Samsung Galaxy NX Review
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The Galaxy NX is Samsung's new flagship compact system camera. Running on the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system, the Samsung Galaxy NX is the World’s first interchangeable-lens camera with built-in 3G/4G LTE and Wi-Fi connectivity. The metal-bodied Galaxy NX also features a 20.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, Hybrid Auto Focus (AF) system with both phase and contrast detection, ISO range of 100-25,600, 1080p HD movie recording, a 4.8-inch LCD touch-screen, 8.6fps continuous shooting, and a 1/6000th shutter speed. The remote viewfinder feature allows you to see what the camera sees on the display of your smartphone and take a picture from a distance. The Samsung Galaxy NX even offers voice control - you can command the camera to zoom in, zoom out and take a shot without touching it. The Samsung Galaxy NX costs £1299 / $1699 with the 18-55mm III OIS f3.5-5.6 kit lens and is available in black.
Ease of Use
The Samsung Galaxy NX is styled very much like a DSLR camera, albeit one with a massive 4.8-inch touchscreen LCD on the back. It marks a significant departure in terms of its design from the other NX-series cameras in the range, with the now defunct NX20 being its most similar predecessor. Measuring 136.5 x 101.2 x 25.7mm and weighing nearly 500g with the battery inserted, the Galaxy NX is the biggest and heaviest NX camera to date, and one of the largest compact system cameras. This is mostly because of the LCD screen, but also to accommodate the huge 4360mAh, which as well as powering the Android OS promises to take 440 shots before being depleted.
As with the other NX cameras, the Galaxy NX uses an APS-C sized sensor, which is around 1.5x physically larger than the Micro Four Thirds system and promises to rival the image quality of the majority of DSLRs. The Galaxy NX's sensor offers the same 20.3 megapixel count as the NX300, and the same on-sensor phase detection AF sensors which promise to make the auto-focusing system even quicker and more reliable.
The Samsung Galaxy NX has a mostly-metal body with a metal lens mount. First impressions of the Galaxy NX are positive, with similarly good build quality that we've come to expect from recent Samsung compact system cameras, although the few buttons that adorn the camera are plastic rather than metal. The Galaxy NX has a huge curved faux-leather handgrip on the front that has a textured area where your fingers rest and a curved corner on the rear panel for your thumb to sit, although the rear screen quickly became covered in fingerprints.
We tested the Galaxy NX with the supplied Samsung 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS III kit lens, which has built-in i-Functionality and a metal mount. The 18-55mm is also optically stabilised, important as the NX system doesn't offer in-body stabilisation. We'd advise choosing the 18-55mm lens rather than the alternative 20-50mm lens for this reason, which doesn't offer OIS, unless you really need the latter's smaller dimensions.
Optical image stabilisation can be turned on and off via the OIS menu option, rather than via a more handy switch on the lens barrel, with two different modes available. When enabled, the Galaxy NX automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds when the camera is hand held. In practice we found that it does make a noticeable difference. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos.
The 18-55mm kit lens also features Samsung's now standard i-Function button, an innocuous looking button on the lens barrel which when pressed activates a sub-menu of key options and allows you to change them simply by turning the focus ring. Consecutive presses of the i-Function button moves through the five available settings - shutter speed and/or aperture, exposure compensation and/or white balance, ISO and the intelli-Zoom function. The latter two settings can optionally be turned on or off in the main menu, allowing a degree of user customisation.
As the Galaxy NX has an eye-level viewfinder, the i-Function button more logically provides a quick way of accessing certain key settings than on the other NX cameras that we've reviewed. You can hold the camera up to your eye, press the iFn button and turn the focus ring with your left hand, and grip the camera with your right, which for us is much more intuitive than trying to operate it at arm's length.
On the front of the Samsung Galaxy NX is a small focus-assist and self-timer indicator lamp, plastic lens release button, and the metal NX lens mount. Located on the bottom of the camera is the shared microSD memory card slot, SIM card and battery compartment, protected by a plastic lockable cover. Commendably the Galaxy NX also offers a massive 16Gb of built-in storage, although this is also used by the Android OS and associated apps. Also found on the bottom of the camera is a metal tripod mount which is commendably located in-line with the centre of the lens.
Large metal neck strap eyelets are located on top of the Galaxy NX at the sides. Looking from the rear, on the left side of the body are slots for the built-in stereo sound and a plastic cover that houses a USB port and an HDMI port for connecting the Galaxy NX to a HD television or monitor. There's also an unprotected port for use with an optional remote shutter release.
The Galaxy NX has a built-in dust-removal system that vibrates the sensor 60,000 times per second to remove any unwanted specks from appearing in your images. By default this feature is turned off, something of an oversight by Samsung, so make sure to enable it so that it works every time you start-up the camera (it only takes about one second). You can also perform a manual sensor clean at any point.
The Galaxy NX has a built-in pop-up flash which is activated by a switch on the top of the camera. This useful pop-up unit offers a range of flash synchronisation modes, guide number of 11 at ISO 100, an X-sync speed of 1/180 to 1/8000 second, and coverage for a 28mm wide lens. The Galaxy NX also offers a flash hotshoe that will accept compatible Samsung flashguns (currently the SEF-42A, SEF-20A and SEF-15A models).
Also found on top of the Galaxy NX are the on/off button, a round thumb-operated dial for setting the shutter speed and zooming into and out of images during playback, a tactile shutter button and a one-touch movie record button. Hold the on-off button down for the first time and the Galaxy NX stutters into life, taking almost 30 seconds to display a series of graphical screens and switch to camera mode. The startup time from Standby is thankfully much quicker at just under 3 seconds, although no speed demon considering this is a compact system camera rather than a point-and-shoot compact. The thumb dial can additionally be clicked to access the Function menu, which provides quick access to the shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation and ISO speed.
The Galaxy NX features the same built-in electronic viewfinder with dioptre control as the older NX20 camera. It offers 0.68x magnification and 100% field of view, and the resolution is an impressive 1.44K dots, resulting in a detailed and bright display, but certainly not the best in class.
There's also a handy eye sensor which switches seamlessly between the LCD screen and the EVF when you hold it up to your eye, saving battery power and removing the unwanted distraction of the LCD display. As the EVF is reading the same signal from the image sensor as the rear LCD screen, it can also display similar information - for example, you can view and operate the Function Menu and see all the current settings, giving quick access to all the key camera settings while it's held up to your eye.
On the rear of the Galaxy NX is a massive 4.8-inch 1280 x 720 (HD) Super Clear touchscreen LCD (TFT), which is identical to the Samsung Galaxy Camera's screen. Samsung has lots of expertise in screen technology, and here that gives rise to deeper blacks and better contrast when both composing and reviewing shots, which, coupled with a respectable 614,000 dot resolution, to our eyes results in a more-than-life-like picture being relayed. The downside is that images may not look quite as dynamic as they did at the point of capture when subsequently viewed on your desktop PC. On the positive side, a sharp screen image ensures that menu options and function icons also look clean, crisp and legible.
As you'd expect given its screen size and lack of physical controls, the Galaxy NX relies heavily on its touchscreen interface, and its a very responsive one at that, with just the lightest of touches enough. All of the menu options can be changed via the touchscreen interface. You can also control image playback by touching the screen, with the ability to tap a thumbnail to see the full-size version and scroll through your images by dragging them from side to side.
The most immediately noticeable function is the ability to focus on your main subject simply by touching it on the LCD. It is a little too easy to accidentally press the screen and set the focus point to the wrong area for the current subject, but a simple tap in the middle of the LCD will center the AF point (or you can turn this feature off altogether). In the Tracking AF mode, the Galaxy NX cleverly follows the chosen subject around the screen using the the AF tracking function. If the subject exits the frame entirely, simply recompose and tap it again to start focusing. Impressive stuff that makes focusing on off-center subjects fast and intuitive. One touch shot automatically focuses on the subject and fires the shutter with a single tap on the screen, or you can use the on-screen camera icon to fire the shutter (or the physical shutter button).
If touching the screen is too much trouble, you can even take a picture using the power of your own voice, with "capture", "shoot", "smile" and "cheese" commands all available. Voice control can also be used to fire the flash, set the timer options, and change the shooting mode, amongst other settings.
The Galaxy NX, like several of its rivals, now features a Hybrid Auto Focus (AF) system. This combines phase- and contrast-detection autofocus methods to deliver an auto-focus system that's a little snappier and more accurate than a conventional contrast-detection system, particularly in low-light. There are four AF Area modes on offer, including Selection AF with a selectable focus area, Multi AF, Face Detection, and Self-Portrait Tracking, with Single, Continuous and Manual AF Modes available.
Manual focusing is assisted by the 'enlarged display' function. Once you have selected manual focus mode on the lens barrel, turning the manual focus ring automatically increases the magnification on the LCD display by 5x, which is a big help in getting the focus spot on. This is real, non-interpolated magnification, very useful for accurate manual focusing - provided you find a way to steady the camera. The screen cleverly returns to normal magnification when you stop using the manual focus ring for a few seconds. New to the Galaxy NX is the popular Focus Peaking function, which outlines the in-focus subject in white, red or green, with three strengths available (low, normal and high).
The Galaxy NX successfully achieves focus virtually all of the time with the 18-55mm kit lens, helped by the AF assist lamp - the Galaxy NX doesn't have any notable problems locking onto the subject in low-light situations. It takes about 1 second to store a single full-resolution JPEG image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card, with a brief LCD blackout between each image. Storing a single RAW image takes around 3 seconds, and it doesn't lock up the camera while the file is being written to memory.
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The Samsung Galaxy NX has a very good Burst mode which enables you to take 8.6 frames per second for up to 12 JPEG images at the highest image quality, or 6 RAW images. You can also choose a slower 5fps rate for 15 JPEGs. After the buffer is filled, you can continue taking shots, just at a slower rate, but you can't change the camera settings, which is a problem as the Galaxy NX can take up to a minute to write the files and clear the buffer - it's a good idea to use the fastest possible card with this camera. There's also a special Burst mode that records 30 frames per second, albeit only at 5 megapixel JPEG resolution, with slower 15 and 10fps options also available.
Metering options include Multi, Center-weighted and Spot, while the ISO range runs from 100-25,600. There are 7 white balance presets plus Auto and Custom settings and the ability to set a precise Kelvin value, and if you can't make up your mind the white balance and exposure settings can be bracketed.
The usual selection of Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual are available for the more experienced photographers, and the more beginner-friendly Auto and Smart Scene modes (30 in total), and a User mode for storing your settings, all accessed by pressing the soft Mode button on the right of the screen. As the Galaxy NX almost any physical controls, it's quite hard to use the Manual shooting mode. You have to use the thumb dial on the top of the camera to set the shutter speed, and then click it in to switch to change the aperture, which is a little slow and awkward in practice.
Smart Auto is Samsung's equivalent of the intelligent auto modes now found on most competitors models. You simply point the Galaxy NX at a scene or subject and the camera hopefully recognizes it from commonly used presets and automatically adjusts its settings to deliver optimum results. This means that it's not necessary for the user to manually delve into scene modes to call up the likes of 'landscape' or 'flower', essentially making the Galaxy NX's operation merely a case of point and shoot.
Touching the Settings icon in the top-left corner of the screen opens the very useful Smart Panel, which provides quick and easy access to virtually all of the most important camera settings (12 in total). This is an intuitive graphical interface that allows you to move around and choose the main camera settings via a combination of the LCD screen and the thumb dial.
The main menu system on the Galaxy NX is very straight-forward to use. There are four main menus - Camera, Movie, Sharing, and Settings - presented as a column of vertical icons, and due to the large LCD screen and restricting the number of on-screen choices to five, the various options and icons are clear and legible. If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Unfortunately Samsung have chosen not to supply it in printed format, so you can't carry it with you for easy reference.
The Galaxy NX can record high-resolution Full HD 1080p 1920x1080 movies at 30/25fps and 720p 1280x720 movies at 60/50fps. There's also a more cinematic 1920x810 pixel, 24fps mode and a 640x480 at 60/50/25fps mode available. The Movie mode is accessed either via the dedicated one-touch record button on the top of the camera or the soft movie button on the LCD screen. Stereo sound is recorded during video capture via the small internal mics on the side of of the camera. The HDMI port allows you to connect the Galaxy NX to a high-def TV set, but unfortunately Samsung have decided to cut costs and not include a HDMI cable as standard in the box, which means that you'll have to purchase one separately to take advantage of this camera's HD connectivity.
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You can shoot movies using any of the creative modes, giving you lots of control over exposure, and you can also change the aperture and shutter speed during recording, albeit at the expense of recording the mechanism on the soundtrack. The Galaxy NX offers the ability to set the white balance and metering during video recording as well as still images. You can set a video to be played back at various slower or faster speeds (x0.25, x0.5, x1, x5, x10 and x20), the self-timer and image stabilizer can be used, a fade-in or out can be set, and a voice clip can be added.
You can also use a zoom lens during recording with the focusing set as for still images by half-pressing the shutter button. On the negative side, you'll find that if you choose continuous auto-focus, areas of the video will be blurred before becoming sharp again as the camera tries to refocus and the noise of the AF system is a little intrusive. Using manual focus is trickier but will ultimately produce better looking and sounding movies. On a more positive note, having the AF system is better than not being able to auto-focus at all, as with some DSLR cameras that offer video recording.
The Wi-Fi options here are many and varied, and include the ability to sync up with a smartphone and use it as a remote viewfinder. Users can email their images, upload them directly to Facebook, Picasa, Photobucket and YouTube, or instantly copy them to a home PC via Auto Backup. Samsung’s AllShare Play and Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud services provide free storage space that's accessible by anyone with an account. MobileLink allows you to directly send images to a compatible smartphone or tablet, while Remote Viewfinder utilises a smartphone as a live image previewer. Finally TV Link takes the place of a physical HDMI connection by playing back photos on any device that's connected to the same wireless access point as the camera.
In addition to wi-fi connectivity, the Galaxy NX is one of the first compact system cameras to feature NFC (Near Field Communication) technology (the same technology that's used for mobile payments), which allows you to connect the camera to a compatible internet enabled device or another NFC enabled camera by simply tapping them together. As with other smartphones, the Galaxy NX features an accelerometer, compass, gyro, proximity sensor, and a GPS receiver with support for both the GLONASS and A-GPS systems.
Pressing the Home icon in the top-left of the camera screen fires up the Galaxy NX's default screen, which displays the time and date, allows you to perform a Google Search, includes icons for the Camera and Gallery apps, plus Dropbox, Samsung Apps, Play Store and a further Apps icon which accesses all 41 default apps and the Widgets screen. Having the ability to connect to a wi-fi network (or cellular data if using a SIM card), then edit your images and video with either the Samsung apps, Instagram or any one of hundreds of other Android apps, and then upload them to your favourite online network quickly becomes compulsive and makes the traditional process of downloading to acomputer seem laborious and old-fashioned. If only all cameras offered the same out-of-the-box connectivity of the Galaxy NX. One crucial difference thing to note, though, is that the Galaxy NX doesn't have any telephony features other than support for Skype or Viber through Android, so it's not going to replace your mobile anytime soon, although it is possible to send text messages if you choose to install (and pay for) a SIM card.
We don't usually explain how to shut-down a camera (how hard can it be?), but in the case of the Galaxy NX, it's worth mentioning, as this camera works more like a smartphone. You have to hold down the power button on top for a few seconds, which opens a prompt on the touchscreen that gives you four options - Power Off, Data Network Mode, Flight Mode and Restart. Given the Galaxy NX's lengthy start-up time, we'd suggest that you leave the device turned on all the time, when it automatically switches to the power-saving Standby mode if you don't use it for a little while.