Samsung NX1 is a mirrorless digital camera that was released at the end of 2014. I have been shooting with it since spring of 2015. We are now in the middle of the summer season of 2015 and I am just getting around to this belated review of this camera. Even though I am a bit late with my full review I am still eager to get it published since I feel that this camera has not gotten the attention it deserves beyond the photographic community, plus the new firmware updates have definitely made it even more appealing. I have heard rumors that Samsung’s marketing team is hard at work paying people or covering their travel expenses to publicly endorse this camera, but let me just state it here that I have not had any interaction with Samsung and this review solely represents my personal opinion.
Let’s start with the big guns. Samsung NX1 is a mirrorless digital camera with 28.2MP BSI APS-C CMOS Sensor capable of shooting up to 15 frames per second at this resolution. It’s also capable of internally recording 4k resolution at 24 frames per second. With the latest firmware update it can also capture 1080p video at 120fps! Pair this with 205 Phase-Detection Autofocus Points and you’ve got yourself an extremely powerful camera.
Body and Design
Samsung NX1 was clearly designed to be comparable to pro DSLR bodies. It is somewhat smaller than conventional pro DSLRs, but that’s actually a good thing. Samsung NX1 weighs 19.4oz (550g) and measures at 5.5 x 4.0 x 2.6″ or 14.0 x 10.2 x 6.6cm. It’s small enough, where it’s not too bulky, yet the grip is large enough, where it feels very comfortable and steady in my slightly larger than average male sized hands. When paired with Samsung’s premium 16-50mm f/2-2.8 S line lens, it feels very familiar and well balance. The reason I mention this lens in particular is because that’s the only high quality lens Samsung currently offers at this focal length. NX1’s body is also fully weather-resistant and feels pretty rugged. Although I haven’t done any drop tests personally, it actually feels like it can take some beating.
Catering to professional users, Samsung included all the necessary knobs and buttons to control all major functions of this camera directly. However, in my opinion the video record button is quite poorly positioned. It’s located right next to the shutter button and is embedded into the body, thus it doesn’t stick out at all, so I am not always sure if I pressed it or not. I have had some missed shots where I thought I pressed it but it actually didn’t trigger. Fortunately, Samsung allows you to remap most button functions and Wi-Fi button is positioned much better to serve as a video record button.
NX1 has a 2360k-Dot XGA OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF) built in. It produces a pretty good quality feed and the lag is unnoticeable. It’s not identical in responsiveness to an optical viewfinder yet, but it’s very close. It also has a gorgeous 3.0″ 1036k-Dot Touchscreen that tilts about 45 degrees down and 90 degrees up. The screen is bright enough that I could easily use it on a bright sunny day. In fact, I found myself using the screen about 90% of the time. I was even wearing sunglasses most of that time, although I would say that with sunglasses on I would start missing some of the finer details on the screen and not notice smaller element in the frame. NX1 uses a sensor that switches EVF and touchscreen, if it sees you looking at the viewfinder instead. There is also a dedicated EVF button that toggles between EVF only, screen only and auto modes.
NX1 has a built in flash unit that pops up when needed. Its guide number 36.1′ (11 m) ISO100 at 28 mm position. I know many pro body cameras don’t always include built in flash, but this was actually a welcomed addition. I occasionally find myself in situations where a little pop up flash can be just the thing that’s needed. Although when shooting around 16mm I have found that my images have a nasty shadow from that big 16-50mm f/2-2.8 lens.
On a left side NX1 has a micro HDMI and a USB 3 ports, as well as headphone and mic jacks. It’s nice to see that Samsung included a USB 3 ports and not a USB 2 port like Sony a7ii, this ensures higher transfer rate, if you are moving files directly through the camera. But just like Sony, Samsung does not include a separate battery charger with NX1. And to be honest, I am actually very happy with the mirrorless trend of in-camera charging. Since the battery can now be charged directly in camera via USB, I have now gotten into a habit of carrying an external battery unit that can charge all my devices (phone, tablet, mirrorless camera, GoPro, etc.) on the fly, thus eliminating the need to carry many different batteries. Speaking of batteries, Samsung NX1 is actually very conservative with battery usage. It averages about 450-500 shots per charge. I have often found the camera lasting on just a single 1860mAh battery thought out a full day of casual shooting.
One last thing I would like to mention about the design is that I am disappointed Samsung has included only one SD card slot in NX1. It would have been awesome if they included two SD slots and gave us the ability to select how we want the images to be distributed/backed up.
Image Quality and Performance
The image quality this camera produces is excellent. The dynamic range of NX1 is high; I’d say it’s between 10.5 and 11.5 stops. It has an interesting way of handling shadows, giving them a unique film like grainy look. It’s not as tolerant to highlights though, so I usually get better results if I slightly underexpose my shots. The color accuracy is also outstanding and the images are sharp. It doesn’t have such a great depth of field look as full frame sensors provide, but that’s understandable. The noise reduction on JPEGs though often prefers softer details and gets a bit crazy beyond ISO 1600. JPEG image quality holds up until ISO 800 and then collapses after ISO 3200. This is why I would strongly advice to shoot RAW, especially with this camera. I would even go as far as to say that the noise difference between JPEG and RAW in NX1 is the largest I’ve ever seen. Keep in mind that Samsung’s .SRW RAW format is still not supported by most photo editing programs. Samsung provides its own RAW converter and DNG converter to help you develop or change formats.
The burst mode is one of the highlights of this camera. At 15fps NX1 is one of the fastest shooting cameras out there. If you are shooting in RAW format the buffer usually chokes on 21st shot and then slows down drastically. But if you are shooting JPEG, the burst never stops! Keep in mind that you need a memory card fast enough to sustain the writing speed. And the focus at this speed will depend on how good of a lens you have on.
Speaking of focus, NX1’s AF performance is very good for a mirrorless camera that only relies on phase detection. AF time averages around 0.2-0.3 seconds in most lighting conditions. It might have to do some focus hunting in very dark situations or with a weak lens. NX1 has a lot of AF options, but if you are interested in shooting fast action at high burst rates I have found one setup that gets the most shots with accurate focus. Choose Continuous AF, then go to Menu and AF Release Priority, once there choose Focus and then following the arrow choose Accuracy Priority. Burst shot and the focusing speeds on this camera are so good, that I believe NX1 is as close to a sports camera as mirrorless cameras get, so far anyway.
Video Quality and Performance
The video quality NX1 produces is mind blowing. Its color reproduction is superb. As a Canon shooter for the past 12 years it’s hard for me to say it, but it blows every Canon’s DSLR cameras out of the water in terms of dynamic range and sharpness. In fact, I would even throw myself to the sharks and say that it beats the legendary Sony A7s in sharpness and out of the box color reproduction. Of course Sony A7s is still King in high ISO territory and has a better dynamic range. But Samsung NX1 records 4k internally and it now captures full HD 1080p at 120 frames per second at 80Mgbits. Comparing it to the popular Panasonic GH4, in DR Gamma Mode NX1 outperforms GH4 in terms of dynamic range, color accuracy and low light sensitivity. Because of a larger sensor it also creates better depth of field.
As I have already mentioned before, NX1 can capture footage at various resolutions, including 4k at 24p and full HD at 120fps. Its recording bandwidth is 80Mgbits. It can also create time-lapse video internally. Just set your resolution and frame rate, then select Fast/Slow movie (down to 1fps), NX1 will compile the frames and create a video file at that speed. It cuts each video clip at 30min mark and it’s probably best if you connect an external battery back when shooting time-lapse. It can also send video to external device via HDMI out at 8 bit 4:2:2.
Where It Fails
All right, those were all of the highlights. Now let’s go over the shortcomings that prevent NX1 from being the ultimate video capture device. First of all, there is a noticeable moire/aliasing and nasty rolling shutter. When going from Photo to Video mode some of the options disappear, such as AUTO ISO limit and hitting 8x to focus. But the latter ones can probably be easily fixed with firmware update. Here is a big frustration point. Samsung NX1 captures video footage at H.265 codec which is supposed to be a better codec than the currently popular H.264, but it’s not yet supported by most programs. This means you can’t view or edit your videos straight from camera. Samsung provides a Video Converter to transcode files but it’s way too basic for any professional use. It doesn’t even let you select the bit rate, which it seems to choose it at random for each individual video. It’s frustrating, but I know it’s a time problem, I remember I had the same frustration when Sony was using its AVCHD codec that no program was supporting, and before that HD files were a problem.
Connectivity and Software
Samsung NX1 comes mobile ready; it has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC connectivity. You can connect your Android phone via Bluetooth by using NFC by using Samsung Camera app and be able to control the camera remotely, download full images or transfer previews. However, this app is not available for iOS, so iPhone owners will be pretty disappointed as well all know there are ton of photographers with iPhones out there. NX1 can also use Wi-Fi to download and install new firmware wirelessly. Speaking of firmware, Samsung team is dedicated to providing good support. They have been consistently releasing new updates on a monthly basis, fixing bugs and providing huge performance improvements such as better autofocus and the 120fps video capture.
Most of us are often concerned with value because we want to get the best bang for our hard earned bucks. So let’s look at the value of Samsung NX1. When it came out back in December 2014 its MSRP was $1500 in US. Officially this price has not changes but most major retailers now offer $200 off so in reality this camera now costs $1300. So if you are buying this camera in the United Stated you are paying $1300 for a mirrorless camera that can take 28MP stills at 15fps and capture 4k/24p footage as well as 1080p at 120fps, while maintaining excellent quality. In my world this is an outstanding value.
However, there is one major point you have to consider if you are buying into Samsung mirrorless system. Samsung NX lens lineup is the main weakest point of this camera. Currently Samsung offers 15 lenses native to NX system and only two of those are of the premium S quality. Those of you who are shooting wildlife and other themes that demand long focal length should also know that maximum focal length camera lens is 50-200mm f/4-5.6 which is equivalent to 300mm on a 35mm sensor taking the crop into a count. I am sure Samsung is hard at work at developing new lenses and improving their lineup but as of now a limited lens selection can be a huge deterrent to many people.
As a final though I want to say that I personally really like what Samsung has created here and I also applaud their dedication and support of the system. Samsung NX1 packs tons of outstanding features and with current firmware updates many concerns have been ironed out. Samsung is also pricing this camera very competitively. On the other hand this camera has some shortcoming outlined in this review but if you can live with them I would definitely recommend buying this camera.