We've had to wait over two years to see a real replacement for Samsung's NX10 (the NX11 doesn't really count, as it was a very minor update). During these two long years, the South Korean tech giant has focused on developing its entry-level compacts rather than moving its expert cameras forward. That said, the NX10 was always slightly ahead of its competitors thanks to features like the built-in viewfinder, flash and AMOLED screen. So was this 2012 update worth the wait? Let's take a look.
Overall, the NX20 has a fairly similar design to the NX10 with its "mini-SLR" kind of look. It has a relatively compact body, with a nice, well-sized grip handle and an electronic viewfinder. The EVF has been updated for 2012 with a system borrowing Panasonic's sequential display technology (800 x 600 pixels). The result is a sharp, accurate image, but anyone who's sensitive to rainbow effects caused by colour breakup in sequential displays may soon find it annoying. Shots can also be lined up on the NX20's 3-inch AMOLED screen. This has flip-out and swivel functionality for shooting at unusual angles like over the top of a crowd, round a corner, etc. Onscreen colour reproduction isn't particularly accurate, but the display is generally smooth, with just a few glitches in low light.
The memory card slot has been moved down to the underside of the camera along with the battery. Connections are still limited to an HDMI out and a USB port and there's no sign of mic, headphones or USB 3.0 ports.
This is a generally well-designed camera, and so long as you have a basic level of photography skills, the NX20 is easy to get the hang of using thanks to a particularly nice graphic user interface. However, a Smart mode is on hand for beginners and will take care of adjusting all the relevant settings: all you'll have to do is hit the shutter-release button.
Note that Samsung NX lenses now have an "iFn" button for access to the various settings available in whichever shooting mode you happen to be using. Settings can then be changed quickly and easily using the focusing ring. This can take a bit of getting used to, but it's incredibly useful once you get the hang of it.
Wi-Fi connectivity is evidently another key factor that makes the NX20 stand out in today's mirrorless camera market. Functionality is comprehensive too. You can connect the camera to an existing network to upload images directly to a social network or an online storage service like Microsoft's Skydrive. Plus, the camera can also be used as a server for connection to a smartphone. That means you can pilot the camera remotely with your phone—although you can't change any image settings—as well as transfer snaps to your mobile (resized to 2 Megapixels). It's just a shame that Samsung didn't take the connectivity functions one step further by loading the NX20 with a GPS chip.
To be honest, we were expecting to see bigger improvements in this field—especially on the start-up time (which is still over three seconds) and the autofocus in low light (which is still a bit too hesitant). In good light, the autofocus is very fast, although it's no match for the best micro four-thirds cameras currently on the market (Panasonic GX1, Olympus OM-D EM-5). The burst mode, announced at 8 fps, lives up to expectations, and even proved faster in some of our tests. However, saving a burst of images can be very slow (just under 30 seconds in RAW mode), during which time the camera is totally frozen.
Plus, you'll need to use a memory card with fast write speeds when shooting in RAW mode, otherwise photo saving times soon get tiresome.
The APS-C sensor used in the NX20 is no doubt an improved version of the sensor seen in the NX200, as the results are pretty similar. Shots are free from digital noise up to 400 ISO and the first trace of smoothing kicks in at 800 ISO. You can easily push up to 1600 ISO without too much damage, and even 3200 ISO shots are fine for A4 prints.
The stabilised 18-55 mm zoom lens does a decent job but nothing more. Our test model was slightly flawed on the right-hand side of the frame, and at maximum aperture some photos ended up looking blurred. We got the best results from the lens between f/5.6 and f/11. At f/11 the picture comes out well, with a good level of detail, and telephoto shots are consistently sharp throughout the frame.
The video mode is relatively comprehensive. It films 1080p HD video at 25p saved as an .MP4 file. Quality is good, with a nice, crisp image. Dynamic range holds up well but some rolling shutter effects are visible with fast movement (vertical lines end up looking slightly curved).
Sound is recorded in stereo and is also good quality, even if there's no way of adjusting the audio level. When using the NX20 in video mode, you can adjust the main settings (A, S and M) while filming and use various filters to create fun effects (fish-eye, miniature, black and white, slow motion, speeded up, etc.). The continuous autofocus is smooth and quiet but it could be a bit more responsive.