Samsung and Pentax have a technology partnership which means they develop dSLRs jointly but sell them separately. The Samsung GX-20 -- going for around £700, depending where you look -- is simply the Pentax K20D in another guise, yet there are enough cosmetic and interior differences for it to be judged as a separate camera. But is it actually any better?
Well, for a start, it may be able to save you a few quid. At the time of writing, the GX-20 is cheaper than the K20D, though dSLR pricing is so volatile that things can change quickly. And it is very good value. Sony's Alpha 350 also offers 14-megapixel resolution and is even cheaper, but the Samsung has a build quality and a professional slant that the Sony lacks.
This is no lightweight beginner's camera. The Samsung is solid and weighty, and pretty bulky too. This will suit those who like a camera they can get their fists round. Silicone seals are used to resist the entry of dust and moisture and there are two control dials to make shutter speed and aperture adjustments, among others, that little bit speedier. The GX-20 is aimed at serious photographers, even professionals.
The specs are good, too. They include 11-point autofocus, an anti-dust system and sensor-based anti-shake. Indeed, this Optical Image Stabilisation system (called Shake Reduction on Pentax cameras) appears to be the class of the field, cutting shake consistently well and sometimes at insanely slow shutter speeds. There's even a live view mode, though you have only limited control over the camera while it's activated.
Exposure accuracy is good and the colour rendition is excellent. The images this camera produces are rich and vivid.
But while the GX-20 looks the Real McCoy, it soon reveals a cruder side both to its design and its operation. The twin control wheels are great, but the navipad on the back feels weak and sloppy. And having to use an 'Fn' button and an on-screen interface to adjust the white balance, drive mode, flash mode and ISO is a nuisance -- you'd expect these things to have their own buttons on the body, especially in a camera aimed at serious users.
The basic 18-55mm kit lens is disappointing too. The 11-point AF system is fine in principle, but the focusing proves coarse and occassionally hesitant. The lens' optical quality is pretty suspect, too, with pronounced softening of detail towards the edges and a fair amount of colour fringing. If you're serious about the GX-20, you need to be putting extra cash aside for a better lens.
You can say the same things about the Pentax K20D, of course, because it's essentially the same camera. But the Pentax has some neat black and white modes that simulate the effect of different filters, plus an extremely effective dynamic range expansion mode, which does a good job of holding on to bright highlights. The GX-20 has neither, which is both a surprise and a disappointment.
The GX-20's 14 million pixels look good on paper, but it's undermined by the Sony Alpha 350 and the Pentax K20D -- the Sony's much cheaper and the Pentax is better. The Samsung's kit lens doesn't really make the best use of that sensor, and the whole package just feels rather agricultural.
Edited by Marian Smith