Images by: Armani Quintas
If you know me on even the slightest level photographically, you will know that I am very bullish about mirrorless cameras. I have been an advocate for them from early on and became even more of an advocate when Sony’s NEX range was
announced just prior to me leaving their employ in 2010. A lot has happened since then.
A lot of people may not recall that shortly after Olympus and Panasonic began the trend of Compact System Cameras (CSC), Samsung announced their entry into the market with the NX10: the first CSC with an APS-C sized sensor, just like what DSLR cameras have.
Now, two years on, the Samsung range has grown to include three cameras. The range topping NX20 is aimed at serious enthusiasts. It has a top shutter speed of 1/8000th and an electronic viewfinder. The styling is very much like that of a small DSLR. The NX210 is a smaller machine; lacking the electronic viewfinder, but sporting the same brilliant Super AMOLED 3-inch screen on the back.
The camera in question in this review though is the entry-level NX1000. While it is made of slightly lighter material and sports a normal LCD and not the super bright AMOLED of the NX210, in many ways, the ‘baby’ of the range has some exceptional value for money. Samsung have made the smart choice – in my view – of sticking to the same 20.3mp APS-C sized CMOS sensor across the entire range of cameras. This means that you get the same image quality at the heart of the camera. The NX1000 also has the same 8fps (frames per second) drive mode and Full HD video. In fact, in all areas apart from the LCD screen and the material used to construct the body of the camera, the NX1000 is essentially an NX210. The question is: how well does it perform?
Body and Handling
The NX range does not claim to be the smallest out there and – in some ways – that is a good thing. I personally found it to be comfortable in the hand; not feeling too small to be a challenge to use, whilst still being small enough to not say, “Bugger it, I may as well take a DSLR.”
Unlike the Sony NEX and Nikon 1 series cameras in this class, the NX1000 maintains a more DSLR like Mode Dial on the top of the camera, with the usual P, S, A, M exposure modes. There is also a ‘Smart’ mode, ‘i’ mode and Wi-Fi mode on the control dial, but more on some of those later.
While the NX1000 has shortcuts to most of the features that you will need to access frequently as an advanced shooter, the i-Function lenses are what make this camera’s handling stand out a bit from the crowd. As with most CSC cameras (and entry level DSLR cameras for that matter), the NX1000 has one control dial or wheel and that is at the back of the camera. Those who have shot with upper end DSLR machines, or the Sony NEX-7 will know how much quicker one can shoot when one has, at the very least, one dial for controlling one’s Aperture and another for Shutter Speeds, or Exposure Compensation. The NX1000 overcomes this through the i-Function button on compatible lenses.
In essence, i-Function allows you to assign one, or several, functions of the camera to be adjusted by rotating the lens’ focusing ring. You can choose from a number of functions that you would like to have controlled by the simple press of this magic button and the turn of the focus ring in the camera’s menus. Once set up, it practically halves the time you need to make certain changes. When the Mode dial on the top of the camera is turned to the “i” setting, all of the camera’s various scene modes (such as Landscape, Sport, etc.) and the various creative filters such as Vivid, Miniature, etc. can be changed with the simple i-Function operation. It is super easy to use.
We would now do well to stop and look at some of the key features on the NX1000 which it has in common with much of the NX range. We have already mentioned the fact that it has a 20.3mp APS-C sized CMOS sensor and can offer 8fps. On the video side, you have full 1080p HD video and something else that Samsung have done which to my mind is rather clever… they included a headphone jack for monitoring audio on the optional EM10 microphone.
The “Smart” mode on the Mode dial that I mentioned is where the NX1000 will automatically select an appropriate exposure and scene mode based on the scene the camera sees before it. More “Smart” than that though is the Wi-Fi mode and (on the NX1000 only) the smart share button which allows you to share and back up your images wirelessly whenever you are on a wireless network that connects you to the ‘net. Samsung have two Android apps that make use of this feature. Mobile Link allows you to copy images from your smartphone directly; no cable required. It would be a big improvement if this app allowed for images to be transferred whilst shooting and not only when you switch the whole camera to Wi-Fi mode. I hope that we see that in the next update. The second app is Remote Viewfinder. Now your phone can become – as the name suggests – a remote viewfinder and it also offers flash and shutter control; making the running to join a group after hitting the self timer on your camera a thing of the past.
You can also share images to Facebook and YouTube, as well as being able to back up to your PC, or Microsoft Sky-drive all over the Wi-Fi network at home, etc. It is fantastic. If I have one complaint, it is the lack of a touch screen to type in the passwords, etc. faster.
The NX1000 does not have a built in flash (something that the range topping NX20 does have), but it does come supplied with a small flip-up unit in the box. Sadly, at this time, there is no longer an optional electronic viewfinder for either the NX1000, or the NX210 which there was on the older NX100.
My first experience with the Samsung NX10… that very first generation machine… was plagued by one major weakness. The autofocus system was perhaps the slowest of any camera that I had tested up until that time. I am pleased to announce that with the new range, focusing is greatly improved. It is still not on par with top end cameras in the competition, such as the Olympus OM-D E-M5, or even the Sony NEX-7, but it is much, much better than it was; particularly in low light.
An area for concern is the drive mode. While the camera certainly can do 8fps, it does not capture many more pictures above that 8 before the camera comes to a stop as all of the images are written to the card. I would not mind this so much if it was not noticeably longer at writing all of the images to the card than all of its competitors that I have tested thus far. Unfortunately, until all of this writing is done, the camera just looks at you, doing nothing. Sadly, there is not that much of an improvement when you move to a slower frame rate either.
Now we get down to the area which, for many, is most important: How well does it perform when it comes to image quality?
I have been told that this 20.3mp sensor in the NX range is developed in-house by Samsung. It is a major accomplishment for them then as from what I can find, this will be the first sensor this size that they have created and rolled out on their own.
The detail from the this sensor is fantastic. In fact, I was surprised when images from this sensor, with the standard 20-50mm kit lens had more detail than when paired with the three year old 24mp full frame sensor, Sony Alpha A850. Now some might say that it is not entirely fair to compare JPEG images straight off of the cameras (I know that the RAW files from the A850 have superb detail), but considering that most people buying an NX1000 will likely only shoot JPEG, I think that it is a perfectly fair comparison to make.
Noise levels are always a tough topic to talk about. It is – in my view – a personal thing. Having come from film and following the progress of digital from the start, I am continuously amazed by what today’s digital cameras can put out. The thing is that there are very few other cameras with a 20+ megapixel count on their APS-C sized sensor and that limits comparisons to just one or two machines. In my personal view, ISO 1600 is still good, but beyond that, things can go downhill fast. At ISO 6400 and 12800, your noise reduction eats up the detail and does little to remove the heaving impact of noise.
The NX1000 is expected to retail in South Africa at R5999.00, with the 20-50mm standard lens. While the range is a little smaller than one may like, there are comparison reviews out there that list it as the best in class.
When you look at the features and the price combo, plus the amazing detail in images ISO 1600 and under, the price and value on the NX1000 are very good indeed. The Wi-Fi functions with your smartphone, or ability to share directly to Facebook, YouTube, etc. and back up to the cloud, or your own PC when you get home are great in today’s world. I think that Samsung have a winner here. I just hope that we see a touchscreen next.