Samsung shines: hands-on with the NX1 mirror-less camera

Samsung’s cameras have come a long way since the company started dabbling with the Pentax mount, but just how far is “far”? We’re going hands on with the latest model to find out.

If there’s been one consistent rule in the camera industry, it has been this one:

Buy a camera from a company that has been known for making cameras.

That was the phrase and saying camera experts often threw the way of anyone thinking of picking a major electronics brand over say that of the original dedicated optics brands, such as Canon, Nikon, and even Olympus.

But things have changed over the years.

While Canon and Nikon mostly stuck to its guns in the digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) arena, those other major electronics brands became wiser by acquiring and working with other known optics brands.

For instance, Sony acquired camera maker Konica Minolta and worked with Carl Zeiss, eventually producing stand-out cameras from the relationship.

Panasonic and Leica are pretty good friends, and its foray into Micro Four-Thirds has proven very good for the company, with the most recent GH4 impressing us greatly, which will have a review coming shortly.

Fuji isn’t known for film anymore, and has spent a lot of time refining its own compact system, a marriage of components which has the look of something old, and the guts of something new.

And there’s also Samsung, which once worked with established camera maker Pentax, but has since come out to make its own gear.

We’ve seen numerous enthusiast cameras from Samsung in the past, and while we’ve liked them, they’ve never felt like the whole package with something missing form the equation.
Well hold on to your hats because it looks like Samsung might have finally delivered.

The new camera is the NX1, Samsung’s new “big” camera, sporting a 28 megapixel APS-C sensor, a magnesium alloy body, electronic viewfinder and 3 inch AMOLED touchscreen display, support for 4K video, wireless functionality, and a low-light sensitivity range of ISO100 to 25600 with an extension to 51200.

And while this might just be a bunch of specs on paper, in talking to Samsung’s people, this isn’t just another box of technology to snap a few pictures left and right when you’re on vacation. Rather, it’s something more representational of the company as a whole, rather than just parts of a package.

“This camera is the culmination of every area of Samsung working together to make a product that showcases the best of the brand,” said Samsung Australia’s Craig Gillespie, pointing out that the areas Samsung normally works in — from camera sensors to processing power to screens and the like — are all relied on here, making it a product from across the brand.

That’s a good thing, too, and is similar to a move we recently saw from Sony when it decided to use parts from across the brand in its mobile devices, making Sony’s phones better in the process.

But we’re not here to play with Sony’s phone. Rather, we’re here to check out what Samsung’s new NX1 is like. So what is it like?

Controls on the right side let you handle aperture and shutter speed with ease.

In the hands, Samsung’s NX1 is a relatively large mirror-less, but it’s a mirror-less all the same, and if you currently use a bigger camera (this journalist uses a Nikon D300 at home), you’ll find the shift to something a little smaller is welcome.

The increase to a larger sensor is also a welcome one, and we don’t expect anyone will be too unhappy with the 28 megapixels of goodness you have to work with here, especially since there’s RAW and JPEG shooting, as well as two 4K video modes (24 and 25p) if you need some filming control, as well as the lesser Full HD option if you just want 1080p.

You’ll find optical image stabilisation here, high speed shooting at up to 15 frames per second, an intervalometer, several bracketing options, two types of dynamic range controlling (HDR and Smart Range+), and enough buttons to please enthusiasts.

But there’s more under the hood of this camera, and its really some of the playful connections and tweaks that leaves us feeling impressed with Samsung’s new NX1.

For starters, there’s a fairly high degree of customisation available to you.

In our tests with the camera, we found colour filtration modes could be tweaked quite easily, with options for colour, contrast, sharpness, hue, and saturation making the look and feel of an image really something that was under your control, and for us, making a black and white mode that was less about de-saturation and more about proper monochromatic recreation.

Controls also felt like they were put in the right place, with two dials around the hand grip that were easy to thumb, making aperture and shutter speed easy to change from one hand, while letting the left hand support the weight of the lens, which if you use Samsung’s larger ED lenses is useful since they feel very well built needing a little bit of hand support.

The AMOLED screen — sorry, Super AMOLED — looks excellent and provides a touch display to work with, though you can easily use the dials and buttons on the back if that’s more you’re thing, and while we’re not big users of it, Samsung’s lens based iFn or “iFunction” button is still here, making it possible to quickly change settings by using that button and a dial.

Ports are also useful, and if you like filming, there’s a microphone and a headphone jack, as well as microHDMI, but we’re more pleased to see a USB 3.0 jack here, meaning you’ll get some fast file transfer rates, which will be especially useful with 4K videos.

And just like the NX30 we saw earlier in the year, you won’t need a separate charger for the battery as microUSB charges the battery here.

If you’re already a member of either the Android or Windows Phone camps, it’s pretty likely your already using microUSB to charge your phone, and so you won’t need to bring one more item you might lose on a vacation, so that’s good too.

Image from the Samsung NX1

Most importantly, though, we’re thrilled by the wireless connectivity, which is easily Samsung’s best yet, and not just an improvement on the whole “send to smartphone” concept by Samsung, but an improvement on what the industry relies on today.

That’s because our testing of the system seems to show that Samsung’s NX1 integrates quite deeply into Android, hooking into the operating system and allowing the phone to constantly be connected, sending VGA previews back to the phone with every shot (you can turn this off), and then making the 8 to 12MB JPEG images transfer in only a few seconds per image to the phone, where you can work on them in a bit of post with another app (we use Google’s Snapseed) or just share them online.

It is this constant connectivity that makes the NX1 a wireless joy to work with, and while we’ve seen wireless work in other cameras with their specific camera apps, Samsung’s new wireless model seems to work better.

Battery life also wasn’t negatively impacted in our tests, providing around 500-520 photos shot on the NX1 with a full battery with the transfer in play.

Based on that, we can surmise that if you didn’t use any wireless connectivity and waited to dump your card later in the day, you might be able to grab 550-600 images from the NX1.

Not too shabby at all.

Image shot under "classic" mode on the Samsung NX1

Mostly, though, the image quality feels up there, and provided you have the skills and a lens you’re comfortable with, we’re seeing strong colour recreation, decent noise controls (up to a certain range, of course), and some excellent sharpness in our tests.

We’ll need to get it in our labs for a proper review over the coming weeks, but for now, we’re suitably impressed to say this camera could be Samsung’s defining moment, making not just another competitor in the growing mirror-less market, but something you’ll actually want to use.

And after our time with the camera, we wouldn’t mind using it, and that takes a lot for this long-term Nikon owner to say.

Samsung’s NX1 will be available shortly for $1899, with the new lenses — 16-50mm f/2.8 and 50-150mm f/2.8 — available for $1499 and $1999 respectively.


Leigh D. Stark travelled to Queenstown, New Zealand to test the Samsung NX1 as a guest of Samsung Australia.