Samsung NX200 Review
The Samsung NX200 does not have a built-in flash but comes with the small external flash unit SEF8A which slots into the hotshoe on the camera's top-plate. It's simple unit with limited power that essentially does the job of a built-in flash but for those who want more control and/or power optional flash units are available as accessories. In our tests the bundled flash works well with the camera's metering system and produces well-exposed flash images. However, due to the unit's limited output, in Auto-ISO or Smart mode the camera tends to default to higher ISOs (ISO 400 in the sample below) to achieve the desired exposure.
|The bundled SEF8A flash has a guide number of 8m at ISO 100 and covers a 28mm (35mm equiv) angle of view. It offers flash exposure compensation of -2 to +2 in 0.5 EV steps, maximum sync speed is 1/180sec.|
Like other manufacturers's dynamic range enhancement features Samsung's Smart Range system is designed to balance the appearance of scenes that contain a wide tonal range, from very bright or clipped shadows to deep highlights. It is an on/off function and works by using a shortened exposure and tone curve adjustments to increase shadow brightness slightly, while reducing the brightness of highlights. The system also limits the lowest ISO to 200.
In the dynamic range section of this review we demonstrate that enabling Smart Range adds a stop of dynamic range to the highlight end. In the real world example the effect is subtle but clearly visible in the highlight areas of this high-contrast scene. Smart Range has recovered some tone in the blue sky and detail in the reflective facade of the high-rise building.
The trade-off becomes visible in the shadow areas where the slight 'lifting' of the tone curve, combined with the increase from ISO 100 to 200 and an additional dose of noise reduction applied in this mode results in increased blurring of low-contrast detail as can be seen in the shrubbery along the freeway. There is no visible increase in shadow noise but the loss of low contrast detail is evident and significantly worse than on other manufacturers' equivalent systems.
Overall the effects of Smart Range are fairly subtle and the decision to leave the system on or off is a judgement call. The increase in highlight detail is certainly welcome in high contrast-scenes but on the other hand you loose a lot of shadow detail which might make shooting raw and modifying the tone-curve in the conversion process a preferable alternative to some.
|Smart Range Off (ISO 100)||Smart Range On (ISO 200)|
|100% Crop - highlight area|
|100% Crop - shadow area|
High ISO Chroma noise
While the Samsung NX200 produces very sharp and detailed output at base and low ISOs the image quality, at least at a pixel-level, starts suffering at higher ISOs. We've looked at this in more detail on the ISO/noise page of this review but here we've set up a low-light still-life to illustrate the point in a more representative 'real world' scene. We're comparing the NX200 here to one of its direct competitors, the Panasonic DMC-GX1, both cameras with their default noise reduction settings ('On' on the NX200, '0' on the GX1).
|NX200 - ISO 3200 NR On||GX1 - ISO 3200 NR 0|
|NX200 - ISO 6400 NR On||GX1 - ISO 6400 NR 0|
As you can see, the NX200 produces a substantial amount of chroma noise in the shadow areas, which is, despite being blurred and smeared by the camera's noise reduction, very intrusive and almost putting a transparent purple layer on top of the image. The difference to the Panasonic is quite obvious. The GX1 output is a little grainier but controls chroma noise in a much better way, an approach that produces much more pleasant end results.
In the samples below we have tried to get results more to our liking in Adobe Camera Raw and applied fairly heavy-handed chroma noise reduction combined with a relatively small dose of luminance noise reduction (Luminance: 20, Luminance Detail: 58, Color 20, everthing else default). The end result is an image that shows more detail and less blurring/smearing than the out-of-camera JPEG while at the same time reducing the chroma noise in the shadow areas. The downside is that at a pixel level the image is grainier (although some would argue that gives it much more of a 'film look' then the JPEG engine's smearing and blurring) and the shadow areas loose some of its saturation in the red channel (it appears most red/purple details are identified as chroma noise by ACR and therefore eliminated).
We like the ACR result better than the out-of-camera image but which image you prefer is admittedly to a degree a question of taste. Nevertheless this example is meant to demonstrate that you can achieve results that are very different to the JPEG results by applying your own noise reduction recipe.
|ISO 12800 - JPEG at default settings||ISO 12800 - ACR Conversion|
|100% crop - light area||100% crop - light area|
|100% crop - shadow area||100% crop - shadow area|
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