Meet the Samsung Galaxy NX, a camera that is the mutant love child of Samsung’s NX20 mirrorless camera and the Galaxy S series smartphones. Sporting the 20-megapixel APS-C-sized sensor found in the rest of its NX range, the Galaxy NX is powered by a 1.6GHz quad-core processor with 2GB or RAM, and runs Android Jelly Bean (4.2.2) operating system with ease. The screen is a large 4.8-inch touch panel, similar to that found on the current Galaxy Camera, while the electronic viewfinder appears to be the same as the one found in the current NX20. The question is, can the first commercially available, Android powered, changeable lens, compact system camera (a nice lengthy title) set the current photographic and mobile photography scene ablaze?
If you’re familiar with most mirrorless or Compact System Cameras (CSC), then you will likely be surprised that Samsung made the Galaxy NX this big. It is larger than their current biggest NX model, the NX20. This makes it possible to accommodate the gigantic screen but also allows for a pretty big battery in the grip. Speaking of the grip, it feels fantastic in the hands. Our first introduction to the camera was in a dark corner of a marquee at a Samsung launch. As the camera was pulled from the representatives bag we thought it was way to large, especially in a market that seems to be focusing on going smaller devices. Holding it, though, it felt like that all could be forgiven for how good it feels. While it may be longer than an entry level DSLR, and just as tall, it’s still thinner. With a kit lens on it feels a fair bit lighter than an equivalent SLR.
The lack of controls may seem a little daunting for some, with only power, shutter, and video buttons, a scroll dial, and a button to pop up the flash. All other adjustments are performed using the touch screen. Turning the scroll dial pulls up the range of modes to shoot in, and pressing the scroll dial in acts as a button to select the mode you wish use. Here’s where our first little niggle with the camera crops up.
Once you have chosen, say, Aperture Priority mode and want to adjust the aperture, instinct as a photographer says to just turn the dial. Doing so brings up the various camera modes again. All it takes to start using the dial, to change aperture values, is a simple tap on the aperture value displayed on the screen, but season photographers might not find it to be the most intuitive way to handle the camera. A quick way around this – if you’re using autofocus – is to tap the i-Function button on the lens, which then allows you to use the lenses focussing ring to adjust aperture. This feature is unique to Samsung, and rather clever. It also reduces the problems with scroll dial to a minor frustration. Curiously, both the scroll dial and the focussing ring control the exposure value at the same time, forcing the need to tap the screen regardless of which physical control you use. That aside, the touch screen interface is fantastic and the user experience we feel will be appreciated by beginners and experienced users alike.
Our main area of concern with CSC cameras has been around their auto focus capabilities. The pioneers of this market segment have come a long way in getting their cameras to match up to the speeds offered by entry to mid level DSLR cameras. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is still viewed as the king of the hill in this department, compared to its mirrorless camera rivals.
The Galaxy NX proves to be very capable in this department. It does not quite dethrone the Olympus, particularly when the OM-D is paired with the fastest focusing prime lenses, but the NX is no slouch. Like the NX300, it matches its peers, and in the case of the Canon EOS-M the NX wins, hands down.
What is still a concern for us is a tendency for autofocus to hunt in low light conditions, compared to some of Sony’s NEX models. In this department it feels more like a Galaxy phone: frequently failing to lock on in tricky environments where most cameras struggle, with few giving up as quickly as the NX. Even Samsung’s own NX300 felt, at times, to have a slight edge over the Galaxy NX.
With this being an Android powered camera we should also talk about performance of the operating system itself and various apps. The camera launches from the home screen faster than any other Samsung device we’ve tested to date – important, given the market this machine aimed at. Here we find one other weakness with the camera, and it something that we’re not sure can be entirely laid at Samsung’s feet, as they are the mercy of Google’s OS. On iPhones it’s possible to launch into the camera app from the lock screen while being prevented from accessing all other parts of the phone until you’ve unlocked it. On the Galaxy NX – and most Android devices we’ve tested – setting up a lock screen essentially blocks you from launching into the camera without first unlocking the device. If you want to avoid this delay you’ll need to disable the lock screen, which essentially leaves the device open for anyone to exploit. Emails, Facebook posts, or do whatever other applications and accounts you have added to your smart camera. It’d be ideal to see a form of security implementation on this device ( if not all Android devices we have tested) that mimics what the iPhone does.
The deception with a camera like this that it tends to be used as a smartphone, and as such people might not pay as much attention to the images until they start comparing them to a DSLR. After all, if you’re going to post pictures straight to Instagram, and they look good on the gigantic screen, then it has to be fine, right?
It was quite surprising, when comparing it against cameras like the Canon EOS 650D, that the Galaxy NX has a tendency to over expose, with the auto white balance being a little more inconsistent than the screen indicated. It raises a point: if users are going to use this to primarily shoot and share immediately, will one notice? In all likelihood not. Yet when doing a side by side, there is definitely more consistency in the Canon results, and we would even go as as far as saying that Samsung’s own NX300 may be more consistent and predictable.
Take control of the white balance manually and under expose ever so slightly, and the results improve dramatically. Noise levels from ISO 3 200 to 12 800 aren’t bad campared to Canon’s old faithful 18-megapixel sensor, either. Considering there are 2-million pixels more than the Canon, the Samsung is performs well, but noise reduction appears to be a little heavy handed, smudging image details slightly. We’re not disappointed by the quality, considering where most image sensors sit at the moment. Perhaps we were hoping for some Android magic to take over… Then again, this is an Android powered camera and as such it is quite likely that in the coming months Google’s Play Store will be filled with alternative camera apps that do more, or have better controls than Samsung’s default app. This is, in part, the most exciting part about the camera: that we are no longer tied to the limits manufactures see fit to inflict on camera firmware.
This is an area that’ll need a little more long term testing than we could perform in the few days we have had with the Galaxy NX. At 4:30pm the battery is sitting at 71% – after taking it off charge at 6am. That is with sync for mail, Google+ photos, and Dropbox all running, along with a number of people in the office playing around with it. Not bad for a device that never completely turns off. It’ll be interesting to see if changing lenses on the NX makes it more of a dust magnet than models in Samsung’s range.
Is the Galaxy NX a game-changer? Yes; we think it’ll take a while for the market to realise what this camera has done to the mobile and photography industry. It enters a world where all other devices running the same operating system have much smaller sensors, with much lower resolutions, and all but two (the Galaxy Camera, and Galaxy S4 Zoom) have fixed lenses. Apps like Snapseed still only supports 8-megapixel files, let alone the comparatively enormous 20-megapixel files produced by this camera. In time the Galaxy NX, Galaxy Camera, and Galaxy S4 Zoom, will set the course for where camera apps are headed, if they haven’t already. That alone is exciting. And we’re smiling at the thought of rival camera companies bringing competing Android CSCs to market.
If we consider that the bulk of photographs taken today never leave their digital domain,there’s no more convenient camera than this. Instagram purists may be seething at the thought of their platform soon being invaded by “real” cameras, but I think it should – and will – be welcomed. For anyone who’s been contemplating buying a DSLR hoping that it’ll take better family photos than their phones, the Galaxy NX is where we’d point them. We wouldn’t say that it’s the ideal camera for those looking to shoot professionally – certainly not as a primary camera – but as a second system it is fantastic. For travel photographers it may even hold more appeal: with Google Maps running you should never worry about getting lost
Build quality: 4/5
Image quality: 4/5
If you asked me to rate this camera as the multi-functional device that it is, I would have to give it full marks. After a while one becomes a little numb to new cameras and features, but this camera as sparked something within. It is making photography for this reviewer at least, a little more fun again.