Today I have the opportunity to actually do a simple test drive of the much awaited Samsung NX1 Mirrorless camera. The NX1, like all single digit model number of the other brands, denote the level in which the camera is to operate – a Professional camera.
I would say mirrorless have it tough to convince the professional level users. Fujifilm took more than 2 years from the time XPro1 was introduced with the XT1 being accepted as a pro level camera despite not having the ‘Pro’ moniker in its model name.
Sony A7 series mirrorless camera had it easier because it came out of the blue and capture the imagination of the serious to professional users, where many of them matched old Leica lens to the A7 body.
Unlike the two brands, Samsung has lesser street cred when it comes to still cameras. They are basically more well known for the consumer level compact cameras and then the mirrorless. And it is not hard to fathom why they aren’t gaining much traction. Major issue actually lies with the ISO performance in their earlier models.
The feel good vibe actually came a bit earlier in the form of the NXMini. I understand totally that the NXMini is no where near where NX1 is operating in terms of the type of photographers it aims to attract. However what got me excited was how much the colour tone has improved in the NXMini, even when compared to the NX30, Samsung top end camera until the NX1. I surprised myself that I find the photos from the NXMini quite easy on the eyes or dare I say very life like.
But what does that say really? It simply means the colour management algorithm has changed.
I really thought it was a one off thing until I was testing the NX3000 mirrorless camera during my trip to Australia. NX3000 is basically Samsung’s NX system’s entry level camera. The NX3000 holds on to the NXMini colour signature and then some. Or should I say….a lot. The ISO performance is top notch in the NX3000 so much so, I can see way more details when I did a side by side shoot of the milky way with the NX30.
In the end, I use less of the NX30 and do more with the NX3000. Yes. I literally ditched the NX30, a more sophisticated and better UI camera for an entry level camera that needs tons of button pushing just because of two things – colour and ISO performance.
So with my recent past experiences with the new NX cameras and then looking through the specification sheet of the NX1. If you aren’t having digital wet dreams of the photographic kind, something is not right.
Price – USD1499 (SGD2000 thereabouts – yes… that is like buying a Lamborghini at Toyota price. Or for the girls, buying real LV at Pasar Malam fake bag price)
Body – Magnesium Alloy & Weather Resistant (Gawd. That’s for Pro level camera bodies but at what price?)
Sensor – APS-C 28Megapixels (not a fan of MP counts actually. That got me a bit worried on ISO front)
ISO – 100 – 25600
Continuous Drive – 15fps (Read again..FIFTEEN!!!)
Weight – 550g (heaven sent!! Especially for strength and age challenged personnel)
In short, you have something akin to a mirrorless Nikon D4 and close to 20% of the price? What’s not to like!?!?!?
My Quick Hands On Review
Comfortable Grip – Check
Free turning Mode dial but still can lock whenever you want. YES!! No more pesky press, hold and turn routine and if you need to lock the dial, just press down the lock button. Gosh!! Genius!!
Why in the world would all the camera makers want to lock every single dials down!?!?! Gosh I want changing to be free flowing and yet able to ensure it don’t turn unnecessarily but to lock EVERYTHING down? R U Sirius??
Customisable buttons and wheels – that is a God sent. I can basically appoint the 4 way buttons and the wheel to important settings I would want to have quick access to only with my right thumb. YES!! I can have shutter on front dial, aperture on rear dial, ISO on wheel (like Sony A7), 4 way button for White Balance settings, Metering mode and Autofocus Mode (I leave the display mode as it is).
Touch enable rear LCD screen – yes I would rather not have that but some people do like to poke their focus points instead of half pressing.
Top plate LCD screen that has everything you need to know. In this case, it is better than Nikon D750’s truncated LCD screen where one has to flip the camera from top to back just to change a setting.
Verdict – I am glad that someone actually saw the problems with the user interface on the new cameras and did something about it. A one handed operation will always trump a two handed one and NX1 got it. Now if it can also have aperture rings for its lens and that would be awesome.
Advice – get the vertical grip even if your hands are small. The camera is already quite comfortable actually but having the grip do allow the camera to rest on the base of your palm and it immediately make the camera much more stable And the best part…it doesn’t weigh down the camera much at all.
However with the 16-50mm S Lens, it is front heavy. It is after all a f2.8 lens so something got to give and it is not that bad when using it with the camera.
Yes the rear LCD tilt 90 degrees facing upwards and 45 degrees downwards so fans of tilting LCD screens will be really happy. The screen is Super AMOLED but somehow it doesn’t look as vibrant or sharp as those you see on their smartphones. ODD…really ODD. I stress that sharpness is important as people has to check if the images are in focus.
The EVF at 2.36M dots at 1.04x (100% coverage) are the similar to those you find on Sony A7 and Fujfilm XT1 so no surprises there and it auto detects to switch the EVF on when the eyes goes to it. XT1 still wins with the uber huge EVF and split screen MF though but I am comfortable with the NX1 viewfinder and no problems with it.
The focusing using the Hybrid AF system or the NX AF System III has both contrast and phase detection like the new Canon 7D Mark 2. What the NX1 has in excess is the number of detection points – 209 for contrast detection and 205 which are phase detection. Really…look at those numbers a total of 414 detection points and 153 are cross types (combined). And get this…it covers 90% of the viewfinder. NINETY PERCENT!
In short, this camera is built for sports and really cock eye shooters. If that is not kiasu (the constant feeling of not contented) enough, I wonder what is.
I did a series of test in the dark area of the restaurant where I have bright light coming through the windows but not enough to illuminate the area we are in. Verdict – The AF rocks. Really, Really, rocks. Okay I am those centre AF point, half press and shift kind of photographer because the Area AF in most cameras are really not that great when pushed to their limits. But the NX1 rocks, and rolled and rocks some more. If I can survive with Fujfilm X100 then the NX1 is making heaven out of focusing.
Ok I may be exaggerating but I am indeed comfortable in using the NX1 to focus and not throwing the camera out it means something. Heck…it means tons!
If I can do a selfie with a camera very close to DSLR size and it can AF me easily without using the rear screen (you can’t actually), I am basically sold.
Shooting Sports with mirrorless cameras is always the butt of all jokes. Why? AF is one reason, the other reason is the EVF blank out time that causes the camera to hunt the subject again after the files are cleared from the buffer. So in short I can shoot sports but always with both eyes open…I use my right eye to look through EVF and left eye to help with tracking the athlete so the camera can recover quicker.
However, I don’t need to do any of those things on the NX1. I repeat…I don’t need to compensate for the camera.
Dig this – RAW settings for 28MP sensor so the files will be in the region 45-50MB per file at least. Put it on High Drive and let it rip. It holds a good 2 seconds (or more…it felt like an eternity to me) of burst before it slows down.
Look through the viewfinder and…voila!…no EVF hang, no black outs. No screen that says ‘Saving’. Zero!! Zip!! Zilch!! Nada!! Really!!
Let that sink in a bit. IF the image quality is as good as it says it is, the AF is as good as it says it is (I can’t test tracking in a restaurant…it look weird tracking the waitress but it did lock on) and the 15fps performed as advertised. Then the NX1 with the APS-C @ 1.5 crop factor is the king of the pa jiao (bird) and sports camera.
Basically the two things that hinders mirrorless system cameras from being used to do sports shooting are now solved in the NX1, while at least in this session. More tests definitely needed but oh boy…I can’t wait to test this out during sports shoot!!
Native 4K recording without the need for external recorders using the latest codec- Nuff’said.
Note that 32GB cards will have a recording limit of 30 minutes because of the FAT file system. To get over that issue, use a 64GB card with FAT32 file system.
In any case, any footage of a particular scene that lingers for 30mins will cause your audience to sleep. Heck even a security footage would be more interesting.
Disclaimer – I am not a video shooter so I might get a videoman to do the honours of reviewing the camera in the future.
System Purchase Consideration
The NX1 is not a stand alone camera. It relies on other NX lenses in the line up to help in image capture. The good thing about the NX system is that it is not too expensive to get their excellent prime lens. I loved the 16mm prime, 30mm prime and the fish eye…I have used during the test trip in Melbourne.
The NX1 however is a camera that needs an able companion and the 16-50mm f2.8 lens is the lens to have. And wait a little while longer and you will have the 50-150mm f2.8 lens perfect for some sports photography. Want a little bit more reach, then there’s something to consider but floating around the web was the unannounced 300mm f2.8 (around 450mm f5 equivalent) which will fill that gap.
However there are no 3rd party lens support. On the positive side, 3rd party lens are not needed unless the original manufacturer lens are priced in accordance to their value proposition and at this point in time, the Samsung prime lens are really good value if they can get them readily available for purchase. This is something Samsung need to look into because no lens means the camera cannot meet the user needs and if it cannot meet the user needs, the system won’t fly.
While I would hope Samyang, a 3rd party lens manufacturer from Korea, would make some good lenses for the NX system, starting with 56mm f1.2!!
Selling the camera is one thing but supporting the system is very much a on-going exercise from after sales, warranty servicing, accessories to lens availability.
Some Nitty Gritty Complaints
AEL button – that was the worst button of the whole camera, much like an after thought. I would have been better if it is located where the light on button is and that would be perfect!
EVF button – exchange it with the mobile button. I don’t think I would use the wireless link for one handed operation during photo taking. The EVF would be more important in that sense.
Screw thread for the Shutter button – I totally love soft release buttons. That said, the shutter button is high and sensitive enough to do the job.
Vertical grip – batteries. It would be great if both batteries can be located inside the grip when it is in use. This way, I need not to take out the grip to gain access to the battery inside the main body.
Conclusion After the Molestation
IF you are looking for an able APS-C/DX Pro level camera, this is something to put you gaze upon. Yes the EVF is something one has to try to make a decision if one can live without OVF but the lack of a replacement Nikon D300s (for me personally), and camera bodies that cost close to Pro bodies but are not given Pro bodies is causing me to look for stuff that gives more value.
Remember Fujfilm X100? That’s the camera that maketh Fujifilm. The NX1 is to Samsung what X100 is to Fujfilm. Now time to get those lens and accessories offering on the line.
The NX1 hence will give camera manufacturers something to think about.
Availability / Packages
There are plans to offer body only set or complete set with the 16-50mm f2.8 lens which I will highly recommend.
This will be made available in late November/early December with no confirmed price as yet. However based on the USD price, it will be in the region of S$2000 for the body and the kit set would be S$3K plus (I am guessing here OK?!?!).
This will be a very very interesting 2015…and hang on for more in-depth testing once I can get my hands on one for an extended testing session.