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Review Samsung NX1: Shoot WOW, share now?

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Samsung has made a priority of user-friendly innovation, and is therefore very successful. The chance is good that you use a Samsung telephone, television, or laptop. As a camera manufacturer, Samsung is "the new kid on the block." In 2010, one year after the introduction of the Canon 7D—Canon's APS-C flagship—the first Samsung NX camera appeared. Four years later, Samsung trumped Canon, or so it appeared with the introduction of the Canon 7D MK2 at the PhotoKina. The Samsung NX1 has better specifications on practically all fronts. Is it true that a newcomer in the camera industry could leave Canon behind within four years?

NX1

Samsung: NX1 with WiFi & NFC.
"Shoot Wow, share now".

On paper, that appears to be the case. But paper is patient. And reality is unpredictable. 
High time for a short Samsung NX1 review.

NX1
The Samsung NX1 has a finish of the level we're accustomed to for prosumer SLR cameras from the traditional camera manufacturers. The body is made of a magnesium alloy, sturdy and light at the same time. On top of that is a high-quality plastic with the appearance of leather.

Samsung NX1 versus NX30

The high-end model for amateur photographers is the Samsung NX30. The Samsung NX1 is the best camera in the assortment; Samsung's parade horse, which is suitable for professional photographers.

  • The Samsung NX1 is extra well-sealed against dust and splash water.
  • The NX1 has a 28-megapixel sensor; the NX30, 20 megapixels.
  • The NX1 is faster (15 bps) than the NX30 (9 bps).
  • The NX1 has better video capabilities (4K!) than the NX30.
  • The NX30 has a "traditional" CMOS sensor; the NX1, the world's first APS-C BSI CMOS sensor.
  • The viewfinder magnification of the NX1 is a bit larger than that of the NX30.
  • The NX30 (375 grams) is lighter than the NX1 (550 grams).

cruijfDedicated to Johan Cruijf (nr 14)

Samsung NX1 versus Canon 7D MK2

The Samsung NX1 is, just like the 7D MK2, extra well sealed against dust and splash water. There are so many correspondences between the two cameras that the target audience will also strongly overlap. Even so, there are clear differences:

  • Samsung uses an electronic viewfinder; Canon, an optical viewfinder.
  • The Samsung NX1 has 28 megapixels; the 7D MK2, 20 megapixels.
  • The 7D MK2 makes 10 images (20 mp) per second; the NX1, 15 images per second (of 28 mp!).
  • The NX1 has 205 phase-detection AF points across the entire image. The 7D MK2 has 65 phase-detection AF points, but not on the edges.
  • The Canon 7D MK2 has built-in GPS, but no WiFi. With the Samsung NX1, the reverse is true.
  • The Canon 7D MK2 is larger, and at 910 grams almost twice as heavy as the Samsung NX1.

Design

Samsung NX1
As suits a (semi-)professional camera, the Samsung NX1 is extra-well sealed against dust and splash water. Both high-end Samsung lenses (Samsung 16-50 mm f/2-2.8 and Samsung 50-150 mm f/2.8) are extra-well sealed against dust and splash water. This is an elegant camera to look at: It looks like a beautiful SLR camera. It isn't, because the mirror is missing. If you compare the Samsung NX1 with other mirrorless system cameras, then it's among the largest of its kind, which will appeal to many professional photographers with an SLR. For the target audience of photographers that choose a mirrorless system camera because they want as compact a system as possible, Samsung has various other cameras on offer, which are also more attractively priced.

Screen and viewfinder

Ever-more camera manufacturers are convinced that the future lies in the mirrorless system cameras with an electronic viewfinder. Samsung as well. The electronic viewfinder (with 0.68x practically the same magnification as professional full-frame cameras) has two settings. The first option looks the most like a traditional optical viewfinder. The viewfinder does not utilize any of the exposure settings, but it shows you what's in the image. The second option is more interesting in my opinion.

NX1screen

With the "Framing Mode," the brightness of the image changes as you adjust the ISO, shutter time or aperture. Not only do you get to see how the shot will look ("WYSIWYG"), but an electronic viewfinder gives you in the dark, when the optical viewfinder has long ago let you down, the ability to make a beautiful composition or to assess whether the focus is good. Don't expect miracles, and take into account that an electronic viewfinder has noise in low light.
The 3-inch, 1,046k-dot AMOLED screen has beautiful color reproduction, is quite readable under good lighting conditions, and is tiltable.

Samsung NX1 action: 15 images per second

 

In order to give you an impression of how many shots you can make in continuous AF, we show a GIF animation here with a speed of 15 images per second. That is the amazingly high speed with which the Samsung NX1, while retaining AF, lets you take pictures that are simultaneously stored in the camera in RAW and jpg. The series here is also an indication of how many shots you can make before the buffer of the camera is full and the shooting speed drastically decreases.

carts

But the camera doesn't stop when the buffer is full, and that is really nice. If you want to make a longer series without the risk that the buffer fills up, then you can film at 25 frames per second in 4K. The Samsung NX1 will keep that up for 45,000 shots (of 8 megapixels), if you have an SD card on which all that information fits. For the AF, the Samsung makes use of AF points that are spread across the enter surface of the sensor. With that, the NX1 has an advantage with respect to an SLR camera, where all the AF points lie in the middle of the image. This camera has 205 phase-detection AF points, of which 153 are of the more accurate cross type. That alone is more than other camera brands offer right now. In addition to that, the camera has 209 contrast-detection AF points available. According to the specifications, the AF still works in very low light (-4EV). During the making of practice shots, we compared the Samsung NX1 under relatively dark conditions with the Canon 7D MK2. Both cameras delivered series in which there were both sharp and blurred shots, on which point the Canon did a bit better. I don't dare to draw too many conclusions from that, because I have too little experience with sports photography.

Professional lenses: Samsung 50-150 mm F2.8 & Samsung 16-50 mm f/2-2.8

 SAM0267-2Click (2x) on the image for a larger version

In a relatively short time, Samsung has released a package of 13 lenses (zoom lenses and fixed focal length). That is important, because there are currently no other lens manufacturers that make lenses with a Samsung NX mount. It is possible to use lenses from other brands on a Samsung camera with help from an adapter. For professionals and prosumers, it's good to note that Samsung has plans for a bright telephoto lens and that Samsung quickly released two premium-line "S" lenses, the outstandingly performing Samsung NX 16-50 mm f/2-2.8 S and the Samsung 50-150 mm f/2.8 S lens, for which we will publish a review shortly. These lenses have an Ultra-Precise Step Motor (UPSM), which in comparison with a conventional Step Motor (SM) is three times as precise in focusing.

Resolution and image quality

Read the review of the Samsung NX 16-50 mm f/2-2.8, and you see what the Samsung NX1 is capable of: the highest resolution at all focal lengths of all the APS-C sensor cameras (and a great many of the lenses on full-frame cameras) that we have reviewed to date.
Getting so many pixels on a sensor is in theory a threat to image quality: When a sensor has to process a lot of signals in a short time (think about 4K video as well), then the sensor will heat up, and the signal-to-noise ratio deteriorates. In addition, the pixels become smaller as you place more of them on a sensor, which can produce more noise as well. Samsung as effectively solved this with the very first APS-C sensor that makes use of the BSI technique, which is the record holder when it comes to the number of pixels per mm. A normal CMOS sensor has a lens on the top side, electronics and wiring in the middle and a photocell at the bottom. With this design, light is lost, in particular the light that is does not fall perfectly perpendicular to the sensor. That light bounces back off of the sensor. Think about a tall bucket; not all the rainwater touches the bottom. With a BSI sensor, the wiring and electronics sit under the photo-sensitive layer and less light will be lost.

 Anti-aliasing or moiré

All camera brands, except Sigma, currently use sensors with a Bayer pattern, or a variant thereof (Fujifilm). Every pixel only sees one color: red, green or blue. In order to make a high-resolution color photo, the pixels "peek at" the two other colors of the neighbors. There are false colors ("moiré") visible, as soon as you make an enlargement that is so large that the individual pixels begin to become visible. With a sensor of less than 15 megapixels, you would be able to see moiré in a print of A4 (or larger)—and if you assess the shot at 100% on the screen. With the first digital cameras, the resolution was so low that a camera manufacturer couldn't get by without a low-pass, anti-aliasing or moiré filter on a camera with a Bayer sensor. Therefore all camera manufacturers chose to put an anti-aliasing sensor in front of the sensor, which made the image less sharp. By thereafter sharpening the image again, it was attempted to compensate for the loss of sharpness introduced by an anti-aliasing filter (which I've read is as much as 30%).
Nikon, Olympus and Samsung currently make cameras without anti-aliasing. Without further corrections, it's possible when blowing up shots of fine, regular structures to 100% on your screen that moiré becomes visible. With the Samsung jpg files, the moiré is already removed by the camera, as in the extreme enlargement below.

RAWvsJPG

Dynamic range

Our readers think dynamic range is the most important camera property, as it appears from our survey a few months ago. When you make a photo with a subject with a very high contrast, for example by photographing from inside to outside, there is a risk that the highlights will bleached out while the shadows are blackened. If there's a lot of noise in the shadows, then you don't have a very high dynamic range. Both for the dynamic range (11.7 stops) and the usable dynamic range (7.73 stops), the Samsung NX1 scores very high.
NX1DynamicRange
Move your mouse over this image for a comparison of the dynamic range of the Canon 7D MK2.

Color reproduction

In comparison with the Canon 7D MK2, the colors at 6400 ISO were much less saturated, as we noticed in the practice shots. With the Imatest results, we saw that the accuracy of the colors is good and constant from 100 (left) through 6400 ISO (right). The jpg shots are made for this test with pictures style: off. The color reproduction of the jpg files then corresponds with the RAW files. It's noticeable here that the colors of the Samsung NX1 are somewhat less saturated: the reference values (squares) lie further away from the center than the colors of the NX1 (the circles). At 6400 ISO, the red colors (9, 15 and 17) are less saturated than at 100 ISO, where the saturation is exactly good. It's possible that by choosing an image style, the colors will be more saturated in the jpg files.
NX1100ColorErrorsmini NX16400ColorErrorsmini

Noise

1250
Samsung NX1 1000 ISO jpg, move your mouse over the image for an extreme magnification.
In particular at the low ISO values (below 1600 ISO), this sensor scores very well where signal-to-noise ratio is concerned. Up to 6400 ISO, it's more or less the same as with other APS-C sensors, but in addition, the noise—or the noise suppression—is clearly present. The 51,200 ISO RAW files that we opened in Lightroom showed more color noise than the RAW files of, for example, 6400 ISO.

Image styles and filters

 

Modern cameras—and that applies for all brands—rely on two ideas. On the one hand, they give photographers as much freedom as possible to set everything themselves. On the other hand, they offer users to option of letting the camera determine all the settings. In the Scene mode, the camera recognizes a flower, after which the optimum settings for a flower will be chosen.

Scenescreen

At the top left in the viewfinder, you see the choice that the camera has made. To illustrate, the various modes that are recognized by the NX1 in the Autoscene mode are shown. For beginning photographers, these auto modes are user-friendly. I wonder whether professional photographers and prosumers, whom I think are the target audience for this camera, will make much use of this.

Scenes

Samsung NX1: 4K Video

The video specifications and options for the Samsung NX1 are flat-out impressive. It is, together with the Panasonic GH4, the only system camera with which you can make 4K recordings without an external recorder. The recordings will be stored with the newest compression standard: H.265 (HEVC), so that the video files will be significantly smaller than with the current standard (H.264). There is so far little software that can work with such files. We don't dare to make any statements about the image quality of the video. For that, we direct you to the enthusiastic conclusions of Andrew Reed (EosHD). He is specialized in video and is enthusiastic about the NX1.

Auto shot mode

Photography is about the right moment. But how good is your timing? Samsung has the motto: "Keep exploring and push the boundaries of photographic innovation." That this is not a meaningless statement is shown by the Auto Shot Mode, with which the camera takes a picture for you at just the right moment. Currently, the camera predicts two scenarios: an auto-shot picture of someone who hits a ball ("Baseball"), and an auto-shot picture of someone at the highest point of a jump ("Jump Shot"). Features like this appear at first glance to be fluff. On the other hand, it has the potential of making an inherent change to the way that we take pictures. That Nikon 1 cameras have a "best shot" mode, where the camera captures 20 images at 30 fps and makes a suggestion for the best shot I think is a confirmation that more manufacturers are convinced that photography in the future could look quite different from the way we think of it today. "Changing the way cameras are built, empowering users to capture signature moments with brilliance," as it's called in Samsung's brochures.

NX1-700

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Conclusion Samsung NX1 review

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Pros

  • Outstanding build quality, LCD screen on the camera, dust- and splash-water-tight and user-friendly menu setup
  • Sharp, bright AMOLED screen
  • High image quality: among other things, resolution record holder for APS-C
  • AF points record holder
  • 15 images per second, while retaining lightning-fast AF
  • Top-class video: 4K (30p) in H.265 (HEVC)

Cons

  • This mirrorless system camera is no "compact system camera"
  • Color reproduction is good, but not very good
  • H.265 codec cannot yet be processes by all software

The build and image quality of the Samsung NX1 in combination with the Samsung 50-150 mm f/2.8 and the 16-50 mm f/2-2.8 are top class.

The soup will never be eaten as hot as it was served. To say that Samsung has left Canon behind, when it comes to the new developments in photography, is not correct. Even so, the Samsung NX1 holds so many trump cards in the area of video and photography that every serious (semi-)professional photographer in the process of purchasing a new camera can seriously consider a Samsung NX1.
GS-award2014The ease of use/user friendliness of this camera is very good. With the question, "What kind of interface and ergonomics does a consumer want?", Samsung has expanded on the successes that they scored with their smartphones and other high-end electronics. Connectivity with NFC and WiFi works outstandingly. The slogan "Shoot Wow, share now" is made true with the Samsung NX1. Many full-frame cameras and lenses from other brands could take a hint from that.  

Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.

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