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Samsung’s NX1 is a 4K-shooting beast that puts the mirrorless competition to shame

Just ahead of Photokina, Samsung announced its new flagship mirrorless camera, the NX1 (see our original news report here). While we have already a first-look at the camera in New York City a week prior, we spent additional hands-on time with the camera at Photokina in Cologne, Germany. Our initial impression: It pretty much puts all of its mirrorless competitors to shame.

So far, Samsung’s mirrorless offerings seemed focused more on the consumer crowd than professional photographers or enthusiasts. But make no mistake, the NX1 is a serious camera. So serious, in fact, that it puts all the latest technology into a body that’s hardly larger than the NX30, yet doesn’t even get close to DSLR size.

Related: Samsung NX1 review

We covered the basic specs of the camera in our initial announcement article, but let’s just recapitulate what makes it so great. It has the highest-resolving back-illuminated (BSI) APS-C CMOS sensor with 28 megapixels, the most advanced hybrid autofocus with 205 phase-detection points (153 of which are cross type points) covering 90 percent of the image frame, a large and detailed and virtually lag-free electronic viewfinder, a tilting 3-inch display, Wi-Fi (fast 802.11ac), Bluetooth (yes, Bluetooth, to maintain a constant connection), 4K and UHD video, and a burst shooting mode with a maximum of 15 frames per second with continuous AF. If that’s not already impressive enough, Samsung also put an LCD status display on the camera, as well as a bunch of dials and buttons to satisfy even the most demanding photographer. All of that is packed in to a relatively compact camera body that is extremely nice to hold, thanks to its large pronounced grip.

The Samsung NX1's AF tracking kept up reliably with the moving skateboarder.

The Samsung NX1’s AF tracking kept up reliably with the moving skateboarder.

At Samsung’s Photokina booth, the company was showing off the capabilities of its new flagship mirrorless camera in a couple of different scenarios. In one area, we tested the camera’s sophisticated AF-tracking mode on a skateboarder moving forward and backward. By selecting the figure on the rear touchscreen, the AF would reliably track it throughout its (relatively quick) movement.

The NX1's Auto Shot function takes a picture as soon as a moving object moves to a pre-defined position.

The NX1’s Auto Shot function takes a picture as soon as a moving object moves to a pre-defined position.

Another demonstration showed off the Auto Shot feature, with the camera set up to predict when a baseball hits a baseball bat. It in the demonstration, it did so reliably and would fire the shutter in the exact moment when the ball hit the bat. Of course, this is a very specialized scenario (and a sport that isn’t very relevant to the European markets) but it’s easy to imagine what it could be extended to – soccer would be an example.

Related: Don’t have 4K UHD content for your TV? Make your own with Samsung’s new NX1

What’s also new with the NX1 is the vertical grip, something that Samsung has neglected in the past and is definitively a welcome addition for wedding photographers and the like. Besides extra buttons optimized for use in portrait orientation, the grip also has extra battery compartments to extend the NX1’s run time.

We would’ve loved to put the NX1’s new guts to the test, but unfortunately the cameras exhibited at Photokina were all pre-production models. What this means is that we weren’t allowed to put an SD card into the camera to check image quality, and that we can’t fully comment about its performance at this point, as many aspects will still be improved in the final production version. (That was the situation when we tested the camera in New York, but look for a full review as soon as we can get our hands on one.)

The 300mm f/2.8 NX lens sports a focus limiter that is set in-camera.

The 300mm f/2.8 NX lens sports a focus limiter that is set in-camera.

On top of the NX1 and the new 50-150mm f/2.8 lens, Samsung also showed off a new 300mm f/2.8 telephoto lens for the NX system, which is currently being developed. It’s nice to see that Samsung is putting such a huge focus on fast lenses. Besides the aperture, which is pretty wide for a lens of this focal length, the 300mm sports a focus limiter that lets you set a desired focusing range in-camera, which prevents the camera from hunting focus throughout the lens’ focusing range. The lens also has the ubiquitous i-Function button as well as optical image stabilization. While we were able to take a close look at the lens, again, it was a pre-production model so we can’t comment on its performance yet.

Overall, the Samsung NX1 got us pretty excited, as it is at this point the one mirrorless camera with the overall best specifications. Now we can’t wait to get our hands on a final production model to put through its paces and see whether Samsung’s bold claims about the camera’s performance hold true. From our initial impressions at Photokina, though, we’re pretty positive that it will.