Shop for Samsung GALAXY NX - digital camera

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Editors' note, August 29, 2013: This story was originally posted on June 20, 2013; the analysis has been updated based on subsequently announced pricing and availability.

If you crave the connectivity offered by the Samsung Galaxy Camera but don't want to sacrifice image quality or photo capabilities, and have the means to pay a premium for it all, you are the poster child for the Samsung Galaxy NX. With built-in 3G/4G LTE and Wi-Fi, Samsung envisions it as the "always connected" camera, but really, I'd be happy with just connected enough -- as I suspect many of the people interested in this camera would be -- but which most manufacturers still haven't mastered. And from a connectedness standpoint, the Galaxy NX does everything but make calls.

Given the $600 price differential between the NX20 and the Galaxy NX, though, it should make calls; that's an entire high-end phone built right in. You're essentially paying for the cell antenna, larger LCD and Android 4.2. For $1,700, it had better deliver best-in-class photo quality and performance; I can't imagine even the most avid Facebook parent would pay this much to be the first to post her kid scoring the winning goal. While the convenience looks mighty attractive, so does the weather sealing on the cheaper Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the overall great package for a lot less for the NEX-6.

Part of my cynicism stems from doubts about Android-driven cameras, but Android, combined with Samsung's willingness to open-source its camera API really opens up the potential of the camera in ways I can't begin to imagine.

Price aside, it really does seem like the best of all possible worlds for more-advanced photographers. It incorporates the same sensor as the NX300, complete with hybrid phase-detection/contrast autofocus systems, the same electronic viewfinder as the NX20, and it supports a reasonable selection of fast and/or inexpensive lenses that makes it flexible for a variety of users. The system could use at least one fast telephoto zoom, however.

Though it uses a 1.6GHz quad-core processor, Samsung supplements it with the same DRIMe IV imaging processor as in the NX300. (It also has 16GB built-in memory.) That should provide speedier image processing than on the Galaxy Camera. It seems like Samsung has learned some lessons from the earlier model as well. The huge battery and grip with a thumb rest on the back contrasts with the Galaxy Camera's relatively poor battery life and lack of place for your right thumb.

One downside: it's really big. Of course, that's inescapable given the 4.8-inch LCD, APS-C sensor, and built-in EVF. (Plus, it's annoying that for such a big camera it uses microSD cards, and that they're inconveniently located in the battery compartment.) Also, many of Samsung's best lenses are relatively big and heavy, given that ILCs were intended to be smaller than dSLRs. But it can act as a hotspot, which makes the idea of toting it around it a little more palatable, at least for pros. One question I have is what happens to performance when you use the camera and the hotspot simultaneously. If you can.

Another potential downside is the lack of physical controls. While a chunk of potential buyers for this camera will just be looking for APS-C-quality photos and videos, another group -- say, people like me who need a high-quality camera for live-blogging and event photography -- really, really like our physical controls, and the i-Function design only partly mitigates their absence. I have to say, though, this is the first instance in which the i-Function architecture makes a lot of sense and finally seems like a strategic move on Samsung's part. In previous models, which do have physical controls, it always seemed so superfluous.

It also remains to be seen what kind of integration off-the-shelf Android apps have with the camera. As my review-twin Josh Goldman discovered while testing the Galaxy Camera, they vary with respect to how they operate. For example, most camera apps use some sort of pinch-based zooming; what happens when they encounter a mechanical zoom lens? The units we got to play with weren't yet cell-connected.

Here's some of the competition:

  Fujifilm X-E1 Olympus OM-D E-M5 Samsung Galaxy NX Samsung NX20 Sony Alpha NEX-6
Sensor (effective resolution) 16.3MP X-Trans CMOS
16.1MP Live MOS
12 bit
16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS
23.6mm x 15.6mm 17.3mm x 13mm 23.5mm x 15.7mm 23.5mm x 15.7mm 23.5 x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (expanded)/ 200 - ISO 6400/25600 (expanded) ISO 200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Continuous shooting 6fps
17 JPEG/11 raw
11 JPEG/8 raw
11 raw/15 JPEG
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder EVF
2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.44 million dots
100% coverage
480,000 dots
100% coverage
480,000 dots
100% coverage
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus 49-area
Contrast AF
35-area contrast AF 105-point phase-detection, 247-point contrast AF 15-point contrast AF 99-point phase detection, 25-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity range n/a n/a n/a n/a 0 - 20 EV
Shutter speed 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 60 min; 1/180 x-sync 60-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 8 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync (flash-dependent) 30-1/6,000 sec.; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/180 x-sync 30-1/8,000 sec.; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/180 x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync
Metering 256 zones 324 area n/a 221 segment 1,200 zones
Metering range n/a 0 - 20 EV n/a 0 - 18 EV 0 - 20 EV
Flash Yes Included add-on Yes Yes Yes
Image stabilization Optical Sensor shift Optical Optical Optical
Video 1080/24p H.264 1080/60i QuickTime MOV @ 20, 17Mbps 1080/30p; 1080 x 810/24p; 720/60p H.264 MPEG-4 1080/30p; 1080 x 810/24p; 720/30p H.264 MPEG-4 AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/ 24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440 x 1080/30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo Stereo; mic input
LCD size 2.8-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch tilting touch-screen OLED
614,000 dots
4.8-inch fixed Super Clear LCD
921,000 dots
3-inch articulated AMOLED
921,000 dots
3-inch tilting touch screen
921,600 dots
Wireless connection None None 3G HSPA+, 4G LTE, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Wi-Fi Wi-Fi
Battery life (CIPA rating) 350 shots n/a n/a 330 shots 270 shots
(with viewfinder)
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 5.1 x 2.9 x 1.5 4.8 x 3.5 x 1.7 5.4 x 4.0 x 1.0 4.6 x 2.5 x 1.4 4.8 x 2.8 x 1.1
Body operating weight (ounces) 12.4 (est.) 15.1 17.5 (est.) 14 (est.) 12.3
Mfr. price $999.95 (body only) $999.99 (body only) $1,599.99 (body only) n/a $849.99 (body only)
$1,399.95 (with 18-55mm lens) $1,299.99 (with 12-50mm lens) $1,699.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $1,099.99 (with 18-55mm i-Function lens) $999.99 (with 15-60mm PZ lens)
n/a $1,099.99 (with 14-42mm lens) n/a n/a n/a
Ship date November 2012 April 2012 October 2013 May 2012 October 2012

Of course, if size and price matter to you, there's always the Galaxy S4 Zoom. While I don't expect much of it in the way of photo quality -- it's got a small sensor and a slow zoom lens, and it relies on the main processor for its image processing -- it's still smaller and lighter, and it makes phone calls.

The Galaxy NX will be sold through camera retailers rather than cell carriers; it really is a camera first and a connected device second. So that seemingly rules out subsidized versions to soften the sticker shock. But it will be ready to ship in plenty of time for your winter holiday shopping.