Thursday, July 25, 2013

Samsung NX300 - Smart Auto Mode

Smart Auto Mode is usually a good place to start when learning how to use your first DSLR.  Don't confuse it with Smart Mode where you get to choose the mode instead of the camera.

In Smart Auto Mode the camera detects the scene and adjusts exposure, shutter speed, aperture value, metering and White Balance.  The camera takes over most of the features (including those mentioned above), limiting to what you can change.  Good for quick shots where you don't want to fiddle with the settings, but you really don't have much control over the photo.

An example of the screen in Smart Auto. Right: amount of shots available, battery, photo size (20M), drive: continuous high (H), Flash (not activated), OIS (anti-shake), Fn (to access functions on the screen if you don't use the touch screen). Left: auto mode, auto share, AF options, menu.

You do have control of the following settings: Autoshare, Photo Size, Touch AF (Touch AF, AF Point, Tracking AF, One Shot AF), MF Assist (Off and two options for enlarging the center of the screen while adjusting the focus ring), Focus Peaking, OIS (anti shake), Drive (shooting mode), and Flash (which only allows Off and Smart Flash).

So the more advanced settings are controlled by the camera but you still have the ability to change some features.  The option for RAW format isn't available in Smart Auto Mode and photos are saved as JPEG.

The camera will asses the environment and select from quite a few scenes, each with their own settings.  The following is recognised by the camera.

Landscapes
Scenes with bright white backgrounds
Landscapes at night
Portraits at night
Landscapes with backlighting
Portraits with backlighting
Portraits
Close-up photos of objects
Close-up photos of text
Sunsets
Indoors, dark
Partially lit
Close-up with spot lighting
Portraits with spot lighting
Blue skies
Forested areas typically consist of green-colored subjects
Close-up photos of colorful subjects
Camera is stabilized on a tripod and the subject is not moving for a certain period of time. (when shooting in the dark)
Actively moving subjects
Fireworks (when using a tripod)

The scene selection might not accurately match the environment, for example, Landscape might be selected for Close-up photos.  It all depends on various factors like camera shake, lighting, distance etc.  When viewing the camera details for the photo you won't know which scene was selected but all other details will be visible like Shutter Speed and ISO.

I played around with the Smart Auto Mode and actually enjoyed using this shooting mode.  I like to have control over my photos and favour Aperture Priority the most because I can choose my Depth of Field.  Auto Modes are not my favourite but after using the Samsung NX300's Smart Auto Mode I think I'm changing my opinion pretty quick.

The following test photos are straight from the camera (with a decrease in size for the web), no colour correction, no photo manipulation.

ISO: 1600, Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter speed: 1/4, no flash, handheld

I took this photo in a room that uses an energy saving bulb, which tends to give a slightly yellowish colour cast.  The camera set the ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed.  The photo was taken handheld, without a tripod and I took a few photos (with a slightly unsteady hand) where this one came out the sharpest.  Of course you can get a sharper photo with a tripod but I wanted to test the intelligence of the Smart Auto Mode.  

Personally I don't like having my ISO higher than 800 for low light because of noise (what looks like grain in old photos) and almost always keep it at 100 ISO.  But as you can see from the next photo, noise is kept pretty low.  This gives the photographer more confidence in taking low light photos.  

The photo below is a 100% crop, i.e. I zoomed in on the computer to 100% to get a better idea of how the Samsung NX300 handled noise and low light.  Competes very well with little to no noise in the black area and some noise visible in the lighter areas.  



Noise is something all cameras have to deal with and will always have. The Samsung NX300 has an APS-C sized CMOS (23.5 x 16.7mm) sensor that can capture photos just over A3 in size.  But according to the camera's settings, if you set to use the full 20MP the size is 5472x3648 pixels which is about the size of A1 prints.

The bigger the sensor the better it can deal with noise.  The camera's sensor is slightly bigger than some entry level (like my Canon 650D) to mid range DSLRs.

Oh, I forgot to mention in the Intro but APS-C sensors have an advantage over the Full Frame cameras.  APS-C cameras extend the focal range of lenses by about 1.5x to 1.6x i.e. the 18-55mm will be "increased" to around 28-85mm (giving you more zoom).

ISO: 100, Aperture: f/6.3, Shutter Speed: 1/250

Here the camera chose Landscape.  The 18-55mm lens is extremely sharp for a kit lens and captures great detail even when zoomed in to 50% on the computer.  At 100% there is a little softening but it does better than some other kit lenses available.  Below is the original photo and a cropped version.

ISO: 200, Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/80


The photo of the Masked Weaver - colour correction, levels and cropping.

ISO: 100, Aperture: f/5.6, Shutter Speed: 1/160 - this photo does have colour correction and levels

I was too busy trying to catch this Masked Weaver on camera to notice which setting the camera selected.  The camera did struggle at the first burst of photos in Smart Auto Mode to focus on the bird.  But, when I selected the area I wanted to be in focus with Touch AF (touching the screen), then kept that focus area on the Weaver, the NX300 had no problem in focusing accurately.  

The above photo is a 33.3% crop and remains clear of halos or purple fringing (like a ghostly purple line).  It was funny to watch this little bird as every time the focus was obtained the camera would make a beeping sound.  The Weaver would then tilt his head in my direction, chirping.

I haven't quite got the hang of Tracking AF on the NX300 yet even though I use AI Servo on my Canon quite a bit.  It's probably because when I choose my focus area in order to track I'm using the Electronic View Finder, which the Samsung NX300 doesn't have.  Tracking helps to keep your moving subject/object in focus as long as the focus area selected is kept on the subject/object.  So far, the Samsung NX300 has performed well enough in capturing movement without me having to track. But I will carry on to experiment.

Ok, I think that's about it for the Smart Auto Mode.

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