Mirrorless compacts with swappable lenses are the hot trend in cameras right now. They offer the best of both worlds -- the smaller body of a compact coupled with the versatility of a dSLR. Samsung knows that as well as anyone, which is why it's refreshing its line-up every few months.
The NX210 comes hot on the heels of the NX200, which made its CNET UK bow six months back. Much of the spec is the same, but with the addition of built-in Wi-Fi, it's now smarter and more capable than ever.
The Samsung NX210 can be bought online with an 18-55mm lens from around £640.
Intelligent lens system
A highlight of Samsung's compact interchangeables is the iFN button on the side of the barrel. This gives you direct access to toggling the most common shooting options for each mode.
So, set the NX210 to shutter priority and iFN alternates between shutter speed and exposure compensation. Switch to aperture priority and it swaps out shutter speed for aperture. If the camera's set to manual, then it switches back and forth between shutter and aperture. The button itself is paired with the focus ring at the front of the dial, so a twist of the ring adjusts each setting or, if you find it easier, you can use the regular top-mounted wheel instead.
It's supremely easy to use, well implemented and does much to encourage more creative photography. This is particularly true if you set the camera to lens priority mode, where the iFN button and focus ring let you switch quickly between preset scene modes, showing you live previews of how your photo will look in each instance.
The lens itself is an 18-55mm unit, which equates to 27.7-84.7mm with the NX210's APS-C-sized sensor. This is a pretty standard metric. Like the maximum aperture, which stands at f/3.5 and f/5.6 in wide angle and full telephoto respectively, it's common to many entry-level cameras. Minimum aperture is f/22, and minimum focusing distance is a fairly fat 28cm.
Samsung's complete line-up presently runs to eight lenses. This falls short of Panasonic (20 including conversion lenses), the , (which can call on over 30 of Pentax's back catalogue of compatible units), and the forthcoming Canon EOS M (which can access Canon's complete EF lens line-up through the use of an adaptor). It does, however, cover all of the expected bases, from 16mm pancake to 18-200mm telephoto.
It takes around a quarter of a second to fix focus. While respectable, this lags a little behind the competition in both auto mode and shutter or aperture priority. The automatic mode is very quick to decide on the most appropriate exposure setting, but it takes about 2 seconds to wake from sleep, and switching between shooting modes briefly throws up a title screen explaining what the mode does. If you switch past several modes on the top-mounted selection wheel then these screens scroll past in turn. They're pretty quick, but still unnecessary once you've come to know the camera, and they do slow you down a touch.
NX210 in use
If you need to hold it for any length of time, then you won't get a much more comfortable camera than the NX210. It's fairly hefty, with the body weighing 222g and the lens an extra 198g on top, but the payback is an all-metal body and a well-crafted grip containing the battery and memory card that makes it extremely secure in your hand. The outer part of the grip has a rubber coating, while the inner face is textured where it meets the tips of your fingers. The complete package is extremely well balanced when used two-handed, with your left hand taking care of the zoom.
The rear screen is a bright 3-inch AMOLED display, which you can overlay with a choice of four grids and a histogram. There's no optical or digital eyepiece, but that's not a problem as the screen is easy to see outdoors in bright light. There's no built-in flash, but Samsung bundles an external hot-shoe mounted flash in the box, along with a lens hood.
There's a dedicated Wi-Fi slot on the mode selector that drops you into a menu from which you can email images directly, share them on social networks, back them up, view them on a TV and use a remote viewfinder on your smart phone.
As this Wi-Fi mode is the key difference between the NX210 and its predecessor, the NX200, it's probably not worth NX200 owners upgrading. The 20-megapixel sensor (5,472x3,648-pixel images), HD movie recording (1,920x1,080p, 30 frames per second) and sensitivity range of ISO 100 to ISO 12,800 (with compensation of +/-3EV in 1/3EV steps) is otherwise unchanged. For first-timers though, it could prove sufficient inducement to turn away from rival brands.
All this would count for nothing if the NX210 couldn't hold its own in the field, but there's no worries here.
I conducted my tests with it set to shoot raw files and JPEGs, with my analysis on the raw shots after importing them into Lightroom, which was set to convert them to Digital Negative (DNG) format.