Samsung EX1 £299.99

22nd Dec 2011 | 16:18

Samsung EX1

A compact camera geared up for low light shooting

TechRadar rating:

3 stars

Like:

3-inch rotating AMOLED screen; Manual exposure control; Raw image recording; Bright f/1.8 lens; Good build quality;

Dislike:

Red channel noise in shadow areas above ISO 800; Slow continuous shooting speed; Fiddly rear control dial;

Overview

Whereas it used to be the number of pixels by which digital cameras were judged, the emphasis has shifted to how well cameras cope in low light conditions. The Samsung EX1 - known as the TL500 in the US - costs around £300 or US $430 and includes a bright f/1.8-2.4 Schneider lens that covers a 3x zoom range equivalent to 24-72mm on a 35mm camera. It also has a larger than normal 1/1.7-inch CCD sensor.

Having a bright maximum aperture makes more light available to the sensor for imaging, which in turn should reduce the ISO sensitivity required for a certain scene.

The maximum resolution of 10MP is quite modest by today's standards, coming in much lower than the 16MP on Samsung's own MV800, the 14MP on the Nikon Coolpix S3100 and even the 12MP on the Fuji FinePix X10. But the larger surface area per pixel should help the Samsung EX1 to maintain decent image quality at high sensitivities.

Samsung ex1 review

Other stand-out features on this compact camera include the 3-inch rotating AMOLED screen with a resolution of 921,000 dots, and 720p high definition video recording with HDMI connectivity.

Enthusiasts will be glad to hear that raw image recording is supported, along with full manual exposure control.

Samsung ex1 review

Casual photographers, meanwhile, are catered for with a comprehensive range of scene modes and Smart Auto 2.0, which aims to automatically choose the correct scene program for the conditions.

Build quality and handling

Samsung ex1 review

A combination of high quality plastics and metal parts make up much of the Samsung EX1's construction. A brushed metal finish has been applied to the compact camera's front panel, which helps to give an overall impression of high quality with the finish. A sculpted rubber grip provides a comfortable hold, although the same finish on the rear on the thumb rest would be more comfortable to hold.

Full manual control is available and direct controls are provided, giving easy access to exposure controls.

A narrow dial located around the buttons on the rear adjusts aperture values, and the small click wheel inset into the rubber grip provides control of the shutter. Pressing the click wheel allows exposure compensation to be adjusted, without having to dive into menus. The dial on the rear can be a little awkward to operate, due to its narrow width, resulting in accidental button presses if not used with care.

Samsung ex1 review

A maximum shutter speed of half a second in aperture priority mode may be a little limiting for some photographers, but longer exposures up to 16 seconds can be selected in shutter priority and in full manual mode.

Two mode dials on the top of the camera provide quick access to the range of exposure programs and drive modes.

Continuous shooting (at a fairly pedestrian rate of just over 1.6fps), along with single shot and self timer modes can be selected via the drive mode dial. When continuous shooting is selected, the camera defaults back to superfine JPEG quality, because raw files can't be recorded in this mode.

On the rear of the camera the controls are well laid out, with a one-touch button for quick access to video recording.

Samsung ex1 review

The articulated 3-inch AMOLED screen is very clear and easy to compose images with, even in bright conditions. Having a resolution of 921,000 dots, pictures look sharp, with plenty of contrast.

Menus are clear and easy to read and logically laid out, which makes most settings on the Samsung EX1 easy to find.

The screen can be rotated through 270 degrees when flipped out to the side of the camera body, and can be closed away to protect the screen from damage.

Samsung ex1 review

A small flash unit is revealed by sliding a catch on top of the Samsung EX1. This low-powered unit is useful for fill in at close distances, and is raised up around 1cm above the camera when activated.

A standard ISO flash hotshoe with connections for TTL operation with a dedicated Samsung flash unit is provided. Although the hotshoe is a standard fitting, we couldn't get any of our manual flash units to fire during testing.

Autofocus is reasonably quick, and the bright maximum aperture of the lens aids fast focusing in low light conditions. An orange AF assistance lamp illuminates your subject in very dark conditions, and although this is very useful, the high intensity of the light can lead your subject squinting when taking portraits in dark conditions.

The Samsung EX1 is quite a responsive camera in use. Even though it can take around five seconds to write a raw plus superfine JPEG image to a Class 10 SD card, the camera is ready to take another shot almost instantly.

Delays are only encountered if you attempt to switch the camera off straight after taking an image.

Performance

Samsung ex1 review

A combination of high quality optics and a sensor with larger pixels enables the Samsung EX1 to produce high quality images across a wide range of sensitivity (ISO) settings. Images are virtually noise-free and very sharp up to IS0 400.

As confirmed in our lab tests, dynamic range is excellent within this ISO range, producing higher figures in testing than similar cameras equipped with backlit CMOS sensors. This will be especially useful for shooting high contrast subjects at lower sensitivities, such as landscapes.

Samsung ex1 review

As sensitivity is increased, noise levels start to go up too, especially in the shadows. Noise appears more prevalent in the red channel than any other, and shadows start to show red speckling from ISO 800 onwards, along with a loss of detail due to noise reduction.

Images taken at ISO 800 should still make reasonable A4 prints, and care may need to be taken at higher sensitivities. The noise that is present has a blotchy appearance as the camera's noise reduction system struggles to keep speckling from being too intrusive.

Although noise is quite prevalent and images are noticeably softer at ISO 3200 than ones taken at lower sensitivities, they are still suitable for postcard-sized prints and sharing at low resolutions on the web.

Samsung ex1 review

The density of blacks is reduced at ISO 3200 and ISO 1600 due to noise, so a quick contrast adjustment in image editing software such as Photoshop Elements afterwards can greatly improve the appearance of images taken at these settings.

Colours are reproduced accurately with default settings selected and a comprehensive range of preset pictures styles are included to enhance colours, or to create certain effects, including one for vivid colours, neutral colours and to emphasise greens in forest foliage.

Samsung ex1 review

The auto white balance system performs well in a wide range of conditions, leaving enough of a colour cast in images so that the original atmosphere isn't lost.

A quick access button on the rear of the compact camera provides immediate access to the Samsung EX1's three metering options of Multi-Segment, Centre Weighted and Spot. Multi-Segment metering performs well in evenly lit situations, but struggles in higher contrast conditions.

Scenes with large areas of brightness or darkness in them can cause the camera to over or underexpose wildly. At least exposure compensation is easily accessible when using any of the creative manual exposure modes.

Resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Samsung EX1, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the 20 is capable of resolving up to around 20 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please click here to read the full article.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

Samsung ex1 review: resolution iso 100

JPEG images

Samsung ex1 review: resolution iso 80

ISO 80, score: 20 (see full image)

Samsung ex1 review: resolution iso 100

ISO 100, score: 20 (see full image)

Samsung ex1 review: resolution iso 200

ISO 200, score: 18 (see full image)

Samsung ex1 review: resolution iso 400

ISO 400, score: 16 (see full image)

Samsung ex1 review: resolution iso 800

ISO 800, score: 16 (see full image)

Samsung ex1 review: resolution iso 1600

ISO 1600, score: 12 (see full image)

Samsung ex1 review: resolution iso 3200

ISO 3200, score: n/a (see full image)

Raw images

Samsung ex1 review: resolution iso 80

ISO 80, score: 20 (see full image)

Samsung ex1 review: resolution iso 100

ISO 100, score: 20 (see full image)

Samsung ex1 review: resolution iso 200

ISO 200, score: 18 (see full image)

Samsung ex1 review: resolution iso 400

ISO 400, score: 18 (see full image)

Samsung ex1 review: resolution iso 800

ISO 800, score: 18 (see full image)

Samsung ex1 review: resolution iso 1600

ISO 1600, score: 14 (see full image)

Samsung ex1 review: resolution iso 3200

ISO 3200, score: 14 (see full image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Signal to noise ratio

JPEG images

Samsung ex1 review jpeg signal to noise ratio

JPEG from the Samsung EX1 put in a better performance than the Fujifilm X10, Nikon Coolpix P7100 and the Canon PowerShot G12 across the entire sensitivity range for signal to noise ratio.

Raw images

Samsung ex1 review tiff signal to noise ratio

Raw images from the Samsung EX1 have a better signal to noise ratio than the Canon PowerShot 12, but results lag behind those of the Fujifilm X10 and Nikon Coolpix P7100.

Dynamic range

JPEG images

Samsung ex1 review jpeg dynamic range

The Samsung EX1's JPEGs contain a wide tonal range at all sensitivities, beating all but the Canon PowerShot G12 at the higher end of the sensitivity range.

Raw images

Samsung ex1 review tiff dynamic range

This chart indicates that the Samsung EX1's raw files have a greater dynamic range at the lower end of the sensitivity range than the comparison cameras, and whilst overtaken by the Fujifilm X10 at ISO 200 and the Nikon Coolpix P7100 at ISO 800 the EX1 still captures a good amount of tonal detail in the shadows and highlights.

Sample images

Samsung ex1 review

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DETAIL: There is a respectable level of detail in this shot

Samsung ex1 review

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MACRO:The Samsung EX1's Macro mode only allows focusing as close as 30cm from your subject.

Samsung ex1 review

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BLUR:Pleasing background blur can be achieved at close quarters due to the wide aperture of the lens.

Samsung ex1 review

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COLOUR:Colours are reproduced accurately using default settings.

Samsung ex1 review

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COLOUR:Colours are reproduced accurately using default settings.

Samsung ex1 review

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EXPOSURE: The bright sky hasn't overly confused the metering system here

Samsung ex1 review

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Samsung ex1 review

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Samsung ex1 review

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HDR: Dynamic range at lower ISO settings is excellent.

Samsung ex1 review

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CLEAN: Noise is barely visible up to ISO 400

Samsung ex1 review

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Samsung ex1 review

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WIDE ANGLE: The 24mm equivalent wide-angle is perfect for capturing a wider view.

Samsung ex1 review

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SHARP:The high quality Schneider lens produces sharp, detailed images.

Sensitivity and noise

Samsung ex1 review

Full ISO 80 image. See the cropped (zoomed to 100%) versions below.

Samsung ex1 review

ISO 80

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Samsung ex1 review iso 100

ISO 100

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Samsung ex1 review iso 200

ISO 200

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Samsung ex1 review iso 400

ISO 400

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Samsung ex1 review iso 800

ISO 800

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Samsung ex1 review iso 1600

ISO 1600

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Samsung ex1 review iso 3200

ISO 3200

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Verdict

Samsung ex1 review

Its comparatively low price and large range of features make the Samsung EX1 an interesting prospect for anyone looking for a low-light capable compact camera with manual controls. And used with care, it can deliver excellent results, especially when it comes to dynamic range at low ISO sensitivities.

Unfortunately the 10MP CCD sensor on the Samsung EX1 doesn't deliver the same kind of quality at high sensitivities that some of the latest backlit CMOS sensors do, with noise in shadow areas becoming an issue from ISO 800 onwards.

However, low light performance is still pretty good, thanks to the bright f/1.8 lens.

We liked

Good build quality, an excellent 3-inch screen, raw image recording, manual exposure control and excellent dynamic range at lower sensitivities are among the strongest features of the Samsung EX1.

Given its competitive price, if these features appeal to you, then it could be an excellent value purchase.

We disliked

Noise performance at high sensitivities isn't up to the level set by the latest backlit CMOS technology, so the Samsung EX1 may not be as suitable as other compact cameras for handheld shooting in low light.

The camera's fiddly rear control dial and slow continuous shooting speed may also be offputting for some.

Final verdict

If you're after a well-built camera with decent enough low light performance, with manual control, raw image recording, an excellent rotating screen and a wide angle zoom lens, then at £260, the Samsung EX1 may represent an excellent value choice.

With its main area of strength being the dynamic range it delivers at low ISO sensitivities, this could possibly be one of the best value pocket cameras for those who shoot landscapes regularly in good light, or at low ISO settings with a camera support.

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