When our Gearburn ed handed me the Samsung NX300 for review my interest was more than a little piqued. We’ve all read about how smartphones have pretty much killed the “happy snapper” digital camera. At the same time though, they appear to have driven up interest in DSLR cameras. But what if your smartphone isn’t doing it for you any more? And what if you’re too afraid to play with the serious photo geeks?
On the face of it, the DX300 is the perfect solution. Its body means that anyone used to a point and shoot won’t feel alienated (unless they go looking for a view-finder) and it has a substantial enough lens that you’ll feel like a pukka photographer as you twist it in your hand. Thing is though, it’s not. It’s a compromise and not an ideal one at that.
A decent enough camera
That’s not to say the NX300, despite having a name that could hardly be called aspirational, is a bad camera. It’s not. It takes decent enough pictures. Actually scrap that. It takes great pictures and a whole host of technologies means that even someone who doesn’t know their aperture from their exposure will be able to take passable pictures from the get go. A little messing around with the zoom and the focus and zoom rings and you’ll be impressing all your Flickr friends.
It’s got controls that are easy to navigate. There’s also a fold out AMOLED HD touch screen that allows you to change focus just like you do on your smartphone or hold the camera against your stomach, if you want to feel retro and shoot from the hip.
Oh and then there’s Wi-Fi connectivity (so you can email photos to yourself or your printer) and NFC, so you can share photos with any other NFC-enabled devices you might have. All in all then, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever be short of geeky tricks to show off to anyone who’ll still listen to your crazed rantings.
It’s pretty too. It’s got that old school cracked leather feel to the front half of its body (if you’ve ever felt an Olympus point and shoot from the ’80s, you’ll know what I mean) and in white, it’s more than striking.
There are issues though. I don’t exactly have the world’s largest hands and I can’t grip the camera without the inside of my hand covering about a third of the screen. Then there’s the flash. It’s detachable, which is great if you want to go beyond what Samsung gives you as standard. Trouble is, if you don’t then you need to prepare a special place for it in your camera bag. Oh and you’ll also have to become incredibly careful about knowing where it is at all times. Otherwise you will lose it. It’s small, plastic, and so light that you won’t notice it’s gone walkabout until it’s too late.
Oh and then there’s the lack of a viewfinder. I get that this is fairly typical of mirrorless cameras and that a lot of people who’ve never used an analogue camera prefer to use the camera’s screen, but I get a bit worried when it’s not there. It’s also better for stability, although Samsung’s image stabilisation technology should take care of that.
One more place Samsung could’ve thrown us a bone is the battery and MMC card storage space. It unlocks and snaps open easily enough, but I would’ve felt a lot safer if it had locked automatically. Those are all relatively small gripes though, and they probably won’t affect the quality of the photos you take with the camera.
An object in space an time
Here’s the rub, as good as the camera is at taking photos, I can’t fathom why anyone would want one. If it genuinely sat midway between a traditional point-and-shoot and a DSLR, I might. But in a number of very important ways, it doesn’t.
Take the price for instance. This bad boy retails for around R8999. That’s not cheap in anyone’s world, especially when you can pick up an entry-level DSLR for around half the price. A good few of those come with built-in flashes. Okay, so something like Canon’s 500D might only pack 15 megapixels to NX300′s 20.3, but if you want to get really serious about photography, then you’re going to need to get in on that action at some point and you can always upgrade a DSLR’s body at a later point.
It also doesn’t fall neatly between the two camera genres in size. Well, it would if you could use the blasted thing without a lens. But you can’t, so you’ll have to lug something that works out to be around the same size as a DSLR wherever you go. So unless you’re particularly attached to the form factor (which is problematic at best), then what’s the point?
The alternatives are better
In my mind, it’s fairly clear that if you want to get serious about photography buying a DSLR is a better option. But what about if you don’t want to compromise too heavily on the portability of your smartphone (the de-facto replacement for the point-and-shoot), but still want a little more flexibility in the photos you take?
Well there are actually a slew of options out there, from companies like Olloclip. Heck, Sony’s even brought out a product that promises to give your smartphone DSLR capabilities. The approach offered by these add-ons will also be a hell of a lot kinder to your wallet.
Verdict: The NX300 is a great camera, that takes quality shots. The trouble is, it doesn’t really seem to belong anywhere.