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Samsung NX1 review: This camera scores for shooting action

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Samsung has been making dSLR-style mirrorless interchangeable-lens models for years, but like many competitors they've suffered from performance issues. The company finally steps up its game with the NX1, a high-performance, high-quality camera that goes head-to-head with models like the Canon EOS 7D Mark II -- and quite effectively.

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8.5

Samsung NX1

The Good

The Samsung NX1 is fast, well-designed, weather resistant and feature-packed, and it produces great photos and videos.

The Bad

There's no charger included, and USB charging takes longer than we'd like. Plus, it could use tracking autofocus when you're shooting via the viewfinder.

The Bottom Line

Fast, sturdy, well-designed and with excellent photo quality, the Samsung NX1 hits all the bases for action-shooting enthusiasts.

Image quality

Overall, the NX1 produces excellent photos; sharp, with a solid dynamic range and great color accuracy. The highlight detail could be a bit better, but that's really my only quibble. Default noise processing seems to err on the side of smoothness over detail above ISO 1600. Shooting raw can usually improve the detail but only by accepting additional grain, and will sometimes gain you some improvements in tonal range.

Photos look clean up to ISO 800 and remain very good through ISO 1600. By ISO 3200, you can start to see color noise in blacks and grays in JPEGs. That can be fixed in the midrange ISO sensitivities by tweaking the settings or by shooting raw.

From what I can tell, the video quality is extremely good, with minimal artifacts and nice tonality, and 4K is really sharp. I say "from what I can tell," because the only way to view the native HEVC-encoded video is with Cyberlink's Power Media Player; player software tends to do things like bump up the contrast when it renders to screen. In order to get the bundled version, you have to connect the camera to your system and use Samsung's iLauncher software. To edit the video, at least at the moment, you'll need to transcode it first. We went through the same thing when HD first rolled out, but it's never pleasant to live through the anarchy.

Samsung NX1 full-resolution photo samples

See all photos

Analysis samples

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JPEG photo quality is quite good up through ISO 1600, though some hazy edge artifacts start to appear at that point. Lori Grunin/CNET

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Noise reduction becomes a lot more obvious once you hit ISO 3200, especially on out-of-focus areas. Above that JPEGs look just OK, and highlights and shadows drop off quickly. Lori Grunin/CNET

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There was enough latitude in the photos to bring this accidentally underexposed shot up by four stops without introducing noise. It's not as good on the highlights, which seem to only have about two stops of latitude to correct overexposures without browning the whites. Lori Grunin/CNET

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Both the 50-150mm f2.8 and 16-50 f2-2.8 (shown here) lenses produce very nice out-of-focus highlights. Lori Grunin/CNET

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The NX1's color rendering is exceptionally neutral. Lori Grunin/CNET

Performance

The NX1 is an excellent performer, with the exception of battery life. While its 500 shots from a fully charged battery is quite good for a mirrorless model, it's generally disappointing for a camera in its price class. Though it's not that much worse than the 7D Mark II's lifespan between recharges, that camera's is pretty disappointing. (A dSLR in its class should get closer to 1,000 shots on a battery charge.)

It takes just under a second to power on and shoot; fast for a mirrorless, but not as fast as a typical $1,500 dSLR. Otherwise, it fares well compared to dSLRs and to the fastest competitor we've tested thus far, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (with the lastest firmware). Time to focus and shoot runs roughly 0.2- to 0.3-second in all lighting conditions. The same goes for two sequential shots, both raw and JPEG; adding flash recycle time increases it to 1.1 seconds, which is quite good.

The NX1 hits continuous shooting out of the park from a frame-rate perspective. It can sustain 14.4fps for an essentially unlimited number of best-quality JPEGs with autofocus -- greater than 85, at least, under our test conditions. Under optimal conditions -- greater than 1/500 sec and with a 280MB per second U3 UHS II SanDisk Extreme Pro card -- it reached 15.0fps in our testing. One caveat is that it's only capable of its fastest focus with the 16-50mm and 50-150mm lenses, which are nice lenses, but costly.

It can burst at about 14.5fps for 21 frames in raw, though when it slows it slows for 6 frames, then slows more, which I find harder to deal with than when the camera slows consistently. At least then you know how to compensate. I shot quite a bit of JPEG+raw on continuous, and though it couldn't sustain a long burst, it was sufficient for a few seconds at a time, and recovered relatively quickly -- there isn't as long a wait for it to save as there is with the E-M1. I also found 15fps too fast in many situations, and tended to drop it to 12fps or 10fps.

The biggest continuous-shooting issue is the lack of tracking autofocus when shooting through the viewfinder. It grabs focus quickly, but you have to pan, and if you're too fast or slow it locks on something else. If you shoot via the LCD you can use touch focus to assign the object to track, but that's really impractical. Also, for continuous AF, unless you go into the AF Release Priority menu, choose focus priority and then further choose accuracy priority, the results can be too inconsistent and it will more-than-occasionally miss focusing entirely. However, even 12 frames-per-second panning at f2.8 using the 50-150mm lens, I was able to get more in-focus shots than I expected.

The camera uses phase-detection for movie recording and Samsung claims focusing characteristics similar to those of Canon's Dual Pixel CMOS in the 70D , and as far as I can tell there's no pulsing or excessive hunting.

Shooting speed

Samsung NX1 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.3 1.0Canon EOS 7D Mark II 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.8Olympus OM-D EM1 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.7
  • Typical shutter lag
  • Dim-light shutter lag
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • Raw shot-to-shot time
  • Time to first shot
Notes: Seconds (smaller is better)

Typical continuous-shooting speed

Canon EOS 7D Mark II 9.5Olympus OM-D EM1 10.2Samsung NX1 14.4
Notes: Frames per second (larger is better)

Design and features

I found the NX1 extremely comfortable to shoot with, and the controls and interface relatively streamlined. It's not the smallest model in its cohort, though it is smaller and lighter than similar dSLRs. The grip is big and solid enough for one-handed shooting as well as for providing a balanced feel when using large lenses. It's quite sturdy, too; it survived an accidental drop when I faceplanted on a hard floor. And though it's not technically weatherproof, the dust-and-weather-resistant body and lens fared well when exposed to the rain and the cold.

The top-left control is quite similar to the one Nikon uses on its pro cameras, with buttons for frequently accessed settings atop a drive-mode dial. While the mode dial has a button-lock in the center, the drive mode dial does not lock.

Most cameras rotate the drive mode in the opposite direction, with the most commonly used single-shot at the leftmost position. Samsung's takes some getting used to. Sarah Tew/CNET

In addition to the the usual manual, semimanual and automatic modes, the NX1 has two custom-settings slots, along with a top status LCD that you don't usually see in non-dSLRs. In front of the you'll find the power switch around the shutter button, top adjustment dial and buttons for exposure compensation and video recording. The record button is especially hard to feel and poorly placed, but with the most recent firmware update, Samsung made it possible to swap that function with the more easily felt Mobile button that sits on the back by the viewfinder. There's a preview button on the front that can be mapped to any of a number of different functions; one of my favorites lets you toggle video standby mode.

Quick access buttons sit on the left shoulder. Sarah Tew/CNET

On the back there's a sizable thumb rest and a two dials, one at the top and one in the middle of the right side. Of the four navigation buttons, three are mappable. One of my few quibbles with the design is the location, size and feel of the exposure-lock button, which I use a lot; it's on the downsloping curve on the top-right corner, which requires that you reposition your hand, but it's too flat to feel quickly without looking. An Fn button brings up a typical interactive settings display. Everything's big enough for easy touchscreen operation.

The electronic viewfinder is quite nice: big, bright and sharp with plenty of information in the overlays, including a distance scale, two-axis level indicator and percentage-left battery readout, plus most of the same settings that are displayed on the LCD when you hit the Fn button. You can even display a center marker separate from the autofocus area. The tilting LCD is quite nice as well and remains readable in bright sunlight; it tilts enough for overhead and waist-level shooting. There's a sensor to optionally autoswitch between the EVF and the back display.

The NX1 uses USB 3.0, and includes microphone, headphone and HDMI ports. Sarah Tew/CNET

Given the feature set, the menus are surprisingly brief and straightforward. Notable video features include in-camera time-lapse, dynamic range correction in video, manual settings for master black and luminance level, and the ability to control how quickly the autofocus responds. There doesn't seem to be a lot of unique or novel features for still photography, but it does include nice perks like interval shooting, the ability to change the display color gamut.

The camera's E-Shutter isn't a true electronic shutter; it's a first-curtain electronic shutter, which means it electronically triggers the mechanical shutter. That gives it speed and reduces vibration a little, but it's not silent.

Notably and disappointingly absent from the NX1: a battery charger. USB charging is convenient in a pinch, but slower than a typical standalone charger and inconvenient in general when you get up to this class of camera.

As is usual for Samsung, the Wi-Fi implementation is better than most, with full remote control that maintains decent connectivity and shoots with marginal lag, at least in a studio-type setting. Configuring the connection isn't as straightforward as I'd like, though. At least on my phone, trying to connect via NFC put me in a confusing loop of messages telling me to first install Samsung Accessory Service -- annoying since that's primarily to interface with Samsung Gear and insists upon running on startup --and Samsung Camera Manager. Even when the latter is already installed and the instructions in the manual don't mention the former. At some point I got it to work, though I don't have a clue how.

Except for the aforementioned lack of tracking AF, the camera has tons of useful features, including manual controls, heaphone and mic jacks, master black-level adjustment and time code, among other things for video shooting; USB 3.0 support; interval and time-lapse shooting; and so on. Like previous NX models it ships with Adobe Lightroom 5, a nice bonus.

For a complete overview of the NX1's features and operation, download the manual.

Conclusion

The Samsung NX1 is an impressive camera. There are some small exceptions, such as the need to charge via USB -- and that's easily if resentfully fixed by buying a standalone charger -- a somewhat disappointing battery life for its class, and no tracking autofocus with the viewfinder. And there are reasons you might still want a dSLR's optical viewfinder, like not having to wait for it to autoswitch with the LCD, lower power consumption, and an effectively infinite refresh rate, but the NX1's EVF comes close in practice, and has the added bonus of allowing you to use it while recording video.

Comparative specifications

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Olympus OM-D E-M1 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4 Samsung NX1
Sensor effective resolution 20.2MP Dual Pixel CMOS 16.3MP Live MOS 16.1MP Live MOS 28.2MP BSI CMOS
Sensor size 22.4 x 15.0mm 17.3 x 13mm 17.3 x 13mm 23.5 x 15.7mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 2.0x 2.0x 1.5x
OLPF Yes Yes Yes Yes
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 16000/ISO 51200 (exp) ISO 100 (exp)/200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 (exp)/ISO 200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 25600/51200 (exp)
Burst shooting 10fps
1,090 JPEG/31 raw
9fps
unlimited JPEG/50 raw
(with firmware 3.0)
12fps
100 JPEG/40 raw
(40fps with electronic shutter)
15fps
70 JPEG/n/a raw
Viewfinder
(mag/ effective mag)
Optical
100% coverage
1.0x/.67x
EVF
n/a-inch
2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.3x - 1.48x/ 0.65x- 0.74x
OLED EVF
100% coverage
2.36m dots
1.34x/0.67x
OLED EVF
100% coverage
2.36m dots
1.04x/0.69x
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus 65-point phase-detection AF
all cross-type
center dual cross to f2.8
27-point phase detection,
81-point contrast
49-area
DFD Contrast AF
205 phase-detection AF
(153 cross-type)
209 contrast AF
AF sensitivity -3 to 18 EV n/a -4 - 18 EV -4 - 20 EV
Shutter speed 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync 60 - 1/8,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/320 sec x-sync (Super FP to 1/8000) 1/8,000 to 60 secs; bulb to 60 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync 1/8,000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/250 sec x-sync
Shutter durability 200,000 cycles n/a 200,000 cycles 150,000 cycles
Metering 150,000-pixel RGB+IR 252 zone 324 area 1,728 zone 221 area
Metering sensitivity 1 - 20 EV -2 - 20 EV 0 - 18 EV n/a
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p, 30p, 25p, 24p @ 50Mbps
QuickTime MOV 1080/30p @ 24 Mbps H.264 QuickTime MOV
C4K/24p @100Mbps; UHD/30p, 25p, 24p @ 100Mbps; 1080/60p, 50p, 25p, 24p @ 200Mbps
H.265 MP4
UHD/30p, C4K/24p, 1080/60p, 50p
Audio Stereo, mic input, Stereo; mic input Stereo, mic input, Stereo, mic input,
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time per clip 4GB/29:59 mins 29 mins/2GB 4GB/29:59 mins No
Clean HDMI out Yes No Yes Yes
IS Optical Sensor shift Optical Optical
Display 3 in/7.5cm
Fixed
1.04m dots
3 in/7.5cm
Tilting touchscreen
1.04m dots
3 in/7.5cm
Articulated touchscreen
1.04m dots
3 in/7.7 cm
Tilting Super AMOLED touchscreen
1.04m dots
Memory slots 1 x CF, 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless connection Via optional WFT-E7A Version 2 W-Fi Wi-Fi Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth
Flash Yes Included add-on Yes Yes
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 600 shots (VF); 250 shots (LV)
(1,865mAh)
350 shots
(1,220mAh)
530 shots
(1,860mAh)
500
(1,860mAh)
Size (WHD) 5.9 x 4.4 x 3.1 in
148.6 x 112.4 x 78.2mm
5.1 x 3.7 x 2.5 in
130.4 x 93.5 x 63.1mm
5.2 x 3.7 x 3.3 in
132.9 x 93.4 x 83.9mm
5.5 x 4.0 x 2.6 in
138.5 x 102.3 x 65.8mm
Body operating weight 32.1 oz.
922g
19 oz.
538.6g
19.8 oz. (est.)
560g (est.)
22.6 oz.
642g
Mfr. price (body only) $1,800
£1,500 (est.)
AU$2,580
$1,400
£1,100
AU$1,500
$1,500
£1,150 (est.)
AU$2,000
$1,500
£1,300
AU$1,900
Primary kit $2,000 (est.)
£1,960 (est.)
AU$3,000
(with 18-135mm STM lens)
$2,200 (est.)
£1,800
AU$2,100
(with 12-40mm lens)
$2,500
(Pro kit, no lens)
$2,800
£2,400
(16-50mm lens plus accessories)
Release date November 2014 October 2013 February 2014 October 2014

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8.5

Samsung NX1

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 9Image quality 8