For most people, cameras are about taking photos. That's what they've been about since the Kodak box Brownies and Leica Is of the start of the 20th century. But at this point in time, this mark in our 21st century, cameras are about sharing photos. It sounds twee, but that's the reason that Flickr's most popular camera is an iPhone.
Bridging the world of taking good photos and sharing your experiences is a difficult task, and within the last few years we've seen some interesting, noble but ultimately imperfect experiments like the Polaroid Socialmatic and Samsung's own Galaxy K Zoom. But I think someone has finally got it right. Samsung's NX1 is the mirrorless camera that brings forth the strongest challenge yet to its professional full-frame competitors from Canon, Nikon and Sony.
What Is It?
- Resolution: 28 Megapixels
- Lens Mount: Samsung NX
- Screen: 3.0-inch, 1,036K-dot
- ISO: 100-25,600 Native (51,200 Max)
- Storage: SD (SDXC Compatible)
- Warranty: 1 Year
The $1899 Samsung NX1 is a professional, consumer, semi-professional mirrorless digital camera -- that is, it's a middle-of-the-road camera that you could equally give to a newbie or a professional alike and have them snap some good photos. Being mirrorless, it doesn't have the internal silvered mirror of your common or garden Canikon digital SLR, but the NX1's body is nonetheless DSLR-shaped -- a lot of that is because it's an instantly recognisable, easy-to-understand shape.
Samsung has designed the NX1 to cater to the professional camera market, too. The controls arranged across its rear, top and front panels are exactly what you'd expect to find on a serious digital camera, with dedicated ISO, exposure and drive speed controls, dual control dials, and a locking shooting mode dial next to its top LCD panel. But it's also a consumer camera; the dedicated video record button and the fact that its 3-inch Super AMOLED rear display is entirely touch-sensitive point to that.
The NX1's build quality is improved from the NX30, itself already a good camera. A weather-resistant magnesium alloy chassis is wrapped in some properly hardy satin-finish black plastic with rubber accents, and that rear touchscreen tilts (but does not swivel) by 90 degrees upward and 45 degrees downward on its vertical axis. Being a mirrorless camera, it doesn't have an optical viewfinder, but instead a very high resolution OLED electronic viewfinder that is very crisp and contrasty.
Being a professional camera, it's good to see that the NX1 has an optional battery grip, as well as an optional external flash of similar specifications to competitors' top units. That grip especially caught my eye -- it's an excellent grip for real-world use, built to exactly the same exacting standards as the rest of the NX1, and when you attach it the camera really does become every bit as versatile as any other camera you might want to compare it to.
What Is It Good At?
The Samsung NX1 has a 28.2-megapixel, APS-C sized image sensor married to its Samsung NX lens mount, and this sensor happens to be a massive achievement if you're an electrical engineering and semiconductor nerd. It is by far the largest backside-illuminated sensor currently available on the market, and this translates to improvements in both the level of image noise at low ISOs and to fine image detail in highlight and shadow areas.
It works, too. If you're shooting with a fast lens -- anything from Samsung's premium S-Series lens lineup, whether it's the 16-50mm f/2-2.8 or the 50-150mm f/2.8, or a chunky prime like the 85mm f/1.4, is an excellent choice -- then you can expect beautiful photos with excellent colour saturation. That's the first thing that jumps out at you -- the colours that the NX1 can capture are extensive, and it's not just an artefact of the rear OLED display's excellent contrast.
The NX1 is broadly competitive with competitor APS-C cameras like the Nikon D7100 when it comes to its ISO performance -- it doesn't stand out hugely nor does it perform worse. It does low ISOs excellently, with almost zero chroma or luma image noise anywhere from ISO 100 to 400; from 800 to 3200 images get progressively grainier, although that grain is hardly visible unless you're pixel-peeping. If you're shooting in low light or with smaller apertures and faster shutter speeds, ISO 6400 to 25,600 introduces noticeable grain which can be seen even in thumbnails. Colour image noise is always well contained, though, and the luminance noise actually looks quite nice.
Here are some sample images from my time with the camera. As you can see, it really is easy to capture impressive photos:
Snapping that Kodak moment -- or Samsung moment, if you're so inclined -- is easy when you have the NX1's machinegun-rate 15fps fast burst mode switched on. You'll need a fast SD card to clear out that buffer quickly, otherwise the burst quickly comes to an ignominious end, but it makes this camera genuinely useful for sports or action photos. Images are then saved as a folder that you can browse and cherry-pick from, or delete entirely if you decide the moment wasn't worth the effort in the end. All that happens with focusing, too -- the NX1's focusing in my experience was pin-sharp accurate 95 per cent of the time with the two pro lenses, which is more than I can say for most DSLRs.
The Samsung NX1's video mode, when paired with a good fast-focusing (and silent-focusing) lens, is one of the few that I'd use on any consumer digital camera. It's quick, it's quiet, it's easy to use and to export to PC and edit, and being 4K (both DCI 4K and Ultra HD) it's able to capture in ridiculously detailed quality. H.265 codec supports means files are surprisingly small, although you'll need a properly capable PC or smartphone to play them back smoothly and in their full detail. If you're a pro, you can output 4:2:0 4K over HDMI.
Where the Samsung NX1 really kicks its competitors to the kerb is in its implementation of photo sharing from the camera to smartphone or tablet. Whether you're on Android or iOS, there's an app that will connect directly to the NX1 via Bluetooth or by 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi (on compatible devices, obviously), give you a grid layout of all the photos currently residing on the SD card inside, and give you a very fast transfer of the full-size image onto your mobile device. We're talking 12MB 28-megapixel JPEGs in less than two seconds here. Stack up a dozen different frames to transfer and it'll be over in less time than it takes to complete a hearty yawn.
What Is It Not Good At?
Maybe there's a bit of sample variance, but with one of the two 16-50mm lenses that I tested, at its largest f/2 aperture, at the tighest 50mm field of view, and at its minimum focal distance, there was a small amount of chromatic aberration visible across the frame -- maybe a slightly misaligned lens element somewhere. The entire frame was also slightly blurry and not looking its best. This particular combination of settings is just about the most difficult scenario for any wide-angle zoom lens to perform under,
Samsung's Camera Manager app for any Android smartphone is a pretty versatile little thing, giving you direct access to the media files on your camera from a simple grid interface. It's great. But the install process is convoluted; you have to install Samsung Camera Manager Inst. from the Google Play Store, which then downloads and installs two other apps, one of which is the actual Camera Manager. The initial app you downloaded has now fulfilled its entire purpose, but you're left to your own devices as to whether you want to delete it from your phone. This is really annoying for anyone that likes to keep their phone clean of bloatware. As far as I'm aware, the iOS version of the app doesn't have this annoyance.
There's one bugbear I have with the Camera Manager app in general, though. It gives you three options -- one is for Remote Viewfinder, which is just as useful and just as powerful as you'd expect -- and two of them fill effectively the same role. You can choose from MobileLink and select photos to transfer from your smartphone, or Quick Transfer and select photos to transfer from the camera itself. Pick one and be done with it -- I found that after the first time I used MobileLink, Quick Transfer was effectively redundant and I didn't use it at all. Your mileage may vary, but it's an example of two choices where only one is needed.
And there's another concern that potential buyers of the Samsung NX1 will have to grapple with. It's expensive -- for the camera body, for those two pro-level zooms, the body grip and a flash, you're pushing $6000. Just for the camera and 16-50mm lens you're paying $3400. That's a lot of money that could get you a camera more capable of taking photos in difficult lighting conditions, as comparatively dumb as it might be. For the pure purpose of taking photos, the Samsung NX1 has some pretty tough competition.\
Should You Buy It?
If you need a new camera, and you want to join the mirrorless revolution -- and let's be honest, there aren't too many reasons why you shouldn't -- then the Samsung NX1 is, in my opinion, equally as good as Sony's excellent A7 full-frame range. The lens line-up is quickly growing and both the 16-50mm f/2-2.8 and the 50-150mm f/2.8 are excellent, pro-level glass, and Samsung also has some nice primes for the artistic photographer.
For the business of taking photos, the novel backside-illuminated sensor of the Samsung NX1 does a great job in everything but the most difficult lighting conditions. It's nothing revolutionary, but for the photos that you'll take every day, you'll notice good dynamic range and a versatile range of usable ISO settings Similarly, the excellent image stabilisation of the 16-50mm helps out a lot with that low-light fine image detail.
Video also looks beautiful whether you're viewing it on the camera's excellent displays, on your connected smartphone or on a larger TV or computer monitor. Being able to shoot in 4K means you're futureproofed for whenever you upgrade to a next-generation large screen, and with Ultra HD TV prices falling well below $1000 last year, this camera is just about the best reason right now to make that investment. Even if you're just posting it to YouTube, you can be assured of excellent results and trouble-free uploading.
Where Samsung absolutely blows away the competition is with the NX1's internal smarts. Built-in Bluetooth and 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi makes for an absolutely barnstorming connectivity range, as does the onboard microHDMI and microUSB 3.0. For sharing your photos quickly -- as long as you have the Samsung Camera Manager app installed, which isn't actually the simplest process in the world -- the NX1 is unparalleled. It genuinely rivals your phone's camera for the speed of snapping a photo and getting it out onto the Web.
Samsung has clearly made a professional camera in the NX1, but what professional means in 2015, in Samsung's world, is different to what you might think if you're an existing pro-level user with Canon or Nikon (or older Sony or Fuji, even) gear. It may not be 100 per cent as rugged as its competitors, it may lack a full-frame sensor, and it may not have the long-time-refined control layout of competitors from Canon and Nikon, but for taking great photos and sharing them with the world, the Samsung NX1 is just about as good a camera as I've ever seen.