Hands-on with the Samsung NX1 camera

A new compact system camera aimed at professional users

Samsung’s NX series of cameras has been around since 2010. In that year, the NX10 came out and it thrilled us with its compact size and full list of features. It was one of the first mirrorless, interchangeable lens cameras to challenge the Micro Four Thirds options from Panasonic and Olympus by offering a bigger APS-C sized sensor, as well as a built-in flash, and an electronic viewfinder. With the NX1, Samsung has elevated the NX series to a level that now targets professional users, in addition to the rest of us.

The usual Samsung hallmarks are there: it’s a camera that’s packed with features, and it makes use of the best technology that the company has to offer in the digital imaging space. That means it makes use of Samsung’s most up to date APS-C backside illuminated CMOS sensor, which has 28 megapixels, and it also has one of Samsung’s most powerful processing engines, which allows the camera to capture up to 15 frames per second.

With this large sensor and fast frame rate, Samsung is pitching the NX1 directly at the big guns of the digital SLR market, in addition to the high-end models that are available in the interchangeable lens camera (or compact system camera) market.

The high-end performance is encased in a metal body that has about 57 O-rings to keep out the weather, and it offers the dedicated controls for your fingertips that are needed to change the shutter, aperture, ISO, and other settings on-the-go.

We used the camera while out in drizzle.
We used the camera while out in drizzle.

Some of the button placement takes a while to get used to, in particular the location of the ISO and white balance, which are located on the drive dial at the top left of the camera, but the overall layout of the controls is clear and easy to get used to.

The rear has a 3in AMOLED screen and an electronic viewfinder, and you can frame your shots using either when you have it set up to auto-switch between them. It's a touchscreen, so you can also do fancy things such as tap-to-focus and tap-to-shoot.

Like other top-end digital SLRs, Samsung has included an old-school settings window at the top-right of the camera, which you can glance at to see your exposure settings, and there is a button that illuminates it for night viewing. It’s not altogether necessary, it seems, as the rear screen can give you all the info that you need. Furthermore, changes to the ISO, white balance, focus and metering modes will switch on the rear screen rather than letting you change everything from the settings window on its own.

Because of the heavy reliance on the rear screen, battery life was an immediate concern for us. However, the NX1 performed strongly in this area, allowing us to take well over 1700 JPEGs and a few minutes of Full HD video during the course of a full day of shooting, with slightly under 30 per cent remaining at the end of the day.

There was a bit of a discrepancy between the battery bar indicator in the settings window and the battery indicator on the rear screen, with the bar indicator seemingly showing more available life than the percentage indicator on the rear. It’s something we had to keep in mind.

In addition to the traditional shooting features that the NX1 offers, it also builds on the more non-traditional features. By this we mean wireless features. The NX1 can connect to your smartphone for functions such as the remote viewfinder, and also to allow you to transfer photos to the phone after they have been taken. It also includes a Quick Transfer feature that transmits thumbnails of photos to your phone the moment they have been taken. You can see immediately which photos you might want to transfer in their native size to your phone.

The app for viewing and transferring photos is different compared to previous NX cameras, with the NX1 requiring a new app called Samsung Camera Manager. Bluetooth and NFC are used by the camera, and this can make the pairing process very easy. We had everything up and running in a matter of seconds, and file transfers were reliable.

Read more: Samsung M7 review: Wireless speakers that just work

The Samsung Camera Manager app.
The Samsung Camera Manager app.

Using wireless can be a good way to copy files over from the camera that you want to share online immediately while you are out in the field. Be aware that it will put a strain on your battery.

Other things to note about this camera are that it still has the auto mode and scene modes that make Samsung cameras a cinch to use, and these modes can be a good way to get some creativity juices flowing, even if you know what you’re doing — they are just fun to use, especially the sweeping panorama mode.

You can also use this camera to shoot 4K Ultra HD video. Focusing performance has also been improved, with Samsung claiming an autofocus speed of 0.055sec and up to 205 phase detection autofocus points.

We’ll bring you our full review of the NX1 once we get a retail version. The one that we had hands-on time with was not the final product, but it still produced some very good shots. You can see the results if you click the image gallery at the top of this article.

We shot in JPEG mode, and its dynamic range was particularly impressive. The camera marries the focus and exposure points (they can be divorced too), so for many of the mountain shots we generally pointed at the brightest spot to give the pictures more depth in the shadows. RAW mode will be favourable for those of you who want to take complete control over the way your photos look.

The price of the NX1 is $1899 for the body only and it's available now. There is a wide selection of lenses available for Samsung's NX range. A new one is the Samsung 50-150mm F2.8 S ED OIS lens (S being the premium range of lenses), which costs $1999.

The writer of this article flew to Queenstown as a guest of Samsung to check out the NX1 in person.

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Elias Plastiras
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