A flexible, powerful camera that puts you in control
If you're tempted by a digital SLR (DSLR) but are put off by their bulky designs, the Samsung NX200 might just be perfect. It uses the same kind of sensor as an SLR and has interchangeable lenses, but because there is no optical viewfinder, it's much smaller than any SLR. Samsung isn't the only company making these 'compact system cameras', though, and competition from the Sony NEX, Panasonic Lumix G, Olympus PEN and Nikon 1 systems is fierce.
The NX200's best feature is its layout of controls. Instead of hiding all the controls in a series of onscreen menus, Samsung has opted for a series of physical dials as well as a control ring around the lens. These can seem confusing at first, but once you've figured them out, they give quick and direct access to all the important settings.
This is great news for creative photographers. However, casual photographers who want superior image quality, but don't necessarily want to tinker with settings between each shot, haven't been neglected. Smart mode automatically switches between various scene presets for different shooting conditions. This mode delivered reliably excellent results in our outdoor tests. Colours were balanced and natural, and details from the 20-megapixel sensor were extremely sharp.
Tests in low light weren't so successful, though. With no optical stabilisation, automatic settings often produced blurry shots in low light. Using the flash – in this case, a detachable unit that clips onto the camera's accessory shoe – provided a workaround, although it isn't as flattering as natural light. Another option is to adjust the ISO speed manually. However, when we did so, images became quite noisy, with speckled patterns appearing in darker parts of the frame. The NX200 is still much better than cheaper, pocket-sized cameras for noise, but it's as not as good as other compact cameras with interchangeable lenses.
The video mode was slightly disappointing, too. It records at 1080p resolution and clips were packed with detail, but the soundtrack was spoiled by whirrs from the autofocus motor.
The NX200 isn't a well-balanced all-rounder, but it's still an attractive option for outward-bound types who want a small camera with the image quality, controls and swappable lenses of an SLR. Compatible lenses are currently thin on the ground, though. There's no wide-angle lens that landscape photographers may hanker after, for example. On the subject of lenses, we'd recommend buying the NX200 with the 18-55mm kit lens rather than the 20-50mm one we tested. It's a little bulkier but it has optical stabilisation, and that kit is currently available for £500 from Jessops. However, with new models from Panasonic and Sony on the way, it might be worth holding back for the time being.
Matches SLRs not just for image quality but also for controls, but it's not the all-rounder we'd hope for at this price.
Detailed, attractive photos; lots of hands-on controls
Bettered by rival cameras in low light; limited choice of lenses
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