Update on February 20, 2014: Samsung has announced pricing and availability for both cameras. The NX30 goes on sale today for $1,000, while the Galaxy Camera 2 will be available in mid-March for $450.
If you’re familiar with Samsung’s cameras, you know the company’s offerings set themselves apart from the competition more for their wireless abilities and other sharing-focused features than for class-leading imaging quality (although they are improving on that front). That’s not at all surprising, given the company has a much bigger slice of the Android smartphone and Smart HDTV markets than it traditionally has had in imaging.
If the company’s latest cameras are any indication, Samsung seems to be doubling down on features and hardware tweaks, rather than adding megapixels or drastically changing the internal imaging hardware or adding on extra megapixels.
We spent time at a press event prior to CES with the NX30, the successor to the NX20, and the Android-powered Galaxy Camera 2. Both have their share of new features and important tweaks. But if you were expecting majorly different imaging innards, you may want to look elsewhere.
NX30: Lots of little improvements make for a much better camera
The NX30 has a 20.3-megapixel APS-C sensor, just like the previous-generation NX20, but the new model does throw hybrid autofocus in the mix. The NX30 also ups the internal electronic viewfinder to a higher resolution (XGA versus SVGA in the NX20). And the viewfinder’s eyepiece now extends and tilts so you can use it at different angles.
The NX20’s 3-inch swiveling touchscreen also gets a bump up to a Super AMOLED display with a higher resolution (720 x 480), as well as a maximum brightness of 500 nits, which should go a long way toward making it useable in direct sunlight.
Imaging additions include the ability to set the ISO has high as 25,600 (twice that of the NX20), and the camera can now record 1080p video at 60fps. The new video abilities pair well with the addition of a 3.5-inch mic port.
Last up on the major hardware feature additions here is the addition of dual-band Wi-Fi, which can make a big difference in both the strength and speed of the Wi-Fi signal for sharing or offloading photos. And an NFC chip has been incorporated as well, for easy pairing and sharing with smartphones and tablets.
On the software front, Samsung says the NX20 will ship with a full copy of Adobe Lightroom 5 (a $150 program if you buy direct from Adobe without a student discount). And both the NX30 and the Galaxy Camera 2 have the company’s Smart 3.0 sharing-centric software suite that uses NFC and Samsung’s WiFi Direct to push photos to individuals or a group of friends.
Galaxy Camera 2: lighter, with a bigger battery, improved performance, and better sharing features
The Android-packing Galaxy Camera – the smart camera that launched this category for Samsung – is also getting a significant upgrade with the Galaxy Camera 2. Like the NX30, though, the updates have less to do with better images than they do with, well, just about everything else.
For starters, the Galaxy Camera 2 weighs 260 grams to the original’s 303 grams, while packing a 2,000mAh battery that’s a decent step up from the 1,650mAh battery in the original.
If you thought the original model felt a bit sluggish when running Android apps, the sequel should go a fair way toward fixing that, with twice the RAM (2GB) and a quad-core processor that’s clocked at a higher 1.6GHz. There’s also a newer (though not the newest) flavor of Android on board, in the form of Jellybean (4.3).
Samsung says the camera’s rear display is the same as the original model’s, as is the camera’s sensor, optics, and zoom abilities. The company did say they expect images to be better thanks to software improvements. But we’ll have to wait until final units are ready before making that judgment. The cameras Samsung had at the event weren’t final, and so we weren’t able to take pictures with these cameras.
When using the Galaxy Camera 2, though, we did notice that there was some lag when jumping from the Home screen to the camera app. But again, this was a pre-production unit, so that may be fixed in the final version.
While the imaging hardware hasn’t changed, Samsung has added the ability to shoot 120-frames-per-second slow-motion video. There are a lot of smart mode presets in the camera app as well (28, to be exact). And the camera now lets you tap the screen once to focus, then again elsewhere to set the exposure. That has the potential to be a handy feature that could result in better photos. But we’re not sure if point-and-shoot customers who mostly rely on preset settings (Samsung said the smart modes were extremely popular, and customers asked for more) are the type to typically think about and adjust both focus and exposure before taking a photo.
Of course, the ability to share your photos is emphasized here even more so than with the NX30. The Galaxy Camera 2 now also has an NFC chip, and the Smart 3.0 feature set for doing things like tapping to share with your phone or tablet, direct sharing to multiple devices via WiFi Direct, etc.. You can also pair your Samsung phone with the camera to control settings, take shots, and mirror the viewfinder. There’s even a baby monitor mode that lets you set up the camera and see and hear events in another room from your smartphone.
Both the NX30 and Galaxy Camera 2 seem like solid upgrades from a feature standpoint, especially if you like the idea of being able to instantly share your photos with friends and family at a party or, say, a wedding. Also, both cameras felt lighter in the hand than we expected before picking them up.
We’ll of course have to reserve final judgment until we can get a better sense of important things like image quality and battery life. But as much as the new features and upgraded specs sound good, two of the primary improvements we generally look for when considering a camera upgrade are majorly improved image sensors and/or a significantly smaller footprint.
Neither of these devices seems to deliver on that front. The Galaxy Camera 2 is indeed lighter, but it still feels bulkier than it needs to be for a point-and-shoot. And as for the NX30, if anything, it looks to be slightly larger than the NX20, although much of the extra bulk seems to be in a larger handle bump, which may lead to a better grip; it may not be worth trading up if you’re already an NX20 owner.
(This article was originally published on January 2, 2014.)