Samsung NX1 Review
The Samsung NX1 is a new professional compact system camera. The DSLR-like NX1 features a 28.2 megapixel APS-C BSI CMOS sensor with no optical low-pass filter, 4K video recording, 15fps continuous shooting, a weather-sealed magnesium-alloy body, electronic viewfinder (XGA, 2,359K-dot resolution), 3-inch tilting FVGA Super AMOLED touchscreen, ISO range of 100-51200, Auto Focus (AF) System III with 205 Phase Detection AF points and contrast detection, AF speed of just 0.055sec, built-in pop-up flash, top shutter speed of 1/8000th second, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC connectivity, and support for Samsung's unique i-Function lenses. Available in black, the Samsung NX1 retails for £1299.99 / $1599.99 body-only, which includes a copy of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5.
Ease of Use
The NX1 feels like the most serious Samsung camera that we've reviewed to date, which is a relief given the premium price-tag. Measuring 138.5 x 102.3 x 65.8mm and with a magnesium alloy body that weighs 550g, the NX1 is certainly a serious compact system camera, being bigger and heavier than most of the direct CSC competition, although still more portable than an equivalent APS-C DSLR. With the excellent 16-50mm OIS lens fitted, the NX1 certainly fits the bill as a pro-level camera.
The Samsung NX1 features one of the most sophisticated Hybrid Auto Focus (AF) systems currently available in any camera. The new AF System III combines phase- and contrast-detection autofocus methods to deliver an auto-focus system that's even snappier and more accurate than the NX30 camera, thanks to the 205 phase-detection (153 cross type) and 209 contrast AF points which combined together cover almost the entire image frame, making tracking moving subjects easier. With a very quick AF speed of just 0.055sec, reliable operation down to -4EV (half-moonlight) and a blistering continuous shooting rate of 15fps for up to 70 JPEGs (slower rates of 8, 10 or 12fps are also available for longer bursts), the Samsung NX1 is one of the best compact system cameras for shooting sports and moving subjects.
There are four AF Area modes on offer, including Selection AF with a selectable focus area, Multi AF, Face Detection, and Self-Portrait, with Single, Continuous and Manual AF Modes available. Selecting an individual AF point requires you to press the center button on the navigation pad, and then use the arrow keys to move the point around - we'd prefer to be able to configure the camera to skip the first step altogether and jump straight to moving the AF point. The NX1 also has a useful AF Priority function that begins focusing as soon as you point the camera. ]
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 or 8x, 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. The NX1 also offers the ever popular Focus Peaking assist.
Metering uses a 221 Block Segment system, with options that include Multi, Center-weighted and Spot with the ability to bracket by an impressive ±5 EV (±3 EV for movies), while the ISO range runs from 100-51200. There are 6 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, exposure and even the Picture Wizard settings can all be bracketed.
|Front of the Samsung NX1|
Both the 16-50mm and new 50-150mm S lenses that we tested the NX1 with feature 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, ISO speed, exposure compensation and white balance. The latter two settings can optionally be turned on or off in the main menu, allowing a degree of user customisation. The i-Function button provides a quick way of accessing certain key settings, and is well suited to the NX1 with its electronic viewfinder where you can hold it up to your eye, press the button and turn the focus ring with your left hand, and grip the camera with your right.
Furthermore, the i-Function Plus mode enables you to use the iFn button in combination with with the metering, exposure compensation and AEL buttons to directly even more options. By default the three customisable buttons are set to Dynamic Range, Focus in Center and DIS (Antishake), but they can each be reconfigured to one of 13 settings. Having to hold down the iFn button whilst pressing the metering, exposure compensation or AEL button is a little awkward in practice, but it does add to the configurability of the NX1.
As with all current Samsung cameras, optical image stabilisation is supplied via the lenses, rather than being built-in to the NX1's body. It can be turned on and off either via the OIS menu option, or via a more handy switch on the lens barrel, with two different modes available. When enabled, the NX1 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 NX1 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. Thankfully leaving the anti-shake system on all the time didn't affect the battery-life too badly, achieving around 500 shots before needing to be recharged. Note that the NX1 on;y supports in-camera battery charging via USB, rather than using a seperate battery charger.
The NX1 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 NX1 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 1/200 second, and coverage for a 28mm wide lens. The NX1 also offers a flash hotshoe that will accept compatible Samsung flashguns.
On the front of the Samsung NX1 is a small focus-assist and self-timer indicator lamp, lens release button, a metal lens mount, substantial rubberised hand-grip, and a handy Depth of Field Preview button. The NX1 has a generous, textured black plastic hand-grip on the left-front of the camera with a notch for your forefinger, and a large thumb-grip on the rear finished in the same rubberised, faux-leather material.
|Rear of the Samsung NX1|
Large metal neck strap eyelets are located on top of the NX1 at the sides, with the rear dominated by the tilting 3 inch AMOLED screen. On the left side of the body, viewed from the rear, are two plastic cover that house four different ports - a shared USB 3.0 / AV Out port, a mini HDMI for connecting the NX1 to a HD television or monitor, and ports for an external microphone and a headset. On the right flank is a plastic cover for the SD / SDHC / SDXC memory card slot.
Located on the bottom of the camera is the battery compartment protected by a plastic lockable cover. The BP1900 battery provides up to 500 shots under the CIPA testing standard, on a par with most of the NX1's main rivals, and there's an optional vertical grip that houses two batteries for even longer life. 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 mount.
The NX1 features an excellent built-in electronic viewfinder. It has an impressive 1.04x magnification, offers 100% field of view, lag time of just 0.005-seconds, and the resolution is an impressive 2,359K dots, resulting in a large, detailed and responsive display that should persuade most non-believers to use it. There's also a handy eye sensor underneath the EVF 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.
The NX1's 3-inch, 1037k-dot rear LCD touchscreen is also very impressive, incorporating AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) technology that provides a number of key advantages over traditional LCD screens. These include easier viewing in bright sunshine and a very wide viewing angle, 10,000 times faster refresh rate than conventional LCDs, less power consumption and a high contrast ratio of 10,000:1. The tilting LCD screen can be moved through 270 degrees vertically (90 degrees up, 45 degrees down) and is a very welcome addition, although it's a shame that it doesn't also tilt out to the side, as on the NX30.
|Top of the Samsung NX1|
The NX1's touchscreen can be used for a whole multitude of things, including accessing the Main menu and Function menu options, setting the AF point, and even firing the shutter. The Touch AF mode offers a very clever feature that we haven't seen before on any other camera. You touch the subject to set the point of focus, and can then drag a second box across the screen to where you want to meter the exposure from - very clever. Finally, you can drag down from the top of the screen to see a summary of the camera's main settings (screen brightness, storage, battery level and recently changed camera settings). In conjunction with the iFn lens and physical controls, the Samsung NX1 is one of the most adaptable cameras around in terms of its user interface.
Located on top of the NX1 are pop-up flash with stereo microphones on either side, with a clever new dual-dial on the left that's reminiscent of the Olympus OM-D EM-1. On top are buttons for four key controls - AF, Metering, White Balance and ISO - and underneath is a knurled dial for setting the continuous shooting, timer and bracketing options - very neat.
Over on the right is a chunky traditional shooting mode dial with a positive click for the different exposure modes and a button in the middle to lock it in place. The usual selection of Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual are available for the more experienced photographers, along with two Custom settings, and more beginner-friendly Scene modes and Smart Auto mode are also accessed via this dial.
To the right of the shooting mode dial is a welcome monochrome LCD panel with a small button to light it up, which lets you easily see the camera's current key settings at a glance without having to look at the rear screen or through the viewfinder. Completing the top of the Samsung NX1 are an on/off switch encircling the small but tactile shutter button, with a one-touch movie-record button logically positioned alongside, an exposure compensation dial, and the first control dial which sets the aperture/shutter speed and zooms in/out during image playback. In Manual mode you use the second control dial on the rear of the camera to change the aperture. There's also a small but very handy thumb-operated AEL button.
|Tilting LCD Screen|
The NX1 can record both 4K (4096x2160 at 24p) and Ultra HD (UHD) (3820x2160 at 30p) video that's saved on to the SD card, rather than having to be connected to an external storage device, as on some compact system cameras, plus there's full HD 1080p 1920x1080 at 60/50/25/24fps. The NX1 uses the brand new H.265 HEVC Codec, which runs at 40Mbps and compresses video to half the size and bit rate of H.264 footage at 100Mbps without compromising on the quality, but comes at the cost of compatibility issues with some services e.g. YouTube, and currently can only be natively edited using Samsung's software. There are three compression options, Normal, HQ and Pro. The mini-HDMI socket provides a clean 4K output. Stereo sound is recorded during video capture via the small internal mics on the top of of the camera, complete with an onscreen Audio Level Meter and adjustable input levels, and there's a standard 3.5mm microphone input for higher quality audio capture on the left-hand side of the camera.
The NX1's movie mode offers full control over ISO speed, metering, white balance, timer settings and exposure during video recording via the Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual shooting modes, and all of the various Smart Filters and Picture Wizard settings can be applied (and the selective color options too). Multi-Motion recording can either slow down (by 0.5x or 0.25x) or speed up (by 5x, 10x or 20x) the video, the quality can be set to Normal or High. Three auto-focus modes are available - single, continuous and manual - and there are three manual focus assist options to help you achieve accurate focusing. Finally, the optical image stabiliser also works for video recording as well as stills.
The start-up time from turning the NX1 on to being ready to take a photo is impressively quick at less than 1 second. It takes about 1 second to store a 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 2 seconds, but thankfully it doesn't stop you shooting another image while the first file is being written to memory. The Samsung NX1 has a fantastic Burst mode which enables you to take 15 frames per second for 70 JPEG images at the highest image quality, or about 20 RAW images.
Turning to the rear of the NX1, to the left of the electronic viewfinder is a dedicated button for switching between the LCD and EVF, handy if you prefer not to use the eye-sensor. On the other side of the EVF is the Mobile button, which by default accesses the built-in wi-fi, with an array of options available. 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 uutilises 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.
|The Samsung NX1 In-hand|
The NX1 is also the first compact system cameras to feature built-in Bluetooth 3.0, which although slower than wi-fi to transfer files, is a lot simply to establish a connection with another device. The NX1 also supports NFC (Near Field Communication) technology (the same technology that's used for mobile payments), which allows you to connect it to a compatible internet enabled device or another NFC-enabled camera by simply tapping them together.
The Samsung NX1 has a dedicated AF On button on the rear, which will please those who prefer to set the focus button in this way, rather than by half-pressing the shutter-release button. Underneath are the Menu and Fn buttons, with the latter providing quick and easy access to 12 of the most important camera settings (all of which can be customised), which are presented as a HUD-type display in the EVF or LCD screen. Used in combination with the four directions on the navigation pad, you really can access most of the NX1's key options with one press of a button, although changing them takes a couple more presses. The main menu system on the NX1 is straight-forward enough to use, with four main menus presented as a row of vertical icons, although there is a lot of scrolling involved when moving through each one.
The familiar round navigation pad only has one marked function, Disp, for choosing between the LCD's various display modes. The other three directions can then be configured to suit your particular shooting style. Underneath are self-explanatory buttons for playing and deleting your images.
Once you have captured a photo the Samsung NX1 has a fairly good range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails (up to 40 onscreen at the same time), zoom in and out up to 7.6x magnification, view slideshows, delete, share and protect an image and set the print order. There are a number of different ways to alter the look of an already-captured photo, including smart filters, redeye fix, backlight, changing the photo style, resizing, rotating, face retouch, brightness, contrast and vignetting. The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed, there are small brightness and RGB histograms available, and the Highlight option makes any blown-out highlights areas flash on the LCD screen.