Samsung’s mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras tended to cater to entry-level consumers and hobbyists, with features that lean toward ease-of-use for general photography rather than gracing the cover of magazines or gallery walls. That direction, however, is about to change with its new NX1. For the first time, Samsung, after building up an extensive collection of lenses, is going after the pro market, as well as serious enthusiasts. The NX1 is chock-full of features that are designed to rival pro DSLR cameras from heavyweights Canon and Nikon.
To demonstrate its intention of capturing a share of this market, Samsung gave an NX1 to Alex Webb, a renowned photographer who’s part of the Magnum Photos consortium. Besides having his art exhibited in galleries and museums, Webb has shot for popular publications and published several books. As a photographer who has been shooting since the 1960s and has experience the camera technologies that have come and gone, shares with us his impressions about the NX1 from a professional photographer’s POV.
Before you started using the NX1, what were some of your expectations?
Ever since I first started pursuing photography seriously in the late 1960s, I have been drawn to cities: the theater of the streets, the ever-changing urban world. I like to work quietly, unobtrusively, and therefore I have always been drawn to cameras that are small in size, such as the NX1.
What are some of the things that impressed you?
One of the things I like about the Samsung NX1 is that – being mirrorless – it’s quiet. It allowed me to wander almost invisibly through the streets of Chicago’s Loop and New York’s Times Square and Financial District. On the Staten Island Ferry, I looked just like another tourist. Because the camera is small, it allowed me to embrace the kind of freedom that I enjoy as a street photographer: wandering through the urban world, allowing my experiences to lead me where they will.
What are your favorite features?
As a street photographer, I tend to work rapidly in the streets, often taking bursts of pictures as people move and situations evolve, so I appreciate the fact that the NX1 works smoothly and efficiently. The files from the NX1 allowed me to successfully capture a variety of situations in color, from dusk on the Staten Island ferry to the mixed neon lights of Times Square, from the stark light of Chicago’s Loop to the warm hues of Coney Island at day’s end.
Tell us about how you used the NX1 in your workflow? What type of lenses did you use?
I don’t have a particular workflow. My most basic process as a photographer is to wander, allowing the camera and my experiences to lead me where they will. I am not a technical photographer. I simply see the camera as an extension of the eye. I favor shorter lenses that correspond to the sense of space that feels most natural to me as a street photographer. So, with the NX1, I gravitated toward the shorter zoom lenses, the 18-55mm and the 16-50mm.
People play an important role in your photographs, as well as color. How did the NX1 perform?
When I’m photographing in the streets I am working on multiple levels: sensing the subject – usually people – as well the light, the color, and the form. I am feeling the space, the layers of the street unfolding before me. The NX1 worked well for me in a variety of urban situations.
Stateside, consumers still haven’t embraced mirrorless cameras like they do with DSLRs.
For more than 40 years, I’ve predominantly used mirrorless cameras, so I’ve never questioned their validity. Nearly all my most significant photographs over these years have been taken with a mirrorless camera.
Any tips for using the NX1?
I would say to just go out and explore with the camera. I see any camera simply as an extension of the eye. But all of our eyes are different. All of us work differently. So try out the camera and see if its particular qualities lend themselves to your own way of working.
In your long career, you’ve experienced the many camera technologies that have come and gone, from analog to digital. What does a camera like the NX1 mean for a Magnum Photographer (and pro photographers in general) like yourself? Any thoughts on 4K photography, since the camera can capture 4K and UHD resolutions?
The photography world is changing so fast; it’s hard to know where things are going. But what remains important is to find a tool that works for one.
[As for 4K], I think that video and still photography are very different animals. The former tends toward narrative, the latter toward suggestion. It’s like comparing novels and poetry. When I have shot video I frame very differently than I would with a still camera, because with video I am ultimately relying on multiple shots and editing, whereas with still photography I am just looking for one singular suggestive image out of a situation. Hence, for me, I am not sure that the ability to pull a still out a video sequence would have much meaning for my work. But it may well work for others, particularly those professionals who work predominantly for online venues that these days expect both video and stills from photographers.
(Images courtesy of Alex Webb and Samsung)