It's arguable, but we'd say that Samsung's NX100 is the news coming out of Photokina 2010. You could say that Panasonic's Lumix DMC-GH2 (and its 3D interchangeable lens), Fujifilm's not-yet-released FinePix X100 or Sigma's Foveon-packin' SD1 were of equal importance, but it's pretty clear who stands to lose (or gain) the most from their ginormous push in Cologne. You wouldn't know that Samsung even brought another product to the show if you casually glanced at its booth, and we were able to take the outfit's newest starlet out for a spin in order to gain a few impressions. Priced at just $599 (with a 20-50mm lens; the 20mm pancake lens bundle will run you $50 more), this October-bound camera is certainly positioned to rival the other major players in terms of MSRP. But does it actually live up to the hype? Join us after the break to find out.

Samsung NX100 unboxing and hands-on

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Design

There's no two ways about it. The NX100 looks good. Really good, even. Really, really good when you compare it to the NX10 that came before it. This guy's finally creeping down into pocket-friendly territory in terms of size, but if we're being frank, it's not quite where we'd like it just yet. If you've had a look at Olympus' Zuiko-equipped concept compact that was also here at the show, that'll give you a good idea of where we'd love the NX100 to be sized it. Alas, that ain't happening anytime soon in the mirrorless / interchangeable lens class, and the NX100 is about as diminutive as they come for the moment.


The weight and build quality are a mixed bag. On one hand, the NX100 is exceedingly rigid and solid. There's no flex, and no indication that any of the materials were skimped upon. We're fairly certain this one could withstand a few short drops if it had to. But the downside to that rigidity is the weight; this thing is dense, and it feels far heavier than you'd expect when you grab it. Though, we aren't so sure that's outside of the norm -- Fujifilm's FinePix X100 was equally hefty when we toyed with it following the firm's press event. We'd still rather have solid and heavy rather than flimsy and light, but considering how hard Samsung is pushing this as a truly mobile camera, we just had to be up-front about it. It's not as light and portable as a classic point-and-shoot; hate to burst your bubble, but it's just not.


Now that we've got that off of our chest, let's talk about the button layout and comfort. Samsung has done an outstanding job creating a camera that's genuinely easy to pick up and use. It just fits in your hand, and the comfort level improves tenfold once you get into the habit of using the new i-Function lens -- a point we'll touch on more a bit later. The buttons are all well placed, and it's simple to figure out what leads to what at a glance. There are plenty of advanced features underneath, but anyone from a newbie right on up would have no issue getting acquainted. The lack of an optical viewfinder is going to annoy some people, but the gorgeous, spacious AMOLED screen on the rear does live view about as well as any camera we've seen. In closing here, the lack of SDXC support is somewhat of a disappointment, but the start-up time and general snappiness in use is well above average.

Image and video quality


Here's the thing -- the NX100 may be a bit quicker operationally, and it may present the user with a few more advanced settings compared to a traditional point-and-shoot, but we aren't completely sold on the value proposition. The fact is, images from the NX100 can look fantastic if it's used in ideal circumstances and the images are post-processed effectively. But the same can be said for just about any camera, ever. A camera is really only as good as it is during trying times: low-light predicaments, shooting fast moving action, etc. When we pressed the NX100 to deliver as the sun was setting, we were continually flustered by the automatic mode's refusal to edge up the ISO beyond 100 in order to hasten the shutter to 1/250 of a second. Seemingly, the NX100 would rather you have a noise-free image with oodles of blur than a dotted image of something that you can at least make out what it is. That doesn't feel so intelligent to us. The image below was shot about 20 minutes after sunset, and rather than attempting to keep the feel of the evening, the NX100's intelligent mode attempted to turn it into daylight while blurring everything in the process.


When we switched over to full manual mode, we were able to force up the ISO to 3200 (maximum sans boost) and set the shutter at 1/250 of a second -- which is about as slow as we can reasonably go when shooting handheld while ensuring that we don't introduce blur -- we were able to get a recognizable image, but there's nothing pretty about shooting at ISO 3200. That's a shame, really. Quite a few other cameras in the mirrorless segment are already pushing the ISO 10,000 mark (NEX-5, anyone?), and the NX100 simply can't produce delightful shots above ISO 1600. We're stoked that ISO 3200 is an option, though, and for casual shooters who are just collecting memories from their vacation, it's fine. Also, when you recall that this thing costs just $599 with a lens, the image quality seems infinitely more acceptable. In fact, we'd be far less inclined to nitpick the negatives of the image quality if not for Samsung's shameless marketing of the NX100. It's not a DSLR replacement, it's a point-and-shoot replacement, and the sample images below should more than tell you that. Naturally, you'll get better images with copious amounts of setup time, but we're guessing most prospective buyers of this just want something that at least works like a point-and-shoot.

Samsung NX100 sample images

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Just a note on the 720p video -- it's not world-changing, that's for sure. In fact, we noticed quite a bit of jelly-vision in our sample walk around Kölner Dom, which is a phenomenon that Nikon D90 owners know all too much about. That's a pretty big bummer; the colors and resolution are both satisfactory, but the impossible-to-miss wiggle that occurs throughout is more than annoying.


i-Function lens functionality

Samsung's new lens technology is so good, it simply has to have it's own section. In fact, we're baffled that the company is focusing more on convincing you that the NX100 is the world's first mini-DSLR instead of marketing the awesomeness of i-Function. Without a doubt, this new lens technology is the star of the NX100 show. For those that still haven't grokked what i-Function is, allow us to break it down. The outfit's newest NX-compatible lenses all have an "i-Fn" button on the top-left (when viewing from behind). When you've got your NX100 (or NX10, after a firmware update that's scheduled for October) set to a mode where end-user control of the settings is enabled (Manual, Programmed Auto, Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority), you simply tap that button and watch a setting pop up on the bottom of the live view display. From there, you use your right hand to spin a ring on the lens to change the setting one way or another. Once you've set one aspect, you tap the button again to cycle onto the next. Spin the ring, find the setting -- wash, rinse, repeat.


It's one of those things that you really have to experience to appreciate just how elegantly it works, and we think it's an amazing way to adjust settings on a camera. In fact, we'd love to see i-Function lenses on all cameras with interchangeable lenses. It's just a fantastic way to navigate. Better still, the live view image changes near-instantly once you select a new value in order to give you a staggeringly accurate idea of how your image will turn out if you settle on the settings that you've got dialed up. Have a look at what we mean in our video below.


Wrap-up


At $599, Samsung's NX100 is one of the better bets in the mirrorless world. We still aren't sold on the idea of investing hundreds upon hundreds of dollars in lenses that can't ever be used on bona fide DSLRs should you ever get the itch to upgrade (hint: you probably will), but if you are sold -- well, more power to you. The NX100 delivers solid image quality under the right conditions, and provides amateurs with loads of manual settings to tinker with. The 720p video mode is marred by jelly-vision throughout, though, which puts somewhat of a damper on the whole package. We can't commend Samsung enough on the user interface and especially the i-Function lens development, and we can wholeheartedly say that it's now our favorite way to control camera settings. If you're dead-set on buying a camera in this range, and you're kosher with the video and low-light limitations (not to mention the heft), you'll be hard-pressed to find a better bargain than this. That said, we wish you the best of luck not ponying up an extra $100 for this guy.

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