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Samsung NX1 offers enthusiasts 4K video, 15fps and advanced autofocus for $1,500

With a lot of new technology but some interesting implementation choices, you should keep your eye on the Samsung NX1.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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7 min read

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The Samsung NX1 with its most likely lens companion, the 16-50mm f2-2.8. Lori Grunin/CNET

There's a lot of activity in the higher end of the enthusiast interchangeable-lens market, for both mirrorless and dSLR (price range $1,200 - $1,800/£800 - £1,110/AU$1,300 - AU$2,000). The -based Galaxy NX thus far has been Samsung's most expensive model, but its big draw -- cell-based connectivity -- never really materialized in a practical way. Now Samsung's going after the serious enthusiast who wants high performance to shoot action without sacrificing photo quality. Enter the $1,500/AU$1,899 Samsung NX1. (UK pricing was not available, but a direct conversion would be approximately £925.) It's a pretty powerful camera expected to ship in October.

Samsung NX1: Designed like a dSLR (pictures)

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The NX1 has tons of new technology and interesting implementations in it:

  • The sensor. The NX1 incorporates a home-grown Samsung sensor, an APS-C-size 28-megapixel BSI (backside illuminated) version -- the largest BSI sensor used in a camera to date. (Sony's 1-inch version in the RX series had been the largest until now.) Samsung claims that the larger photodiodes and improved microlens array on the chip compensate for any sensitivity loss caused by increased pixel density compared with its 20MP sensors.
  • Video. 4K is becoming, if not common, then at least more popular these days in cameras. And the NX1 supports Cinema 4K/24p (4096 x 2160) as well as UHD/30p (3840 x 2160) in addition to 1080/60p, the same as with other cameras. However, Samsung is the first to support HEVC/H.265 -- for both 4K and HD -- which means it can record 4K video onto regular SD cards, though it can also record 4K to an external recorder via HDMI.
  • Autofocus system. With 205-point phase-detection -- the center 153 points are all cross-type -- and 205-area contrast-detection autofocus, the NX1 wins the numbers game; the real benefit of all those focus points is that they cover a larger area of the sensor, about 90 percent, which improves the ability to focus near the edges. And the inner density of phase-detection points in theory should improve predictive and tracking autofocus. Samsung claims its NX AF System III is sensitive down to -4 EV, and for darker conditions incorporates a pattern AF-assist illuminator with a larger than normal throw distance. Plus, the camera uses phase-detection for movie recording to achieve the smoother focusing characteristics similar to those of Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS in the 70D.
  • Connectivity. With the NX1, Samsung incorporates faster 801.11ac to the alphabet soup of Wi-Fi speed standards. In conjunction with the H.265 video encoding, that makes it possible to wirelessly stream 4K video to Wi-Fi-enabled Samsung TVs. While the NX1 uses NFC to set up Wi-Fi connections between devices and tap-and-share photo transfer, it now also uses Bluetooth for maintaining persistent connections and geotagging, while saving Wi-Fi for more bandwidth-intensive file operations.
  • Performance. As you'd expect, Samsung updated its image processing engine for the NX1 -- we're up to DRIMe V -- with a new signal processor, GPU and higher bandwidth bus. It also has a dedicated HEVC codec on board for the video. Samsung claims all of these updates enable the camera to shoot 15fps with full autofocus. In fact, the NX1 has a feature designed to show off the capabilities of its autofocus, Auto Shot, which tracks an object in motion and automatically snaps the photo when the object comes in contact with another object -- think baseball, golf, tennis. The company also claims the viewfinder and back display are so fast "it's hard to distinguish between the real world and the live view." The new processor also enables adaptive noise reduction -- basically breaking the image into subareas and performing NR depending upon the sharpness and color characteristics of the individual areas -- something Sony's been doing in its cameras since the SLT-A99 debuted two years ago.
  • Design and features. In addition to dust-and-weather resistance (although it's probably not terribly durable, as Samsung seems to be qualifying its claims) and a 150,000-cycle rated shutter, the NX1 has a lot of pro-friendly features, including a top shutter speed of 1/8000 sec, top status display, and locking dials. It's also fleshing out its accessories with pro-level lenses like the new 50-150mm f2.8 and a battery grip.

My take

On one hand, there's a lot that sounds exciting in this camera as Samsung takes on midrange dSLRs and other mirrorless models like the Fujifilm X-T1 and Panasonic Lumix GH4 with its potentially exceptional autofocus speed and continuous-shooting performance. As usual, Samsung really goes all out with the connectivity options as well, and improved Wi-Fi bandwidth can only help. The single SD slot is a bit of a disappointment, though.

From a design standpoint, it's pretty functional; feels good to grip and has a streamlined control layout, with all the necessary quick access to the most frequently used operations.

But I'm skeptical about some aspects of the camera. An APS-C BSI sensor is certainly an engineering feat, but it remains to be seen if it delivers the image quality one expects from a $1,500 camera. BSI sensors perform well in dim conditions, but tend not to deliver in the highlights the way you'd expect them to, considering the price of the camera. Of course, the tradeoff is the readout speed of a BSI sensor is essential for achieving some of the performance.

And while its 4K support sounds great on paper, as with AVCHD, the HEVC/H.265 standard is designed to deliver high resolution video requiring the lowest bandwidth possible. It's really not intended for encoding high-quality original content that you plan to edit, it's meant to squash it down so it looks good streamed to your TV. And Samsung uses it for HD recording as well. Output to an external recorder is 8-bit 4:2:0; in contrast, the slightly more expensive GH4 outputs 10-bit 4:2:2 externally and offers a higher-quality all-I codec.

Still, there's enough here that Samsung has a chance to really make a splash in this market segment.

Comparative specifications

Fujifilm X-T1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 Pentax K-3 Samsung NX1
Sensor effective resolution 16.3MP X-Trans CMOS II 16.1MP Live MOS 24.4MP CMOS 28.2MP BSI CMOS
14-bit
Sensor size 23.6 x 15.8mm 17.3 x 13mm 23.5 x 15.6 mm 23.5 x 15.7 mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x
OLPF No Yes No Yes
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 6400/51200 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/ISO 200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 51200 ISO 100 - ISO 25600/51200 (exp)
Burst shooting 8fps
unlimited
47 JPEG/n/a raw
12fps
100 JPEG/40 raw
(40fps with electronic shutter)
8.3fps
60 JPEG/23 raw
15fps
n/a
Viewfinder
(mag/ effective mag)
EVF
0.5-inch
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.2x/0.77x
OLED EVF
100% coverage
2.36m dots
1.34x/0.67x
Optical
100% coverage
0.95x/0.63x
OLED EVF
100% coverage
2.36m dots
1.04x/0.69x
Hot Shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus Phase-detection AF
49-area Contrast AF
49-area
DFD Contrast AF
27-point phase-detection AF
25 cross-type
205 phase-detection AF
209 contrast AF
AF sensitivity n/a -4 - 18 EV -3 - 18 EV -4 - n/a EV
Shutter speed 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 60 min; 1/180 x-sync 1/8,000 to 60 secs; bulb to 60 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/180 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Shutter durability n/a 200,000 cycles 200,000 cycles 150,000 cycles
Metering 256 zones 1,728 zone 86K pixel RGB sensor 221 area
Metering sensitivity n/a 0 - 18 EV -3 - 20 EV n/a
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p
H.264 QuickTime MOV
C4K/24p @100Mbps; UHD/30p, 25p, 24p @ 100Mbps; 1080/60p, 50p, 25p, 24p @ 200Mbps
H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/30p, 25p, 24p; 720/60p, 50p
H.265 MP4
UHD/30p, C4K/24p, 1080/60p, 50p
Audio Stereo Stereo, mic input, Mono, mic input Stereo, mic input,
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time 14 minutes 4GB/29:59 mins 4GB/25 minutes No
Clean HDMI out No Yes No Yes
IS Optical Optical Sensor shift Sensor shift
Display 3 in/7.5 cm
Fixed
1.04m dots
3 in/7.5cm
Articulated touchscreen
1.04m dots
3.2 in/8 cm
Fixed
1.04m dots
3 in/7.7 cm
Tilting Super AMOLED touchscreen
1.04m dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless connection Wi-Fi Wi-Fi via optional Pentax-custom Flucard Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes
Wireless flash Yes n/a Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 350 shots
(1,260 mAH)
530 shots
(1,860 mAh)
560 shots
(1,860 mAh)
500 (est.)
(1,860 mAh)
Size (WHD) 5.0 x 3.5 x 1.8 in
129.0 x 89.8 x 46.7 mm
5.2 x 3.7 x 3.3 in
132.9 x 93.4 x 83.9mm
5.2 x 3.9 x 3.1 in
131.5 x100 x 77.5 mm
5.5 x 4.0 x 2.6 in
138.5 x 102.3 x 65.8 mm
Body operating weight 15.6 oz
442.3 g
19.8 oz (est.)
560 g (est.)
28.2 (est.)
800 g (est.)
19.4 oz (est.)
550 g (est.)
Mfr. price (body only) $1,300
£1,050 (est.)
AU$1,650 (est.)
$1,700
£1,300
AU$1,750 (est.)
$1,100
£900
AU$1,300
$1,500
£TBD
AU$1,899
Release date February 2014 February 2014 November 2013 October 2014