Camera Review: Samsung NX30

August 13, 2014

By Dan Havlik

We loved the Samsung NX30’s ability to shoot from a variety of angles thanks to its swiveling rear touchscreen and tilting electronic viewfinder.

The Samsung NX30 is not really a professional camera, but it has many features I’d love to see turn up on more serious pro models. For one: Of all the imaging companies out there, Samsung is the best at integrating easy-to-use wireless connectivity into its camera line-up. This is partially because of Samsung’s experience in the mobile market, but it’s also because they seem to respect the user experience more than some competing manufacturers. If you’ve ever tried to figure out the confusing built-in Wi-Fi features in some of the leading photo manufacturers’ cameras, you’ll know what I mean. 
With smartphones continuing to decimate the camera market thanks to their ubiquity—“the best camera is the one you have with you”—and the ease of wirelessly sharing images from them to social networks—“sharing is caring”—you’d think the camera companies would get it by now. Perhaps they should take some lessons from Samsung, which packs a host of cool tools into the NX30. While these might not be truly revolutionary features, and while Samsung doesn’t get everything right with the NX30, it shows the company is thinking seriously about photographers’ needs. 
Compact, mirrorless, interchangeable lens cameras have been slow to catch on in the United States, and that’s probably because it’s still hard to explain to photographers just what they are and whom they benefit. A year ago, these models were being referred to as compact system cameras (CSC) but that nomenclature seems to have gone out of vogue in favor of, simply, “mirrorless.” (Not exactly catchy either.) 
I’m assuming most PDN readers are familiar with mirrorless cameras and already know the positives (compact camera bodies and lenses) and the negatives (expensive and require you to use a grainy electronic viewfinder), so I won’t go into that. Let me tell you what I liked about the NX30, which is the follow-up to the NX20 that I reviewed in 2012. 
The Samsung NX30 houses a 20.3MP APS-C CMOS sensor inside a relatively compact (yet far from pocketable) camera body that looks like a shrunken digital SLR. The sensor’s resolution is the same as the previous model, but Samsung says the chip has been redesigned to improve its low-light shooting ability at higher ISOs and, in my testing, it seems to have done that. 
The NX30 can shoot at up to ISO 25,600 but I wouldn’t recommend going over ISO 6400 in low light if you want your images to look low-noise and sharp. That’s above average for a mirrorless camera and about on par for a medium-tier, APS-C sensor-based DSLR. 
The NX30 did even better in decent light at lower ISOs, especially if you pair it with one of Samsung’s better NX lenses. The company has some impressive-sounding new optics, including a 16-50mm f/2-2.8 lens and a 85mm f/1.4 portrait lens. Unfortunately, neither of those was available for testing, but I did well with the 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens and a small 45mm f/1.8 lens that can also shoot in 3D. (Remember when 3D was big?) I also tried the 18-55mm kit lens, but that was just mediocre and won’t interest pros. 
I brought the NX30 on a trip to Rome, and it was all I needed for street photography, cityscapes and macro photography. While, as mentioned, the NX30’s image quality alone won’t make you want to turn in your trusty pro DSLR—despite Samsung’s clever #DitchtheDSLR promo where hundreds of people did just that—it’s a great alternative if you want to lighten the load. 
The camera weighs just 23 ounces despite having a bigger, more comfortable grip than the previous model. Attaching Samsung’s highend glass, however, adds some significant heft. For instance, the 60mm f/2.8 Macro ED OIS will add about a pound to the set-up. 
The NX30 and the trio of lenses I tried took up very little room in my camera bag, however, and they were easy to pop out for quick shots. The 60mm Macro was perfect for an international rose competition I photographed in the Municipal Rose Garden on the Aventine in Rome and also fared quite well as a portrait lens. 
I appreciated the NX30’s ability to shoot from a variety of angles thanks to its 3-inch, tilt-and-swivel rear touchscreen. Touch responsiveness was good on the AMOLED display—though not quite on par to an iPhone’s—and menus were clear and easy to read. While it looks a bit awkward, the NX30’s tiltable electronic viewfinder was a helpful tool as well. It looks just like the viewfinder eyecup you’d see on most cameras, but give it a pull and it’ll extend out the back of the camera. You can tilt it up by 80 degrees, offering another way to compose a shot without looking directly at the subject. 
Where the NX30 really impresses is in its connectivity. After a day of shooting, it took just a turn of the mode dial to the Wi-Fi setting and a couple of button presses to find the wireless network in the Rome apartment we were staying in. Once I easily tapped in the password via the touchscreen keyboard on the camera, I could access the camera’s wireless sharing functions, including uploading photos to Facebook, emailing them, or sending them directly to Dropbox. There’s actually a vast number of wireless options—almost too many—including NFC to zap photos to an Android phone just by touching the camera to it; a smartphone app for using the camera as a remote viewfinder; and even a way to set the camera up as a baby monitor. 
Samsung is one of the more underrated camera companies on the market. While it’s mostly known for smartphones and televisions, Samsung’s cameras have the best built-in wireless connectivity of any out there. While the Samsung NX30 is not exactly a pro camera, it offers very good image quality with the company’s high-end lenses; has a multitude of wireless features for sharing images or operating the camera remotely; and features some very neat tools including a tilting electronic viewfinder. I’d love to see Samsung come out with a true pro camera with a fullframe sensor, but they’re clearly on the right track with the NX30. 
PROS: Excellent array of easy-to-use wireless features; very good image quality with improved noise reduction at high ISOs; tilting viewfinder and swiveling rear touchscreen help you compose shots from creative angles. 
CONS: Adding pro lenses adds weight and heft to camera set-up; the many wireless features can be confusing; some bugs experienced while editing photos in-camera. 
PRICE: $1,000 with 18-55mm kit lens 
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