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Samsung NX300 review: compact system camera packed with features

Samsung's NX300 is an interchangeable lens camera (or compact system camera, as they are known these days) that offers a lot more than just traditional photography to be undertaken. It's referred to by Samsung as a 'Smart Camera', which means it has plenty of built-in aids to enhance and edit your photos, and it also comes with some interesting, but perhaps not all that useful, wireless features. See all compact camera reviews.

It's the wireless features that are perhaps the most interesting part of this camera, as they allow it to connect directly to your smartphone so that you can share your photos online almost instantly while you're out and about. A lot of you may baulk at the idea of carrying a dedicated camera and then using your phone to upload photos to social media sites — you could just use your phone to take the photo, too. The camera's Wi-Fi solution is mainly for those of you who want to capture and immediately share higher quality photos of night scenes, and scenes with plenty of depth of field, for example. We think the implementation needs work, though. 

Some preparation is needed before you can use the wireless features. This means downloading the Samsung Smart Camera app. Once it's installed, you can then manually connect to the Wi-Fi network that the camera emits when you enable its Wi-Fi Direct function, or you can use NFC to tap your phone on the right side of the camera to get the password for the camera's network automatically. We used the latter method and it worked easily enough.

The main Wi-Fi feature of the camera is called Mobile Link, and this is a feature that you can either enable from the on-screen menu when you move the mode dial to 'Wi-Fi', or you can simply tap on its icon on the touchscreen in any shooting mode (it's the icon just above the 'tap to focus and shoot' icon). In this mode, once a connection is established between the camera and your phone, any photos that you take are automatically transferred to your phone and placed in your Gallery (if you use Android).

It means that you won't have to sit and transfer photos to your phone after you've shot them — the photos you take will appear on the phone as soon as you take them (give or take how long they take to transfer). You can also use this feature to select and transfer photos after they have been taken, and this is perhaps the most useful aspect of this feature. If you have your phone's gallery set up to sync with Dropbox, it means you can use your phone as intermediary to get your full-resolution photos to your computer without removing the SD card. This feature is a little clumsy to use, though, and we think Samsung needs to do a little more work on the interface to make it a more intuitive experience. For example, when we first used this feature, we weren't able to transfer files to our phone; it asked us if we wanted to transfer already-taken photos after we used the feature the third time.

If you set your phone up as a hotspot, you can then use the camera's Wi-Fi function to connect to the hotspot and upload photos directly to Facebook, SkyDrive, or Picasa. These services are all located in the 'SNS & Cloud' feature in the camera's Wi-Fi menu and you have to log in to them — it can be a pain to type on the camera's screen. The photos are uploaded at a downscaled resolution, so this isn't a good solution if you want to store your photos on SkyDrive for future editing, for example.

When you're at home, you can make use of the camera's AllShare Play feature, which allows any DLNA-enabled devices in your home network to access the camera's files. It's somewhat useful for sharing files on the big screen in your lounge room. There is another feature called PC Auto Backup, but our camera didn't come with the software that allows this feature to be used (it wasn't included on the camera, and it wasn't in the box), nor could we find it anywhere on Samsung's site (we searched for i-Launcher, PC Auto Backup, and Intelli-Studio without any luck).

The other wireless feature that comes with the camera isn't strictly a file transfer feature but a wireless viewfinder. It's simply called 'Remote Viewfinder' and to use it you must have the Smart Camera app installed on your phone. With it, you can use your phone's screen as the viewfinder, and this comes in handy when you want to take photos from unlikely angles. For example, you can place the camera on the ground and frame your photo remotely without getting dirty, or you can put it up high to get a different perspective on things without having to climb a ladder.

When we first used the Mobile Link feature (left), we weren't aware that we could also transfer already-taken images. That functionality showed up in subsequent uses. On the right, you can see the interface for the remote viewfinder.

All of these features are a curiosity, but we think the Mobile Link feature is the best of the lot. It can be very useful when you want to transfer photos from the camera to your phone while you're on the go, and the way the connection works is quite easy. We just wish the software itself was a little bit more consistent in its interface. The remote viewfinder function is also a good one as far as allowing you to take pictures from wacky angles, and the DLNA feature is useful if you want to display photos on your TV.

As expected, though, the Wi-Fi features drain the battery. When we used the Mobile Link direct connection feature after starting with a full battery, we shot for just over 40min and transferred 62 photos. We then stopped the Wi-Fi and took the camera out for an hour's worth of shooting, after which the battery was left with one bar and none of the wireless functions would work. We ended up having to charge this camera a lot during the course of our review, and this was awkward because we had to connect the charging cable to the camera to do so — it doesn't ship with a conventional battery charger.

As far as camera functionality is concerned, the NX300 has a 20.3-megapixel, APS-C sized CMOS sensor, and it makes use of Samsung's NX lens mount. There are eight lenses available in Samsung's NX-mount arsenal so far (and also an adapter that allows the camera to work with K-mount lenses from Pentax and other vendors), and the kit we tested came with the 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OIS lens, which has a retail price of $299 on its own.

It's not a great lens; we noticed plenty of distortion during our tests that made shooting buildings and other straight-line scenes a little awkward, and we also noticed lots of softness at the edges of the frame. On the bright side, the 18-55mm lens is capable of giving some great results when it comes to portraits and close-ups, and if you zoom right in on your subject you can end up with some wonderfully-blurred backgrounds and patterning. There are some great prime lenses for this camera and a couple of further-reaching zoom lenses that we think are more attractive propositions than the 18-55mm. Consider them if you have the cash.

We found the overall quality of the images from the NX300 to be very crisp and colours were captured in a neutral way. (We used JPEG mode for our tests, but RAW is supported, too). We shot mostly in manual mode, and it was simple to change settings on-the-fly by using the control dial and pressing the +/- button to change between aperture and shutter values. Furthermore, changing ISO values was a simple matter of pressing the dedicated button on the rear button cluster. It's quite an intuitive camera to use, especially because of the accurate on-screen meter that tells you if a shot is underexposed or overexposed, and also because any changes to the exposure are depicted accurately on the screen before you take the shot. Of course, it's even easier to use the camera in a semi-manual or fully auto mode, and there are plenty of scene modes to select from, too.

Focusing performance was swift, and we like the fact that you can tap on the 3.3in AMOLED screen to focus on any part of the frame. You can also set it so that a picture is taken when the screen is tapped, although this can sometimes be a hindrance. The screen itself is crisp and its hinge comes in useful when you want to use the camera to shoot from the hip or from above your head. The hinge only allows for limited vertical movement, and you can't flip or swing it around for self-portraits.

Unfortunately, you don't get an electronic viewfinder eyepiece with this camera, which means it can be quite difficult to frame photos under very bright conditions. One of the things we love about the first NX cameras that we reviewed (the NX10 and the NX20) is the fact that they have a built-in EVF and a flash, making them both a complete camera from the get-go. Of course, the NX20, which is the current model still on offer, is more expensive than the NX300. The only accessory that you get with the NX300 is a hot-shot flash (model SEF8A), which makes the camera look cool while giving it the ability to shoot reasonably well in dark environments. An EVF accessory for the NX300 wasn't listed on Samsung's Web site at the time of writing.

A typical indoor shot taken at ISO 800.

A 100 per cent crop of the previous image. This is at ISO 800.

Colours were captured well by default, without too much saturation.

You can make out the circular background patterning of the lens when fully zoomed on this flower.

Another example of the background blur that can be achieved with the 18-55mm lens, but you can also see some softness in the right-hand corners.

No hints of colour fringing here, and the camera handled varying light conditions relatively well.

This typical wide angle shot shows the distortion effect of the 18-55mm lens.

This has been cropped and levels have been adjusted. All the other photos are as-is from the camera (apart from re-sizing to fit this page layout).

The wireless features that are included with this camera can be of help if you ever want to upload photos to the Internet while you're on location, but they can be a great drain on the battery.

Purely as a conventional camera, the NX300 is very good. It's very fast (it features a maximum shutter of 1/6000th of a second), it can capture clear and well defined photos that look good cropped or printed at a large size, and its low-light performance with high ISO values didn't tarnish photos with too much noticeable noise.

Above all, it's a comfortable camera to hold, an easy camera to control, and its screen shows you the effects of exposure changes before your snap your shot.

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