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Shooting speed is exceptionally fast. Thanks to its use of high-speed DDR2 memory (the same kind used in high-end gaming PCs) and Pentax’s new PRIME image processing engine the GX-10 can shoot at three frames a second, which is on a par with the Nikon D80, but where the D80’s buffer can only hold 23 shots in JPEG mode or 6 in RAW mode, the GX-10 can shoot 3fps JPEGs continuously until the memory card is full, or a burst of 11 RAW files, although I found that using a faster memory card significantly improved this performance. Using a fast SanDisk Extreme III SD card I was able to keep shooting in RAW mode until the card was full, with only a slight slow-down in shooting speed after the first 11 frames.
The Adobe DNG RAW files that the GX-10 uses average just over 16MB each, which is quite large for a 10MP camera, almost twice the size of the RAW files recorded by the Nikon D80 or Canon EOS 30D, and even larger than those of the Nikon D200. JPEG files however are surprisingly small, averaging only around 3MB for a typical scene. This indicates quite a lot of JPEG compression, so using RAW mode is obviously essential for maximum quality. In JPEG mode a 1GB card is enough for approximately 207 shots, in RAW mode about 60, and in RAW+JPEG mode only 47.
The GX-10 has the ability to shoot multiple exposures, up to nine shots on the same frame, automatically adjusting the exposure as it goes. In this mode shooting is quite a bit slower, shooting at about one frame every 1.3 seconds, so it’s not particularly useful for fast-moving subjects, but it can produce some interesting effects.
In terms of absolute image quality, the GX-10 is on the same level as the models with which it is competing, and as I’ve pointed out before, the differences in image quality between the various 10MP mid-to-high-end cameras are so slight that it’s almost a matter of personal taste as to which one you prefer. To get the best out of it though it’s essential to use the RAW mode. In JPEG mode the high rate of compression produces images that are not as sharp or detailed as native JPEG images from some other 10MP DSLRs. However processing the DNG RAW files in Adobe Camera RAW produces fantastically sharp, superbly detailed images that are well up to professional standards. Like most Pentax DSLRs they have a slight air of softness about them, but respond extremely well to a light touch of unsharp mask. The SMC Pentax lens (whatever the branding says) is the same high quality glass that we’ve seen before on previous cameras such as the *ist D and K100D, and it produces outstanding corner-to-corner sharpness as always. Also as always it produces some barrel distortion at the 18mm end, but not enough to cause a real problem. While the additional colour depth provided by the 22-bit pipeline and PRIME engine doesn’t make much difference in JPEG mode, in RAW mode it provides a huge amount of exposure latitude, enabling a wide range of exposure adjustment in the post-processing phase, more I would say than any competing camera.
Before I finish however, I must point out one big problem that I discovered when using the GX-10. The camera has a built-in system for keeping dust off the CCD, involving an anti-static coating and a mechanism to vibrate the sensor, in theory shaking any dust particles onto a small sticky strip below the sensor where they will be held out of harms way. The GX-10 that I was lent for review had already been used by somebody else, most likely a reviewer on one of the photography magazines, and whoever it was (I’m looking at you, D) clearly didn’t look after the camera very well. Unfortunately I discovered that there were dust spots on the sensor, and the self-cleaning system did not dislodge them despite several attempts to get it to do so. I’ve had a Sony Alpha A100 SLR for over a year now, a camera which also has a self-cleaning system, and despite regular outdoor use I’ve never had any problem with dust contamination at all, so I can only conclude that either the Pentax/Samsung self cleaning system is not as effective as the Sony one, or that some camera journalists really know how to mess up an otherwise superb camera.
The Samsung GX-10, and presumably by extension the Pentax K10D as well, proves yet again that the digital SLR market isn’t a two-horse race. This camera provides more versatility in its innovative shooting modes, more image quality in its processing engine and faster performance from its high-speed electronics than anything the competition have to offer in this class. Add the rugged durability of the weatherproof body and you have a photographic tool that any keen photographer will quickly learn to love. Just make sure you keep the body cap on when you’re not using it.