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Samsung GX10 review

Samsung is not the first name that springs to mind when you think of DSLRs, but since their cooperation with Pentax, it is already their third digital reflex to appear on the market. Their latest model the Samsung GX10 is based on the Pentax K10D and sports a 10-megapixel sensor, anti-dust technology and built-in image stablilisation. Let’s find out if the GX10 is just a mere Pentax clone or a worthwhile addition to the buzzing DSLR market.

front of the Samsung GX10 rear of the Samsung GX10

The camera in use

The solid built of the chunky GX10’s is confirmed when you start using the Samsung. All buttons and dials feel as if they are made to last, with a positive action without any sloppiness. The polycarbonate camera body is built around a stainless steel chassis, and at almost 800g including battery, it certainly feels the part. This machine is put together well. Samsung market the GX10 as a semi-pro camera and we think this claim is truly justified. Its solid built is complemented with premium features such as one-touch RAW capture with in-camera processing; weather proofing; flash light compensation in 1/2 or 1/3EV steps; anti-dust technology and built-in Optical Picture Stabilisation. The lack of scene modes is also an indication that this camera is meant for the discerning enthusiast who has the skill to adapt camera settings to the scene at hand.

On the back of the camera the huge 2.5-inch LCD screen dominates the view with all controls arranged logically around it. As we have come to expect on DSLRs today, the four-way dial is positioned to the right of the LCD with one or more extra controls grouped alongside it. On the Samsung there is an extra dial surrounding the 4-way switch to select the various AF areas. You can choose between dynamic area AF, central AF or manual selection of one of 11 focusing points. When capturing images it is always possible to fine-tune automatic focusing by manually turning the focusing ring on the front to the lens.

The FN button below the jog-dial provides access to flash functions, ISO settings (100-1600), drive mode and white balance. Apart from 9 automatic WB settings, users can manually set a white balance under mixed lighting conditions by using a grey or white card. Besides this every single automatic preset can be fine-tuned to more delicate shades of light, by selecting a point on a circular grid for more green, magenta, blue or amber, according to lighting conditions or your personal preferences. The GX10 has three fluorescent settings plus three custom settings for colour temperatures in degrees Kelvin or Mired.

Advanced flash parameters of the built-in flash include automatic flash, fill in with or without red-eye reduction and second curtain flash. All flash settings can be compensated from +1 to –2EV in steps of ½ or 1/3EV. Naturally the Samsung GX10 comes with a standard hot shoe to fit dedicated flashlights or third party flashes with manual operation. A small switch to the right of the FN bottom controls image stabilisation. The Samsung uses an optical stabilisation system (OPS) that is built into the camera so that all dedicated lenses can benefit from it. The system can be adapted to manual lenses by selecting its focal length through the OPS menu. At the bottom right is a small but secure lock switch, which provides access to the SD card slot in the RH side of the camera. Above the 4-way switch a few smaller buttons control exposure compensation (+/- 2 EV) and AE lock and there is a command wheel for selecting shutter speeds or apertures in certain program modes. In playback mode this dial is used for zooming in on images.

To the left of the LCD screen we find four main interface buttons which provide access to the extensive camera menu, image info, playback and delete. They are large enough to use comfortably even with gloves on. The large viewfinder, which covers 95% of the image area, has dioptre correction and a comfortable rubber eye cup. A tiny button to the left of the viewfinder, controls exposure bracketing to record a sequence of 3 or 5 images in selectable steps of 0.5 to 2.0EV. Apart from exposure bracketing, different white balance settings or image parameters such as saturation, sharpness or contrast can be bracketed through the camera menu.

Moving over to the top, we find a tall knurled dial on the left of the body with the metering options on a smaller collar beneath it. Its action is stiff enough to prevent accidentally shifting program modes. Apart from familiar Auto and Program modes, Aperture and Shutter priority plus full Manual, there are several settings not usually seen on mid-range DSLRs. The first of these advanced modes is a sensitivity priority (SV), which lets you choose the ISO, while the camera picks a shutter speed and aperture combination to give a correct exposure. A feature also seen on Nikon’s D40 incidentally. The opposite is TAv where you select both aperture and shutter speed and the GX10 adapts ISO sensitivity to the brightness of the subject to get a properly exposed image. Besides these there are Bulb and X (flash) settings, the latter of which locks the shutter speed at 1/180s when using an external flash. As an extra feature your own pre-programmed camera settings can be stored under User mode on the dial.

To the right of the built in flash with GN11 and the standard hot shoe is a sizeable LCD display, which is automatically backlit for easy viewing in dark conditions. The shutter release is on top of the handgrip with the on/off switch and depth of field preview incorporated around it. This is arguably the most convenient spot as you don’t have to perform any contortionist finger acrobatics to reach some obscure button somewhere on the camera body.

The Samsung GX10 really is a pleasant camera to use. Its robust size and weight could help to prevent camera shake, but the sound and force of the mirror flipping up feels and sounds rather metallic. Though we have not actually been able to confirm this, we suspect its strong vibrations might lead to camera shake under certain conditions. All the camera’s ports and latches have rubber seals to prevent moisture or dust creeping in, so taking pictures in the wet should not be a problem. Please remember though that the camera is not meant to be taken under water.

As dust on the CCD is one of the main problems of DSLRs with interchangeable lenses, we are glad to see that the Samsung comes with an advanced dust removal function, which actually shakes dust free from the sensor to be collected by a sticky strip somewhere in the depths of the camera. It has to be said though that our test camera was not completely dust-free. On some images, especially those with clear blue skies, some contamination marks were visible despite repeatedly using the dust reduction system. Of course this system can only shift loose particles and does not cater for sticky fingerprints or any other grease marks. As we do not know where our review camera has been before we collected it, we would have to put the marks down to some previous occurrences with some other tester. Another thing we noticed was that the rubber coating on the rear of the camera next to the 4-way switch was coming loose a bit - not so much a serious shortcoming but something which should not happen so soon on a camera in this class.


In the box

The GX10 comes with a Schneider-Kreuznach D-XENON f/3.5-5.6 18-55mm lens and all the usual goodies like video and USB cables, lens and body caps and printed user manual. Also supplied are a comfortable neck strap and large rubber viewfinder eyecup. Naturally connectivity is through a fast USB 2.0 port so transferring images to a computer can be done at a comfortable speed. The printed manual with our test camera was in English, but the fact that thirteen different languages can be selected for the camera menu, would lead us to believe that manuals will be available in other languages as well. The user manual explains every camera function in great detail but the index is rather basic, making it sometimes difficult to find what you are looking for. Also the tightly glued back of the 260-page booklet makes comfortable reading rather strenuous as it won’t lie flat or stay open when reading it, so consulting the manual with one hand and holding the camera with the other is rather difficult.

The proprietary SLB-1674 1620mAh lithium-ion battery has enough oomph for about 400 images between charges, which is about average. When a recharge is needed, the supplied SBC-L6 AC adapter will charge the battery in 2.5 to 3 hours.

iso 800 iso 100 vignetting in corners no vignetting

With the GX10, Samsung include Digimax Master software for image transfer and Digimax RAW conversion for processing the camera’s RAW images in DNG format. The Master photo viewer shows an overview with thumbnails of all images on camera or on PC and you can easily select the functions you want to perform. These include options like rotating, resizing or cropping of images, or you can perform basic image manipulations such as colour editing or red eye removal. RAW images can be converted in-camera or by using Digimax Master. The latter includes more advanced editing tools such as adjustment of image tones or reduction of purple fringing, noise or vignetting. Both programs are Windows only, so MAC users should use their own dedicated programs.


Samsung GX10 image quality

The Schneider-Kreuznach D-XENON f/3.5-5.6 18-55mm lens on the Samsung GX10 is actually a Pentax lens as, apart form the labelling, it is exactly the same as the one on the Pentax K10D. Its performance is quite good though not outstanding for a semi-pro camera. We noticed some distinct vignetting in the corners of wide angle images at full aperture. This will also be visible in real world images although zooming in soon eliminates the problem, since the aperture shifts from f3.5 to 5.6 at longer focal lengths. Some barrel distortion is visible at wide angle and this slowly shifts to some slight pincushioning at the 55mm end of the lens. Its minimum focusing distance is 25cm, which is not bad actually.

ISO 1600 dust marks on sensor dust marks on sensor slow shutter speed

Image colours are spot on with nicely subdued natural colours. If you prefer more punchy results, the Vivid Image Tone option in the menu boosts saturation and contrast considerably. For consumer-like holiday prints the latter would be ideal although a (semi)pro photographer may prefer the natural setting, which will allow him to adjust image tones and contrast to what the image will be used for later. Characteristic for most DSLRs, the Samsung’s JPEG images have a nice smooth appearance about them with plenty of detail. We did notice however that JPEG files were quite small for a 10-megapixel camera, averaging about 3Mb. This would indicate quite heavy compression, which might lose some image detail. If you really need ultimate image quality, capturing images in RAW format will ensure you get truly professional results from the GX10. Raw capture is actually quite easy on the Samsung, as the one-touch RAW button to the left of the lens barrel makes switching between RAW and JPEG a doddle. If you like, images can be processed in camera straight away, avoiding the need for complicated software manipulations afterwards. Thanks to Samsung for this, or should we say Pentax...?

iso 100 full size image iso 400 iso 800 iso 1600

Noise levels at most ISO settings are low and even ISO 1600 images are perfectly useable, albeit with some loss of fine detail as is to be expected. There was some purple fringing in certain high contrast situations but nothing to write home about and certainly not worse than other cameras in this class. Automatic White balance performed excellently in all our test shots and it was never necessary to use any of the advanced WB options discussed above.

The Samsung GX10 uses three metering options. Apart from TTL 16-segment matrix metering there are centre weighted and spot metering. For general image situations matrix metering delivers excellent results, although when darker or lighter subjects dominate the image, the camera will be fooled into over- or underexposure. The histogram at playback can help in determining correct exposure or you can set up the camera so that overexposed parts flash up in red while underexposed parts are shown in green. Red obviously spells danger as overexposed image parts can never be retrieved, whereas underexposed (green) parts can usually be brightened up in Photoshop afterwards.

muted colours full size image standard setting vivid colours maximum sharpness, contrast, saturation

Conclusion

Although some people might argue that the Pentax name will guarantee a higher price on the second-hand market later, it is hard to predict how the cooperation between Pentax and Samsung will develop in the near future. You only have to look at what happened to Konica Minolta after their cooperation with Sony to realise that company’s futures can turn out bright or bleak.

So should you buy the Samsung or will you have to look elsewhere. Fact is the choice on the DSLR market today is almost limitless with offerings in almost every price class. If you already own a 35mm reflex, chances are you will stick to your own brand so that you can still use some of your older lenses. Certain manufacturers go to great lengths to make sure that older lenses are compatible with newer cameras and Pentax certainly is one of them. As the Samsung is in fact a rebadged Pentax model with some cosmetic changes, all older Pentax lenses with KA, KAF or KAF2 mount will fit the GX 10, which could be an important consideration in deciding which camera to go for.

If however you are new to DSLR photography you will find an excellent mid-range DSLR in the Samsung. Looking at its extensive list of features it can certainly hold its own among other DSLRs today. The GX10 is built like a tank with solid well-placed buttons and dials and handy weatherproofing. It provides fast performance with excellent results and comfortable handling. It comes with handy extras like dust removal and built-in optical image stabilisation plus a couple of other advanced features not found on certain other reflex cameras. So if you like what we told you about the Samsung GX10, try one out in the shops and see if it suits you.



Additional information: Samsung GX10 product details and other reviews
May 26, 2007

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