Samsung has been known to take an easy-to-use approach with its NX mirrorless cameras. Even its high-end models tend to have large displays and intuitive menus that are simple to figure out. It makes sense since Samsung targets its cameras toward step-up users or entry-level DSLR photographers, with cameras that are slim and compact. But Samsung, perhaps confident it has control of this market, is now after another group of photographers – pros and enthusiasts – with the new NX1 flagship. And once you hold it in your hands, put it to your eye, and start shooting, you realize that the NX1 may be the most advanced, pro-level camera Samsung has made yet. And with the ability to capture 4K and UHD videos, videographers may also take notice.
There’s nothing chintzy about this camera. Samsung clearly wanted to build a photographer’s camera that would rival not only other mirrorless models, but also DSLRs. In our hands-on trial during a briefing prior to the camera’s official launch at Photokina in Germany, the camera feels solid like an enthusiast DSLR. It’s made out of magnesium alloy, and weather-sealed to protect against water and dust. There’s a bright OLED viewfinder as well as a 3-inch Super AMOLED tilting display – the former is great for photographers, while the latter is useful for shooting videos. Electronic viewfinders in high-end cameras have become incredibly responsive, where the view is smoother, clearer, and sharper, making it as useful as optical variants in DSLRs; the EVF has a 5 millisecond delay, compared to the 42 ms in the NX30. There’s even a status LCD on the top that displays your shooting parameters – a very DSLR feature that photographers enjoy. There are also plenty of dials – something not Samsung NX cameras were known for – yet you can also use the touchscreen to make your adjustments. The camera also supports Samsung’s iFunction feature that lets you make selections by pressing the button on the lens and rotating the rings. Basically, whether you like physical dials or are used to using a touchscreen, the NX1 offers several ways to do that.
The NX1 has an all-new 28-megapixel back-illuminated (BSI) APS-C CMOS sensor – a first for an APS-C sensor to have BSI. Samsung says the sensor, which uses a new micro-lens array, was developed entirely in-house, and takes in more light. The sensor is made with a copper process that allows for more conductivity, less resistance, less heat, faster transfers, and generally more efficiency than poly-silicon. Samsung says the camera also has its fastest autofocus system to date, the NX AF System III; in our brief time with it, we thought it was very adept at the job, although there was plenty of bright light that made hunting and grabbing focus unnecessary. The AF system uses 205 phase-detection points (153 cross type) that covers 90 percent of the frame, and it can track focus even when shooting continuously at 15 frames per second. Phase detection also works in video, and it can track almost anywhere in the frame. Samsung also says the NX1 is its first Compact System Camera to have cross sensors outside of center. The AF Assist beam uses a pattern system (when it’s projected, up to 15 meters – best in any camera in the market, Samsung says) that helps the camera focus in low light.
Also new is the image processor, which is now Samsung’s DRIMe V with Adaptive Noise Reduction to help with color reproduction and capture sharper details. It also allows the camera to shoot at high ISOs (100-25,600 natively, expandable to 51,200). The processor also debuts a feature called Samsung Auto Shot, which lets the user track a fast-moving object; the camera continuously tracks the object at 240 frames per second, and closes the shutter when it hits that “magic moment,” say a baseball hitting the bat.
Can’t decide whether to shoot in cinema 4K or 4K UHD (home TV standard)? Well, 4K hasn’t exactly taken off on the consumer front, but with more TV and camera companies touting 4K in new products, the NX1 is available to videographers who want to be in the forefront. Samsung is using the HEVC codec, which is the standard adopted for future broadcasts; Samsung says the NX1 is the first capture device to support this standard, and offers more than double the effective compression than H.264. The camera can also record 4K and UHD to Class 10/UHS 1 SD cards, or to an external HDMI recorder (but not at the same time). Audio capture is available via a plug-in mic.
It wouldn’t be a Samsung camera if it didn’t have wireless connectivity. The NX1 uses 802.11ac, which is a faster wireless protocol that supports 4K streaming from the camera. Besides Wi-Fi and NFC, the NX1 now has Bluetooth 3.0 for a constant-connection with a smart device. Once the camera is paired with an Android or iOS device, it remains so and you don’t have to worry about losing the connection; it also means photos continuous get time, date, and location metadata. Samsung offers one of the best wireless implementations of any camera maker, and besides easy image transfers, you can use a smart device to operate it remotely.
The camera will sell for $1,500, body only. It might be pricey for the general consumer, but it’s reasonable for an enthusiast camera, and perhaps downright cheap for 4K/UHD capture. A pro bundle will be available for $2,800, which includes a battery grip, extra battery, a charger, and a 16-50mm S lens. Availability of both options has yet to be determined.
Besides the camera, Samsung also unveiled a new lens ideal for the camera. The 50-150mm F2.8 S lens is a splash- and dust-resistant piece of glass that gives you wide focal length. Samsung also says it’s more lightweight because the zoom is pushing less glass with bigger motors. The Ultra-Precise Stepping Motor (UPSM) improves upon regular stepping motors in that it’s “three times more precise in its ability to control and focus on subjects,” Samsung says, which is ideal for when recording video. Plus, it has built-in four-axis optical image stabilization. It has a custom focus range limiter that helps reduce the time to search for focus. This lens will cost $1,600.
From our perception, again, we think it’s the most pro-like camera Samsung has made, and it makes sense if it’s the pro market it’s going for. It’s bulkier and heavier than other NX models, but pro and enthusiast photographers crave that solid feel, and features that they are used to in DSLRs. It also hides away some of the fancy UI of previous NX cameras, making it feel more straightforward and no-nonsense. Not long ago, Samsung held an event, “Ditch the DSLR,” that encouraged DSLR users to leave their camera for one of the compact, mirrorless NX cameras. That may be fine for step-up users and entry-level DSLR shooters, but professionals or enthusiast photographers we spoke with said they’d never. Perhaps the NX1 is the first step in convincing those pros to step over. As impressive as the camera looks and feels, we will reserve judgment on image quality and actual performance (we couldn’t review images at the time of our hands-on), so we will save that for our review.