Samsung NX1 Review

On paper, it’s hard to argue with the NX1. With a 28MP APS-C sensor, 15fps, 4k video, and 205 AF points, it really looks like a camera begging for attention. But Samsung is new to this market segment so there is plenty of room for skepticism. So for the past month I have been putting this camera to the test to see if it can really deliver on what I would call a stunning spec sheet for the asking price of $1500.

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Samsung NX1 w/16-50mm f2-2.8 Lens 

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Hardware

The NX1 is actually built quite well, not only is it weather sealed but it feels sturdy, professional, and certainly up to the job. It has a very ergonomic design and is very Nikon like with many controls mounted above the dial for the drive modes. Most of the big items can be customized to your liking including three of the 4 navigation buttons. You only get 1 SD card slot but Samsung has a host of options for getting images off the card and to your phone without ever taking out your card. The NCF/wifi/bluetooth options were perfectly and the NX1 is one of the easiest cameras for transferring your images to a phone or tablet. It also has USB 3.0 which also is used to charge the battery as well as headphone, microphone, and HDMI ports the latter which can be used for clean video output. It was interesting that Samsung did not include a standalone charger with the body alone though it is nice that a simple USB power bank can be used to power the camera and charge the battery for all day use without removing the battery. It really has all of the essential items you need whether for photography or videography use. The articulating touch screen is very sharp, and the touch operation is better than any other camera out there with smooth animations and excellent feedback. You can clearly see the advantage Samsung as a leading smartphone manufacturer. You don’t get much movement from the screen, but it’s enough to allow for easy shooting from low angles and to make life better for videographers. The electronic viewfinder is good but not outstanding. Motion is smooth unless you are shooting above 800ISO and then the EVF has significant amounts of lag which is certainly annoying but not unusable. Having an EVF can be a life saver for video use in bright sunlight and while there is an automatic sensor to switch from the screen to viewfinder, it is too sensitive in the dark and not enough in the light. I preferred to just manually switch it and thankfully Samsung gave us a button to do that within easy reach.

Overall, the hardware was excellent, especially for a $1500 camera and all of the major controls and ports I need were present and worked well.

 

Features

I usually don’t talk much about camera features but this is Samsung after all so features are plentiful. You will find 5 frame bracketing, plenty of shooting modes, an interval meter, remote shooting, a selfie mode that beeps when your face is in focus, and even automatic shutter for baseball shots. Unfortunately remote shooting leaves something to be desired and it seems that instead of using the phone as more of a remote trigger, it uses the phone as the main camera and the NX1 for the sensor & lens. This means performance is sluggish, you are missing many controls, you do not have the same focus options, and overall, it just didn’t work well. The Panasonic GH4 had great remote options from the phone but for some reason, Samsung doesn’t quite get there which was a surprise. I actually used this feature often on the GH4 which allowed me to remote control my B camera during a wedding also can be useful if you ever need to video or photograph yourself. Fortunately everything else works as advertised.

I will go out on a limb here and say the NX1 has the best focusing of any mirrorless camera I have used and probably on the market today. It was fast, accurate, the points go all the way to the frame, and it will even track focusing remarkably even while shooting high speed motion. In some ways, it was almost better than a DSLR. For video, it was also reliable enough to depend on and face tracking was even better than the dual pixel Canon 70D. In low light, a DSLR shooting stills has an advantage, but in almost every other circumstance, the NX1 held its own. The focus system has plenty of options such as easy to resize focus points, different modes, a touch screen and physical controls for moving your focus points, and great face detection. There are some restrictions though and face detection only works when in single shooting mode so in case you are wondering why you can’t select it, check out your drive mode dial. You also can’t use all the focus options while recording slow motion though thankfully the NX1 comes equipped with focus peaking which worked quite well. Focus peaking also has some limitations for video worthy of an explanation so you will want to check out this video below if you plan on using this feature.

 

Quality

Alright, we made it to the good stuff. These are my honest opinions but once again I invite you to download the full resolution RAW files at learningcameras.com, edit the files yourself, and draw your own conclusions before purchasing the camera. Overall, the NX1 for me was one of the best APS-C cameras I have used though not ahead of the pack. In good light, images were sharp with plenty of resolution, tons of detail, and decent dynamic range. I’d say Nikon still has an advantage here in the shadows but it seems a bit better than my Canon files. Samsung has created the first ever back side illuminated APS-C size sensor which had me hopeful for just a bit more but certainly you will have no regrets with the NX1. In low light, performance was excellent to 1600ISO and certainly usable up to 6400ISO in most cases. Once again, this is about what I see from the best APS-C sensors though not quite a new level of performance. However, given that Samsung stuffed 28 million pixels on the sensor, this is actually pretty amazing.

 

Video

While the NX1 is still very much a stills camera, It also has some drool worthy features for videographers. In fact, one of my favorite things about the NX1 is that whether shooting videos or stills, you always have a great camera. For video, quality is very sharp thanks to 4k recording with realistic colors and overall tones. At the time of this shooting, there were no profiles like Cine D on the GH4 for recording flat video with more dynamic range however Samsung has announced this will be on the way shortly as well as master black and luma level control. Low light performance was also very good and controlled up to 1600ISO though it fails a bit after that. 6400ISO pushes the limit for me so clearly this is no A7s but it does look just a bit better than cameras like the GH4. Lower ISO files are also very clean and noise free. One of the big issues though for many is going to be the jello effect. Rolling shutter is very present and while I don’t notice it much in my normal shooting style, there are certain camera movements you will want to avoid. It certainly is not much worse to me than cameras like the A7s though. I did have issues however with moiré and while not horribly distracting, you will notice it in normal video recording. As far as features go, currently I am unable to change volume levels while recording but this also is changing with the new firmware which brings me to a new awesome part of this camera, it keeps getting better. While other brands take months or years to bring new features and fix issues, Samsung has been releasing them within weeks of each other. It certainly shows their commitment to this camera as well as to the feedback from photographers and videographers alike. Focusing in video worked great and finally another camera with reliable enough AF to actually use it. Samsung is also allowing us to change the speed of focusing for smooth focus pulls without having to switch to manual focus. Thankfully manual focusing is a breeze as well with the sharp screen and focus peaking options. Unfortunately there is no mode dial for video so those switching between shooting video and photos have to deal with changing your settings on the fly. You can set up custom modes with 2 options on the dial but these modes reset every time you turn off the camera or switch modes so it didn’t work well for me. You also get up to 60fps at 1080p with the option to even slow things down even further. Files are still maxed out at 60fps but with in-camera processing the NX1 can deliver 30fps slowed down up to to 1/4 time or 60fps at half time. Slow motion video was still very sharp and Samsung is certainly showing off the amazing processing power of the NX1. The big elephant in the room though is h.265 which is the format the NX1 records video with. The good news is that files are small and the NX1 will work with standard class 10 SD cards while the GH4 required better. I found I could shoot 3 times as much footage on a standard 64GB SD card as I could with the h.264 of the GH4 while still maintaining great quality. The bad news is that as of now, it is tough to play back these files. This will most likely change very shortly but as of today, playback and editing requires transcoding the files to a more playable format. The process is easy enough though it can be time consuming. This is the struggle with new formats but since h.265 is a standard format and not some proprietary Samsung format, this issue will be shortly resolved so I have no issues with the temporary inconvenience for the long term benefits. The new firmware update is also enabling new recording options so the NX1 will record in full 4k at 24fps, UHD at 24, and 30fps, while 1080p can record from 24-60fps with an option for further slow motion processed in the camera. The great part of this is that you can play the slow motion back right away without having to worry about changing timecodes in post. The only major limitation I could find is that we are still limited to 30 minutes of recording. The only exception to this so far has been the GH4 or other video cameras but I still would like to see this limitation go away. The NX1 is certainly one of the best video cameras around, especially given the $1500 price tag. As long as you watch the Moiré & rolling shutter which unfortunately plagues most cameras, I expect this to be a great camera for filmmakers and for the average user, these issues will likely go unnoticed.

 

Conclusion

While no camera is perfect, the NX1 comes very close. In fact, what makes this even more amazing is that it is a near perfect camera for both photographers and videographers alike. While cameras like the GH4 and A7s have huge limitations for photographers despite the higher costs, and cameras like the Canon 70D and Nikon D7100 are limited in their video abilities. The NX1 will appeal to both videographers and photographers alike and I almost never felt like I was limited no matter what I was shooting. Samsung definitely has a winning formula with the NX1 and thankfully their commitment to fast updates and attention to detail demonstrate the future potential of the NX line. In fact, the stumbling block for me in purchasing this camera has nothing to do with this camera and more to do with the lenses and camera options. There are limited adapter options currently for the NX1 right now for working with Canon & Nikon lenses and while Samsung has made some excellent lenses that are sharp, weather proof, and fast, there are still some missing options primarily over 150mm. These lenses are also limited to Samsung Cameras and Samsung currently has not entered the Professional DSLR market which might be an issue for those who shoot event and sports photography currently dominated by DSLRs. Samsung also has no full frame camera options so purchasing the NX1 and NX lenses will limit yourself to whatever Samsung has in store for the NX line. This is really the same issue that Panasonic GH4 users have though and not important for those who only plan on owning a single camera. At the end of the day, the NX1 is my favorite hybrid photo and video camera available today and also one of the best in each of those respective fields. No matter what you are shooting, the NX1 seems up for the challenge and in almost every way whether it be image quality, speed, video, build quality, or low light abilities, the NX1 is either among the top or leading the pack.   

 

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