(Postscript: the post linking to all the NX10 review posts is here.)
With the exception of GXR for, rightly or wrongly, its designs and rationales defiant of the long-time sensor-in-body concept, all the serious compacts are simply shrunk DSLRs. The two Sony NEX cameras launched today are of no exception. Beaten tracks are always safe to travel and surely profit-making ones. But where do these beaten tracks lead the photographers to and is the destination worthy of the admission price?
And the admission price is the starting point after which comes the investment in lenses and the paraphernalia.
Do We Need a Serious Compact?
GX GARNERINGS always advocates serious compacts. But there are guiding principles which we have also been advocating all along. The small size of such cameras shall not be just made for smallness's sake. These cameras have to be compact without compromising ergonomics. Operationally, they shall match the DSLRs. Price-wise, a topic we revisited for a renewed conclusion before the NX10 review posts, they shall be sold at a price commensurate with what they can deliver to the users.
For veteran photographers, such a serious compact is worthy of ownership if it is considerably big in ergonomics, significantly small in size and operationally comparable to their DSLRs. The selling price is not a big issue because the on-cost of their existing arsenal of lenses will be huge enough to dwarf the price consideration of a compact; that is unless the compact can make use of their existing lenses.
Such cameras don't exist yet. At least, the focusing is still not as good.
For tyros looking for a camera, there are in fact plenty of reasons for bypassing a regular DSLR. As Sony's codename for its version suggests, these serious compacts are for the NEXt generation. The overall performance and functions of any serious compacts is set to well cater for these users' needs.
Of course, for those rich or silly enough – well, they are not equal –to buy each and every new camera, the logic here doesn't apply.
Do We Need a Serious Compact from Samsung?
It is a known fact that Samsung's ambition to own the market of serious compacts is a hard war to fight. Let's look at the strategy of Samsung in realising the ambition as revealed by the launching of the NX10.
Other things being equal, Pany and Oly (now even Sony) have the advantage of a fuller choice of lenses. Although it is observed that an increasing number of GF-1 and Pen users are buying old mechanical lenses, which may bring all serious compacts to a level playing field for lens choices, the majority users only consider dedicated lenses for such cameras – in passing, serious compacts work best with the dedicated lenses for reason of the shortened focal distance without the reflex mirror. In this sense, Samsung is disadvantaged.
What Samsung has admirably done is launching together with the NX10 three lenses covering the focal lengths required by 99% of the photography community, unlike the competitors who make some lenses available in phrases. This sincere and transparent approach has convinced photographers that Samsung is seriously dedicated to back up the NX system with more lenses, hopefully winning over some undecided buyers or boat jumpers.
What is more, Samsung has pitched the selling price of the lenses at a very affordable, if not the lowest, level. The optical quality of the three lenses may not be the top grade. But compared to the competitors' lenses, the difference is not huge enough to not recommend them.
Well, some issues of focusing have been observed for all of the three lenses for the NX10. But they are not exclusive to NX10 but also to the other serious compacts. The culprit is not necessarily in the construction of the lenses but the burden of calculating the focus being put on the imaging sensor. This is the single reason which can deter perspective buyers from purchasing serious compacts. Hopefully, this problem can be solved after a few development cycles.
Size and Ergonomics
Mounted with either of the zoom lenses, the NX10 does not have a significant advantage in weight or size as compared with the lighter DSLRs like the Pentax K-x. The GF-1 and GXR are more preferred.
What it lacks in the matter of size NX10 makes up in ergonomics. Actually, NX10 features the most accessible and effective menu system of all serious compacts. It even outdoes the DSLRs in this area. The disposition of buttons on the camera body is virtually perfect. Samsung has definitely shown an exemplary example here for its competitors to follow.
Again, ergonomics is the strong point of the NX10.
As press time, the price difference between the GF1 bare/ kit and NX10 bare/ kit in Hong Kong ranges from about HK$ 600 to 1,000 (about US$ 70 to 120). For photographers like me who prefer using the viewfinder, the NX10 with the integrated viewfinder is much cheaper. The NX10 may not deliver what we have hoped in terms of focusing. However, such a price difference is huge enough to make almost any user to forgive the shortcomings of NX10 as discussed above.
Do you need a serious compact, even one from Samsung? If you have the money and the urge to burn it, try to play with your targeted choice before making the deal because tastes are very personal. And consider your photographic needs and styles before you buy one. The NX10 may not have a big advantage, if any, over its competitors but the selling price is really enticing.
As a veteran photographer with a cabinet full of photographic gear, I am not in a hurry to buy a new one and believe that the next generation of serious compacts can tickle my fancy fuller. It will not be long before Canon and Nikon will join the fold, and maybe their tactics are correct. We should wait and see.