Live View

Like its Micro Four Thirds competitors (and most modern compacts) the NX10 is a pure 'live view' camera - and framing is done using the LCD screen or electronic viewfinder. The disadvantages associated with this are well documented; in very bright light the glare from the screen reflection can make it hard to see and in very low light the preview image can get a little noisy, electronic viewfinders can't offer the clarity of a good optical system and traditionally there's been a serious trade off in focus speed when using the sensor for AF.

But there are some advantages; you get a lot more information overlaid on the preview image than any optical viewfinder can offer, and using the sensor for composition means that things like white balance, color effects and exposure can be assessed before you take the shot. The NX10's viewfinder is a lot bigger and brighter than many entry-level SLRs too, and since almost every aspect of its operation can be adjusted using on-screen controls, it's easy to keep an eye on what's happening in the frame even when changing settings.

The most important part of this discussion is how fast the NX10 can focus. And, in most situations, the answer is very quickly. If the light drops or you use a lens with a relatively small maximum aperture (such as the F5.6 at the long end of the kit lens), the camera will have to perform a noticeable sweep through the correct focus point and back before it will attain a lock but this is not a common-enough occurrence for it to be a problem. Overall it's about what you'd expect from a camera of this level though, whether you're comparing it to a DSLR with phase-detect AF or a mirrorless camera using contrast detection.

Live view display modes

The NX10's live view display has - as you might expect - elements common to compact camera user interfaces, but it's done with a real panache, and looks very pretty. The screen can get a little crowded with information, and we'd like to see an interface that was a little more customizable, but overall there's little to fault here, and any compact camera upgrader (Samsung's intended market for this camera) will find it immediately approachable. Pressing the DISP button cycles through the various display options, and you do get a little control over what you see in the third 'User' display mode (the icons, grid lines and histogram can be turned on or off).

Basic shooting mode: exposure information (plus frame counter and battery level indicator) With icons
User display mode. Histogram, grid lines and icons can be turned on and off using the User setting menu. There are four grid options (2x2, 3x3 '+' and 'X'). In Smart Auto mode you get a simplified display plus an indication of the scene type detected.
In movie mode you get a similar display (the icons are different).  

Direct control buttons

The NX10's direct controls (single function buttons on the body) generally invoke a menu - none of them allow you to repeatedly press to cycle through the various options. You can, however, hold the button and turn the control dial to change things like ISO (you don't actually have to press OK - a half-press of the shutter will register any change). Settings that have further options (such as white balance) have more involved menus (in the case of white balance, for example, pressing the up key lets you fine tune the response). As with the rest of the user interface it looks beautiful and makes great use of the camera's high-res screen.

Changing ISO Metering
White balance White balance Adjust
Picture Wizard Exposure compensation is the only one that doesn't bring up a menu: you simply hold the button and turn the dial, with settings reflected in the exposure scale at the bottom of the screen.

Function menu

Pressing the Fn button brings up a menu of options not covered by external buttons (though all the options are also found in the conventional menu structure).

The Function menu in P,A,S,M modes offers quick(ish) access to settings not covered by the body controls. From left to right these are: Size, Quality, Focus area, Flash settings (including FEC), Color Space, Smart Range and OIS mode (where applicable). Each option uses the same 'virtual loupe' to clearly indicate the current setting as you turn the dial or use the left/right keys to change it.
In the fully automatic 'Smart Auto' and scene modes you get a seriously cut-down version offering just three options (size, flash, color space). When changing flash mode you can also change the output level using this pretty analog dial.
The Function menu in movie mode offers options for exposure mode (P or A), size and quality, focus area, fading, audio and OIS.  

Image options

The introduction of live view to SLRs has seen an increase in the prevalence of compact camera-like features and the ability to preview parameter changes on the image. The NX10, as a live-view-only system camera, has more than its fair share of toys and a plethora of scene and subject modes.

Samsung calls its image parameters 'Picture Wizards': there are eight presets and you can create three of your own (C1, C2, C3). In all cases you get lots of control over color (Hue, we think), saturation, sharpness and contrast.

Focus performance

As a live view only camera the NX10 uses contrast detect autofocus (the same as used on all compact cameras). In most modes you can choose between four AF modes: Direct selection (single point, user-selectable), Multi-AF, Face Detection and Self-portrait AF. The NX10 offers single and continuous AF as well as fully manual focus (this is either engaged using the lens switch or - if there isn't one, as is the case with te 30mm pancake - the Function menu).

In selection AF mode you can choose not only the position of the focus point on the screen, but also the size (using the control dial).

In manual focus mode turning the focus dial magnifies the center of the frame, but not by enough - and not with enough resolution - to make it particularly useful. It's been a long time since we saw a camera that made such a poor job of magnified live view (which can be particularly useful for fine focus confirmation for macro photography or tripod work for example). Only offering 2x magnification which itself appears to simply be an upsampling of the existing data (using four screen pixels to represent each data point, rather than sampling four different pieces of data), really isn't very helpful.

This is the least of its problems, however - if you fit a non-NX lens (using, for instance, Samsung's own K-mount adapter), there is no way of magnifying the live view at all (at least, not as of firmware v1.05). This means it's essentially impossible to know if you've focused accurately. So forget any ideas you might have had about mounting fast obscure-mount prime lenses, as has become popular in some circles on Micro Four Thirds cameras. We can see no reason why Samsung can't add this functionality via a firmware update, so here's hoping...

Overall handling comments

On the whole the NX10 is a pleasant camera to use - it's rather modal interface (with everything presenting a different screen from which settings must be selected), is very much standard for this class of camera and, once you've found your way around it, is quick and simple to use. It feel's a little bit 'first generation,' but generally steers clear of obvious quirks or inconsistencies. We'd like to see the option to promote more of the options from the Function Menu onto the depth-of-field preview/function button, but that's a matter of personal taste.

The main thing we'd be inclined to criticize about the NX10 is the fact that its preview doesn't make the most of its high resolution screen - the live preview image is of noticeably lower resolution than the playback version, regularly resulting in visible jagged edges and moiré. This isn't a major problem (the screen still gives a good idea of exposure and framing, just not detail about fine focus).

In manual focus mode, however, the problems of the low-resolution preview are compounded by the particularly poor magnified live view implementation (undetailed for NX lenses, unavailable for all others), leading to the question of whether Samsung believes that anyone ever uses manual focus.

For the majority of users in the majority of situations, though, the NX10 is a satisfying, easy-to-use camera. In particular, Samsung is to be commended for the attractive menus and interface screens that make such good use of the OLED display's resolution.