When the first Compact System Cameras (CSCs) arrived three years ago they sparked lots of interest and before long there were plenty of manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon, releasing small D-SLR-style cameras based on a mirrorless system and with the benefit of interchangeable lenses. Panasonic and Olympus were straight out of the blocks with their Micro Four Thirds offerings and in 2009 Samsung revealed development of its NX system, promising an APS-C sized sensor within a small body. Two years on and the NX11 is Samsung’s third NX series camera.
Features & Build
Without a traditional mirror box, the NX11 manages to squeeze a lot into its petite body and it’s immediately noticeable that there’s been a design tweak to the grip, making it more comfortable to hold than the NX10. Rather than a rounded mould, there’s a more angular grip to wrap your fingers around which feels more refined. Though the grip has been modified, the dimensions of the body are the same as the NX10’s (123x87x39.8mm) and there’s no change to the size of the sensor.
The NX11 inherits the 14.6Mp APS-C sized chip from the NX10 and NX100, and the same 100-3200 ISO range, too. Video resolution is also unchanged at 1280x720 @ 30fps and though this doesn’t match the full HD (1920x1080) recordings offered by many entry-level and mid-price D-SLRs, it does support a fast Active AF system which saves the hassle of focusing manually.
For stills, Contrast-Detect AF is used and Single AF, Continuous AF and Manual Focus are accessed from a dedicated button on the D-Pad. AF-area is set from either the Main Menu or the Quick Menu (via the Fn button) and you’re given the choice of Selection AF, Multi AF, Face Detection AF or Self-Portrait AF. AF tracking is not featured though and the AF point can’t be moved to the full width of the screen as on some CSCs.
AF operation in low-light is aided by an AF assist beam and tweaking the smooth focus ring on the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kits lens in MF mode triggers a magnified view on the 3in AMOLED 614k-dot screen at the rear.
Designed to offer better contrast and a faster refresh rate, the screen gives a clear and sharp image when composing in Live View and there’s also an electronic viewfinder (EVF) with dioptre control. A small sensor above the screen switches the EVF on and off as it’s raised and lowered from the eye, and it offers 100% coverage but only has a VGA (640x480pixel) resolution, so isn’t a true substitute for an optical viewfinder.
So where else has the NX11 improved? On the NX100 Samsung released i-Function lens technology, giving you control of common settings via the lens and the NX11 also supports this system, with an iFn button replacing the Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) switch on the barrel of the kit lens. OIS has since been moved into the main menu and our tests revealed i-Function works particularly well, giving a much quicker way of adjusting shutter speed, aperture, ISO, exposure compensation and white balance with a click of a button and a twist on the focus ring.
Up until recently there were only three NX format lenses to choose from – the standard 18-55mm f/4-5.6 OIS kit lens, a 55-200mm f/4-5.6 OIS zoom and a 30mm f/2 pancake lens, but in April Samsung announced five new NX mount optics consisting of an 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 ED OIS, 16mm f/2.4, 60mm f/2.8 Macro ED OIS SSA, 85mm f/1.4 ED SSA and 16-80mm f/3.5-4.5 OIS. This expands the total to eight and strengthens the NX-series of lenses for the future. Plus all will feature the new i-Function mode. The NX11 also has a built-in pop-up flash and is compatible with two Samsung flashguns – the SEF-20A (£111) and SEF-42A (£170).
Performance & Handling
When it comes to design, CSCs often feature modest handgrips and limited button inputs, but this isn’t the case with the NX11; it has an excellent grip and a good arrangement of buttons on the body. The mode dial is easy to access with the thumb, the D-Pad lets you get to ISO and metering modes quickly, while if you hit the centre D-Pad button you can change the position and size of your AF point simultaneously.
The command dial behind the shutter and on/off button will be rarely used if you make use of the i-Function lens facility, but the Fn button is handy for setting image quality, OIS, flash and AF area. The Quick menu, like the main menu, is intuitively laid out with clear icons and headings. Panorama mode is a new feature found via the mode dial and this works well, provided you pan slowly and only from from left to right.
The build of the NX11 is superb and it’s one of the most solid CSCs we’ve tested with a really weighty feel (609g with lens) for a camera of its size. Set to RAW and Super Fine JPEG, the NX11 took 3.5secs to process and write a file to our card – 2secs faster than when tested on the NX10. Set to Continuous shooting, the NX11 rattled out four frames at 3fps in RAW format and this number increased to 11 frames when shooting in Fine JPEG format. After this point the buffer slowed up while the image data was written to our SanDisk 8GB SDHC card. This is a fractionally better performance than that seen on the NX10, but still sluggish compared to many comparatively-priced entry-level D-SLRs.
i-Function is disabled in video mode, so you’ll need to use the command dial if you’d like to change aperture and, regrettably, there’s no port for an external mic either, which is a shame. The kit lens is a tad noisy in operation, so be prepared for a few whirrs on your video soundtrack if you use the AF system.
AF performance for stills was good, locking onto subjects with relative ease when plenty of light was available. In darker scenes the lens had a tendency to hunt, but the bright green AF lamp helped the NX11 find focus in more challenging lighting conditions.
Value & Verdict
When it comes to performance and shooting speed, the NX11 can’t match an entry-level D-SLR like the Nikon D3100 and, though small, it’s still not truly pocket sized even when equipped with a pancake lens.
Its 14.6Mp chip is equal in size to many APS-C D-SLR sensors though and it produces excellent detail for prints up to A3+ in size. This coupled with its solid build quality and speedy handling (thanks to the i-Function system) makes it a very attractive proposition, especially if you’re making the jump from a digital compact. It also has an expanding range of lenses, so there’s plenty to discover if you choose to buy into Samsung’s NX system.
- Street Price: £270 (Secondhand price as of July 2016)
- Resolution: 14.6Mp
- Sensor: APS-C CMOS
- Lens Mount: Samsung NX
- Focal Length Multiplication: 1.5x
- Viewfinder: EVF, 921k-dot (640x480px)
- Focusing: Contrast AF
- ISO Range: 100-3200
- Monitor: 3in AMOLED, 614k-dot
- Shutter range: 30sec-1/4000sec
- Live View: Yes
- Burst Rate: 3fps
- Video: 1280x720 @ 30fps
- Storage: SD, SDHC
- Weight: 353g (body only)
- Dimensions: 123x87x39.8mm
This review was first published in the August 2011 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.