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Samsung NX concept with mid-range zoom

Faced with a shrinking compact camera market camera makers are angling for a position in any segments that show potential for growth. For Samsung, that means a range of higher-end cameras that combine the large, high-performance sensors and interchangeable lenses of digital SLRs with the smaller size of compact cameras.

Samsung doesn't have any such systems for sale, but to whet people's appetites--and perhaps to see how well they'd be received--it showed off some concept models at the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) show in Las Vegas. Samsung has given these high-end compact cameras the NX brand name, which it announced in 2008 at the Photokina trade show.

Samsung released a few images of one mock-up NX camera with what appeared to be a compact, fixed-focal-length lens, but under glass at its PMA display, Samsung presented a number of others with different colors and lenses to better show its ambition.

It's a small camera, but Samsung apparently thinks people will use it with hefty telephoto lenses. This view shows something like a mid-range zoom with a petal-shaped lens hood.

The cameras will employ a relatively large APS-C sensor, the variety used in mainstream SLRs from Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony. It's smaller than a full frame of 35mm film and the corresponding full-frame sensors in top-end SLRs, but it's a lot larger than those used in typical compact cameras. Larger sensors offer the possibility of higher image quality, but they cost more and make cameras and optics bulkier.

The Samsung NX line competes most directly with Micro Four Thirds cameras including Panasonic's G1 and upcoming GH1 and, this summer, a Micro Four Thirds camera from Olympus, too.

Caption:Photo:Stephen Shankland/CNET
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Samsung NX concept with telephoto lens

Large sensors require larger lenses, a fact of life most evident with telephoto lenses.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Stephen Shankland/CNET
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Back of a Samsung NX concept camera

The back of the mock-up is typical for a higher-end compact camera. The viewfinder sports a rubber eyecup.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Stephen Shankland/CNET
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Compact Samsung NX concept

This concept version sports what appears to be a lens with a fixed focal length. Such a setup would mean no zooming, but also makes for a compact setup.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Stephen Shankland/CNET
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Samsung NX concept in profile

With the small lens, the Samsung NX cameras are quite compact. It would be a challenge to sell a camera with such a lens built in, but the interchangeable lenses offered by Samsung NX and its rival technology from Panasonic and Olympus, Micro Four Thirds, at least theoretically give customers the choice of a compact lens when they want it.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Stephen Shankland/CNET
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Samsung NX concept with telephoto

A Samsung NX concept camera with a telephoto lens.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Stephen Shankland/CNET
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