In the process of re-checking the behavior of the pre-production K-mount adapter used in this review, we found the focus of the main test shot could be improved (as a result of the difficulty of assessing manual focus). This improved shot has now been added and the conclusions adjusted accordingly.

The idea of a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera had been circulating for many years before Panasonic and Olympus announced the Micro Four Thirds camera system in August 2008, so it's not surprising that they didn't have the market to themselves for very long. Back when there was still only one Micro Four Thirds camera on the market, electronics giant Samsung showed a prototype of what was to be the first mirrorless interchangeable camera with an APS-C sized sensor. Ten months later that prototype has evolved into a finished product in the form of the NX10.

While other large manufacturers are starting to talk about launching mirrorless systems, Samsung has become the third manufacturer to actually to turn talk into tangible product. However, while Samsung is only the third party to enter the fray, enough time has passed for the other mirrorless makers to have moved on to their second-generation of cameras, including the newly-launched Panasonic G2 and G10. Between them these two cameras (which like the NX take many of their styling ideas from DSLR designs) are likely to make life pretty difficult for the Samsung. The G10 doesn't match the NX's spec but is aggressively priced while the G2 offers smarter video compression and touch-screen cleverness, which will be attractive to some. And they have the advantage of being second-generation products, with the enhanced level of refinement that this tends to bring.

The big distinction is that Samsung has decided to use the larger APS-C sensor of the type that is the de facto standard size in DSLRs. This offers the potential of good low-light performance (its sensor has a 50% greater surface area than those used in Micro Four Thirds and that means more light for any given exposure) but the lenses are not likely to be smaller than those used on DSLRs.

The NX10's closest competitor is the Panasonic G2 - both are 'SLR style' models with built-in viewfinders and proper external controls. Despite a slightly longer flange-back distance (25.5mm vs 20mm) the NX10 is a considerably more slimline affair. It has a smaller, lower-res viewfinder but offers a larger, higher resolution OLED display, rather than the G2's touch-sensitive, articulated LCD.

Samsung NX10 Key Features

  • 15.1 Megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor (presumed to be close relation to Pentax K7 sensor)
  • 14.6 million effective pixels
  • New Samsung NX mount (25.5mm flange-back distance)
  • 720p movie capture (H.264, 30 fps)
  • Contrast-detect autofocus
  • 3.0" AMOLED screen (614,000 dots, PenTile RGB array)
  • 921k dot Electronic Viewfinder
  • 30mm F2 pancake and 18-55mm standard zoom options

Samsung is a global electronics giant, able to draw on resources (and in-house technologies) most camera manufacturers can only dream of. And as one of the newer players in the camera market and crucially one of those without the burden (or blessing, depending on your point of view) of a legacy 35mm system to support, it's hardly surprising that Samsung is one of the pioneers of this new hybrid camera category.

Despite doing pretty well at grabbing a decent share of the compact camera market (mainly, it must be said, by undercutting its Japanese competitors) Samsung has struggled to gain any traction from its partnership with Pentax, which has seen it co-developing sensors (including the one inside the NX10) and slapping its logo on Pentax SLRs. At this year's PMA, Samsung told us that although relationship with Pentax remains one of 'close co-operation', the NX10 has been developed entirely in-house, independently of Pentax (or any other partner: Samsung claims the NX is 100% Samsung).

The current pin-ups of the Micro Four Thirds crowd, the Olympus PEN series, created the biggest buzz of 2009 thanks to their unique retro styling (and by the mere fact that the PEN E-P1 was the first rangefinder style mirrorless interchangeable camera). Looked at from above you can see that the NX10 is considerably bulkier, but crucially (for future development) the body itself (forgetting the protruding bits) isn't a lot thicker - the flange-back distance is only 5mm more. The larger sensor doesn't by necessity mean larger cameras (the NX10 is smaller than the Panasonic G1), but - as you can see above - it does make for slightly larger lenses.

As 2010 gets underway, Olympus and Panasonic no longer have the mirrorless interchangeable lens market to themselves. As well as the Samsung NX10, Sony recently announced (at this year's PMA show in Anaheim) its intention to create a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera as well. The forthcoming Sony offering, like the NX10, will feature an APS-C sensor too. How the market evolves remains to be seen, but for now, it's all very exciting.

The NX System

Samsung describes NX as a 'hybrid' system (there's still no consensus on nomenclature for this new category of camera) that (to quote the original press release) offers "the performance and image quality of a DSLR and the portability and convenience of a compact point-and-shoot". So far, so Micro Four Thirds with a bigger sensor.

As with Micro Four Thirds the key to NX is that it allows the cameras to be slimmer by removing the mirror box and optical viewfinder and replacing them with an all-live view system (using the sensor itself to display a preview image on the screen or electronic viewfinder). The flange-back (lens mount to sensor) distance is reduced by around 40% to 25.5mm, the lens mount itself is shrunk and the net result is a camera with an SLR-sized sensor and interchangeable lenses, but in a considerably smaller package.

For Samsung, a company with little experience in optics but an awful lot of experience in solid-state electronics it's also a way to make a system camera that contains little, if any legacy technology and very few moving parts. Digital SLRs use a sometimes awkward pairing of cutting edge electronics and decades-old mechanical systems harking back to the days of film, whereas these new 'hybrid' system cameras are designed and built from the bottom up as purely digital devices. It's our understanding that they're also a lot cheaper for a company like Samsung and Panasonic to make than anything requiring a precision engineered fast-moving mirror and reflex viewfinder.

At present, the NX system is fairly small, but five more lenses are on the way, including a 20mm pancake, a 60mm macro, and a new 18-200mm 'superzoom'. For now though, the NX system comprises the following:

  • NX10 body
  • Three lenses (30mm, 18-55mm, and 50-200mm)
  • Dedicated flashguns (SEF20A or SEF42A)
  • Various cases, straps and cables