and custom shooting banks, respectively. As you can see from this image, despite the DSLR-style form factor, the NX20 is an impressively compact camera. 

The softer, more rounded design belies a serious feature set though - 8fps at full-resolution and an electronic first-curtain shutter allowing a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 sec with reduced shutter lag (40 milliseconds) are both pretty impressive. These improvements will be welcomed by enthusiast photographers, as will a new 'Custom Mode' feature that allows you to save up to three shooting setups as custom shooting modes. These can then be recalled, either from the Smart Panel, or from a dedicated 'C' position on the exposure mode dial.

Custom shooting modes can be named using an on-screen text-entry dialog or if you're in a hurry, saved automatically by date. Existing features have been given a refresh too - we've been very impressed by the evolution of Samsung's 'iFn' on-lens function feature in the NX range, and iFn 2.0 adds even more options. It's great to see an electronic spirit level added to the NX20, too, which indicates roll and pitch.

All three of the new NX models feature an electronic spirit level which indicates up-down movement away from the parallel, and left/right tilt. 

The 100% coverage electronic viewfinder is the key differentiator between the NX20 and the NX210, and although I was using an early sample which I was told may not have been up to production quality, I enjoyed using the finder for image composition. The resolution of the NX20's EVF is SVGA (800 x 600 pixels, 1.44M dots), and in my experience remains pleasantly contrasty and detailed in all but the strongest side light (where like the NX10, the screen image is prone to 'flaring out').

The only serious annoyance that came out of my short time with the NX20 was related to the position of its direct movie recording button. I shot a lot of movie clips on the NX20 when I used it, but most of them were recorded accidentally thanks to the prominence of the movie record button on the upper right shoulder of the camera. 

The NX20's movie record button is positioned on the upper-right shoulder of the camera, in precisely the right (or rather wrong) position to be knocked accidentally by the thumb of the right hand.

On a few occasions during my time with the camera, even shifting my grip after lowering the NX20 from my eye was enough, I found, to accidentally bump this button, causing movie recording to initiate. 

Apart from this minor irritation though the NX20 is, like its predecessor, a pleasant camera to use, with an interesting and competitive feature set. The addition of Wi-Fi is of huge significance to Samsung as a step on the way to achieving its stated aim of creating a generation of 'connected cameras' and refinements like increased continuous shooting speed and display articulation add real benefit in day to day shooting.

I wasn't able to save (or even closely examine) images from the NX20 that I used in Korea, but there is nothing to suggest that image quality won't be broadly in line with our expectations based on experience with the NX200, which uses the same 20MP CMOS sensor. We should be receiving an NX20 shortly, and we will publish a more in-depth assessment and sample images as soon as possible.