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Samsung NX1 - A Beast after the buzz

The NX1 is the Samsung camera that generated the most buzz since the release of the original NX10, which was the first APS-C mirrorless on the market. It came about 5 months earlier than Sony’s first mirrorless. Since then, Samsung never generated the attention that their lineup should have been given.
That has changed with the NX1. This new beast has generated a lot of attention on dpreview, youtube, thephoblographer and many others.

As you can read in all those articles, the image quality is tremendous. MattEverglade found the dynamic range to be nearly on par with Sony mirrorless Fullframe lineup. The resolution-noise balance works out and the camera produces better results than most 24MP contenders in the APS-C lineup as thecamerastore demonstrates in their video review. I can tell you that the camera doesn't seem to produce noticeable noise until ISO 1600 and that I was absolutely confident with raising the Auto-ISO upper limit to 2500 for general walking around. As with all previous Samsung cameras, the sensor has greater dynamic range in the shadows than the highlights but holds much better to the colour when boosting them.

Continuing on performance, I can second sadly the observations of MattEverglade, that the autofocus is better than the previous generation of Samsung Phase Detection Pixels but only in good light. In dim situations, my NX300M focuses faster and more accurate than the NX1. Continuous autofocus is good but not great. Nevertheless it was worse on the older models.

On the other hand the handling is good. It is big but comfortable, even though I would rate it below the Galaxy NX. That Galaxy NX manages to combine a slim body with a chunky grip and well laid out, much more modern and less messy controls. The NX1 has a lot of direct buttons and a much more customizable layout than older models, which seems to become even more and more sophisticated with future firmware releases. My problem with it is the redundancy of many controls. Well-placed functions on the D-Pad and the Function buttons lead to the upper left buttons being useless. Well, they are hard to reach anyway. Also, the same functions I placed onto the control wheels and that are on the upper left, can be changed with Samsung iFN system. Three ways of doing the same things, to be honest, looks more like an unthoughful overload than a useful system to my eyes.

Just for comparison. here are two images, showing the NX1 in comparison to the Nikon D200, D7200 and NX20.

Concerning my eyes, that viewfinder has still not a great eye point for glass wearers. I have this problem with a lot of mirrorless system cameras, like the NX11/20/30, Olympus OM-D EM5, Sony A6000 and Fuji X-E2. When I take off my glasses, I can see the complete image in the viewfinder but the dioptre adjustment cannot do -6 so it's useless for me. When I wear my glasses, I can't see the full image, which is sad as I just tried a Nikon D300 again (had the D200) and an Olympus E-3 and I could see everything big and bright. The only mirrorless, I tried, that gave me the same freedom were the Galaxy NX, Olympus OM-D EM1 (barely) and Fuji X-T1. As i’ve found out after some research, the Sony A7 models seem to have big viewfinder windows usable with glasses.

In the end, I figured out two things on this topic. First, my next camera purchase will sport a viewfinder. Second, it won’t be the NX1.

On to a positive side of the camera, which is the new menu and control system. The drag down menu borrowed from Samsung’s Smartphones gives you a nice and accurate overview about battery level and storage usage and lets you adjust screen brightness on the fly. The main menu is logically and nicely designed and you have a lot more options than with older cameras. A nice addition, on a first thought, was the top mounted LCD. I loved it on my D200, EOS 40D and Samsung GX20 but I didn't really use it on the NX1, as it is again unnecessary multiplication of information, like the upper left buttons.

All in all, this camera is a beast. It sports beastly dimension for a mirrorless, beastly image quality in every kind of light, beastly autofocus in good light and beastly specs to boast!

So, why do I save my money for something else?

The viewfinder is disappointing when wearing glasses and the camera is nearly as big as my D200 was back then without feeling as sturdy. The regular firmware updates adding new features is welcome but needs to be done over the complete range of NX cameras.. The control layout is overly redundant.

The Galaxy NX, for me, is still the king of comfort and usefulness in terms of Samsung mirrorless and as that gets dated, the next purchase won't be clear-cut for me. I hope Samsung keeps the pace, which the NX1 started but delivers a bigger viewfinder and a “less is more” control layout. The NX1 as of now makes me consider switching back to DSLR