Unfortunately Awesome – Samsung Galaxy NX real world review
By Moritz Wellner
After my recent switch from NX11 to NX20 I’ve now got the opportunity to test the Samsung Galaxy NX on loan, while my NX20 is in for repair. Big thanks to the Photohaus!
The Galaxy NX is Samsung’s first Android powered camera with interchangeable lenses. The other Galaxy cameras have fixed super zoom lenses and small sensors whereas the Samsung NX is an NX camera with an APS-C sized sensor combined with a Galaxy phone somewhere between Galaxy S3 and S4 spec wise. The camera part is taken from the NX300 featuring the same sensor with phase detect pixels and the same processor.
The camera was and still is an interesting experiment which had one major drawback on launch. It was hideously overpriced at 1499€. That price has come down to about 900€ now, which makes it a lot more interesting. Another amazing information about this camera is, that it is the first camera from Samsung where every single part is made in-house including the shutter mechanism. Samsung seems to become more and more self-confident with their camera division.
My first impressions with this camera have been the same as last year, when it came out. This is a big but extremely comfortable mirrorless camera! In fact after using it for a week now, I have to say that it is much less big than I thought. The body is much slimmer than my NX20 and the big grip ends on nearly the same height as the front element of one of Samsungs pancake lenses when mounted. That makes it a similarly pocketable brick. Jacket pockets are no problem and it even fits nicely into the pockets of a hoody sweater.
The comfortable exterior is made of polycarbonate but of the good and strong feeling kind. The tolerances on all moving parts are very tight and the body feels very dense. It is a sturdy camera even though it is sadly not weather sealed like the newer NX30.
Another contrast to the NX30, and also the NX20, is the absence of many direct buttons. In fact the Galaxy NX has not even one button on the back. It has a shutter button on the front of the grips top and a video record button right behind it. The rest of the right side of the top plate houses the clickwheel and the On/Off button. On the left of the viewfinder is a big and very comfortable dioptre adjustment wheel and the button for the flash release. This is a very uncluttered camera!
Everything about the outside operation of the Galaxy just feels comfortable! Much more so than the NX20 actually. The buttons give a very positive feedback and the clickwheel sits comfortably in reach for one-handed use. It is nicely textured and needs just enough force to not be pressed by accident. The shutter button has a firm and well-defined pressure to it. The sound of the shutter underlines that feeling. It’s smooth and doesn’t sound as electrical. The viewfinder has the same specs as the NX20 but you have a much bigger area around. Where I can’t see the whole image with my glasses on the NX20 I have a full nice view on the Galaxy NX. Another change is the bigger dioptre wheel on the Galaxy NX which is both more substantial and tighter than on the NX20. I really like that as I constantly hit my dioptre adjustment on the NX20 out-of-place when the camera is just bouncing at my side.
The back of the camera is dominated be the huge 4.77” touch screen. It is covered by Gorilla glas which is pretty nice as it is less scratch prone than my other cameras. The touch screen reacts fast, smooth and precisely to my touches and ignores my palm 90% of the time. It is nice focusing with the screen. I sometimes miss the tilting screen of my NX20 but the pretty good viewing angles make up part of it. The screen shows rich colors and deep blacks, as you would expect from a Samsung AMOLED.
The camera app has its main control buttons mode dial, shutter release and video record on the right side. They are easily operated with the right thumb while holding the camera. If you choose a mode on the digital wheel, the app extends to a second digital wheel giving you the appropriate value to change. So I choose A and the extending ring show me my current aperture and lets me change it. Very sweet and easily done one-handed. On the left side of the screen are three function buttons with two of them being customizable with 7 different operations like custom white balance or AF Area. The third button is always giving AE Lock. Below the three buttons is a direct link into the gallery to review your images. Above the function buttons is a home button to go into Android and a popup menu to control flash, HDR and some other settings. To the right of this menu in the upper middle of the screen are controls for aperture, shutterspeed, exposure compensation and ISO. Those are operated with the click wheel. You choose a setting by clicking the wheel and then turning to your desired value. Easy and fast forward on the display or in the viewfinder. Nice and … comfortable!
The menu system is one of the simplest and nicest I’ve seen in a camera to date. I haven’t found anything where it is falling short of the one in my NX20. It is much faster though and the touch screen makes it easy and smooth to change the settings compared to the four-way controller on the traditional NX20.
Hit the home button on the top left and the camera takes you to a standard Samsung Touchwiz covered Android. It works the same as any other Android phone. You can install Dropbox, Flickr, Googledrive and anything you want and start sharing your pictures. I even changed the launcher from Touchwiz to Noca launcher without any problem. The hardware in the Galaxy is fast enough to handle even RAWDroid with ease to directly rate and tag your raw files in camera, process them and post them directly to your tumblr feed.
Frankly I don’t know how much I would really use this aside from playing around at the moment. What I like about Android in the backround is that I was able to download Laps It pro and enhance my camera with a time lapse feature that would not be present normally.
Sadly it is still Android 4.2.2 and there seems to be no upgrade at the horizon. This is a missed chance as 4.4 is so much more battery and performance friendly that it could really be a way of improving the camera all around.
On a side note the huge 4300mAh battery powers your camera with ease and gets only drained fast when using the Android part excessively. When using the camera on its own it provides about 600 shots per charge. It takes about two hours to charge in the camera which is very usable. You can purchase a separate external charger combined with a second battery for about 60€.
Going back to the camera you get a very capable photographic tool. The operation is generally fast and painless. The hybrid autofocus works very nicely and delivers even some usefull tracking performance. In single AF it finds its target fast and secure and the continous series I did looked very promising. The manual focussing has lost the 10x magnification of the NX20 but gained focus peaking with three different intensities and three different colours. This was a smart move I think. 5x feels more than enough magnification considering the huge display and focus peaking makes manual focussing much faster than before.
Sadly the Galaxy NX is let down by the same issue that bothers every Samsung camera to date. The buffer performance is not up there with the shooting speed. The camera is able to shoot at a blazing 8.6 frames per second but it can only record 5-6 raw images that way. Please, Samsung, fix this issue!
Single shot to shot times are very nice and you won’t run into any big time waiting if you don’t use continous. The camera handles fast and every operation has direct feedback.
I have to say it again at this point, the shutter sound of the Galaxy NX is so much nicer than the NX20.
The image quality of the sensor is like the NX20. It has nice high ISO capabilities I use up to ISO 1600 without hesitation. ISO 3200 and 6400 work well with carefull post processing. The dynamic range of the sensor is a real strong point of the Samsung. I normally underexpose by 0.6 -1 EV and never had any hassle recovering the shadows without introducing a lot of noise. In fact the noise performance at base ISO is better than the old 14MP sensor even though there are 6 more megapixels cramped onto the sensor. I was worried that it would be worse after shooting with the E-M5 and getting more noise even at base ISO than my old NX11.
The 20MP sensor delivers great detail and colors coupled with Samsungs high quality lenses. The 85mm f1.4 and the 12-24mm f4-5.6 really show what this sensor is capable of. I’am looking forward to the 16-50mm f2-2.8 on this!
The enclosed samples where all shot with original Samsung lenses although the performance with legacy lenses was very promising. All images were processed using Lightroom 5. I haven’t bothered uploading the out of camera jpegs as I never thought Samsung to be particularly good at those and it wouldn’t be real world to me shooting something else than raw!
Why did I write so much about operating and handling the camera and so little about the image quality? Well the image quality is really nice and nobody really argues on that big time. The real difference of the Galaxy NX compared to the rest of the mirrorless crowd and its NX brethren is how it is operated and how it feels. Samsung has come out with a pleasing mixture of slim body, substantial grip and high quality control layout.
I though it would be a nice experiment and I would happily go back to my NX20 without hesitation but the Galaxy NX is really Unfortunately Awesome!