Samsung Galaxy NX £1299
22nd Oct 2013 | 16:05
Up close and personal with the world's first Android CSC
Update: After taking on board the negative feedback mentioned in our original Samsung Galaxy NX review, the company has updated the firmware, which will be available to download for free in the near future. We have retested a new sample of the Galaxy NX with the updated firmware installed and changed our review accordingly. You can still read the original problems in this review, with the text highlighting where improvements have been made.
The Samsung Galaxy NX was finally unveiled in all its Android 4.2 Jelly Bean-powered glory in June 2013, and we've now had a chance to test the camera fully.
Samsung was one of the first manufacturers to launch a compact system camera, unveiling the first device fitted with an APS-C sized sensor back in 2010 with the original Samsung NX10. Since then, several iterations of the NX brand have been unveiled, while the rest of the manufacturers now have at least one CSC in their arsenal.
There were a fair number of rumours that the company would introduce a version of the NX loaded with the Android operating system ever since the compact Samsung Galaxy Camera was announced last year. The Samsung Galaxy NX was launched alongside the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, a hybrid phone/compact camera.
The Samsung Galaxy NX combines the high quality features of the NX range, most notably the large (APS-C format), 20.3 million-pixel APS-C sized sensor, with the operability and fun of the Android Jelly Bean OS.
Like Sony and Panasonic, Samsung is an electronics giant and not a dedicated camera manufacturer. As such, it tends to do things a little differently, just because it can. The Samsung Galaxy NX is the world's first interchangeable lens camera to feature Android and 4G connectivity - but how long before the other manufacturers follow suit?
Best compact system camera
Inevitably, people will be questioning the merits of a camera fitted with Android, or wonder if it will also be capable of making telephone calls. What the Samsung Galaxy NX camera does, in theory at least, is combine high quality image making with the current desire to instantly edit and share your photographs as soon as is humanly possible.
By making a camera with Wi-Fi and 3G/4G connectivity and fitting it with the Android OS - for which there are hundreds, if not thousands, of ready-made apps - this kind of camera should meet a new kind of desire for the best of both worlds. Apps such as the ubiquitous Instagram, along with the dozens of Instagram-a-likes out there, make it easy to give your images a vintage or retro feel and upload them for sharing with your networks.
Along with the standout features of the sensor and Android OS, the Samsung Galaxy NX also has a number of other interesting specs.
It's fitted with a Drime IV Image Signal Processor, which Samsung says gives it speed and accuracy.
The number of NX range lenses is growing, and although Samsung doesn't yet match the breadth of options available from the Micro Four-Thirds cohorts of Panasonic and Olympus, there are still a decent number.
At launch, it seemed likely that the Galaxy NX would occupy the same kind of territory as mid-range CSCs such as the Panasonic G6, but with the official price at a whopping £1300/US$1700, it seems that Samsung is aiming higher, making this a competitor for the likes of the Sony NEX-7, Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Panasonic GH3.
Build quality and handling
Samsung has gone for the DSLR-type styling, rather than flatter, compact style of cameras we've seen from the company of late. A chunky grip makes the camera easier to hold than some of the other NX cameras and helps it to feel secure in the hand, especially when shooting one-handed. That said, the chunky look won't be to everybody's taste, and definitely takes some getting used to.
This isn't really a camera that you can use one handed for long periods of time, due to the size and nature of the screen. You'll need one hand to hold the camera and another to operate the touchscreen.
On the back of the camera there are no buttons, since instead the entire rear is taken up by the extremely large 4.8-inch touchscreen TFT. This is much larger than the usual 3-inch displays found on most compact system cameras and DSLRs, and certainly is a striking look.
How to use your new digital camera
The only physical buttons on the camera can be found on top of it, where you'll find the shutter release, a button for lifting the inbuilt flash and a video record button. There's also a dial that can offer a number of different functions, depending on what you're doing with the camera. It can be used to switch between the various modes, such as shutter or aperture priority, or it can be used to jog between different apertures, shutter speeds and so on, once you've selected this parameter on the touchscreen.
By default, scrolling the dial independently will switch between the different exposure modes, but you can also customise the dial to control various key functions such as aperture and sensitivity. Pushing the dial inwards will switch between these different parameters once this mode is set.
By default, the camera switches to sleep mode after 30 seconds. That's quite brief and it takes a little while to warm back up again when you need to use it. With the original firmware installed, we tried switching it to a longer period, but even though it was changed in the menu, it still switched off after 30 seconds - Samsung has now rectified this problem and the sleep timer length can now be changed.
From completely off, the start-up time of the Galaxy NX is pretty slow - being akin to a smartphone or tablet. We're talking about 20 seconds or more to go from off to ready to shoot - not very useful when trying to capture a fleeting moment. To get around this, you can use the camera in sleep mode - Samsung says that battery drain is extremely minimal so it's a good alternative to turning it completely on and off.
Fairly responsive and quick to use, the touchscreen on the back of the camera can be used to control every aspect of the camera's settings. In order to make a change to aperture for instance, you could touch the aperture display on the back of the screen, then swipe with your finger to alter the setting. Initially, the area you need to swipe is quite small, it's easy to be frustratingly inaccurate. Again however, Samsung has enlarged the area to help with this problem. A combination of using the touchscreen and the scrolling dial is probably the most sensible approach.
When using the camera in "professional" mode, touching a cog icon on the screen brings up the menu. The first screen contains a quick way to access various photographic settings, including metering and white balance. When using the camera in "standard" mode, this screen isn't present and you'll have to delve further into the menu, or use the iFunction lens button.
One of the benefits of a touchscreen is the ability to set the focus point anywhere you like quickly and easily. While it's true that you can do that on the Galaxy NX, there initially seemed to be no way of keeping an AF point active with the original version of the camera. Press a point on the screen, take your shot, and hey presto, the point would return to the centre if using Centre AF, or to a different point if using multi-AF. It was pretty annoying having to place the point back to where you wanted it if you're shooting multiple images, for instance when working on a portrait. Happily Samsung has rectified this problem and the active AF point will remain active where you've left it.
Unfortunately though, it is impossible to change the autofocus point when using the viewfinder, meaning you'll need to remove the camera from your eye, set the focus point, then place it back. It's a process that is handled much better by other cameras, including Panasonic's TouchPad AF found on the G5, G6 and GX7 – that allows you to continue to use the touchscreen to set the AF point even when using the viewfinder. Alternatively, other cameras with buttons allow you to change the point while using the viewfinder. It's something that can quickly get very frustrating, so we'd probably recommend using the centre AF point and focusing and recomposing for the majority of your shots.
If you're using one of Samsung's innovative iFunction lenses, then the lack of buttons is less of a problem, since you'll be able to make many changes to aperture, shutter speed and so on via the lens itself. If you're not a fan of touchscreens, though, this really isn't the camera for you.
One difficulty we've found is that when viewing images in playback mode, the virtual delete button is at the top right hand corner of the screen, which means if you're holding the camera by the grip, it can be easy to accidentally hit the delete button. It won't delete since you'll be prompted with a confirmation box, but it is annoying.
If you've been shooting in JPEG and raw format, when playing back images, you'll see two images displayed. This makes it a little tedious to scroll through, and isn't something we've seen on any other recent camera. You also can't display lots of images on screen to navigate though quickly – the best you'll get is a timeline of images at the bottom of the screen, this makes accessing an image you took a while ago pretty time consuming.
To get to the Android portion of the Samsung Galaxy NX, you'll need to tap a Home icon on the screen. From here, it's pretty much like using any other Android-powered device, and you'll find a number of pre-installed options, as well as the ability to add any app you like from the Google Play store.
Initially, it seemed that the camera wouldn't work with some apps. For instance, when using Instagram, the camera wouldn't focus, so you could only really use images you've already taken. It's as if the Android section of the Galaxy NX was entirely separate from the camera section of it, which seems to miss the point a little. Samsung has fixed this problem with the new firmware, making apps such as Instagram more compatible - it will now focus before a shot is taken.
Unlike many of the compact system cameras on the market, Samsung has included an electronic viewfinder (EVF) on the Galaxy NX. In terms of resolution and size, this is a very impressive device, with a sensor included to help produce a seamless transition from using the touchscreen to using the viewfinder - it automatically switches as you bring it to your eye.
The electronic viewfinder itself is very crisp and clear, and it's almost as good as using a traditional optical viewfinder. One of the benefits of using an EVF over an OVF is that you can see any changes you make as they happen, while you can also view images played back, helping you to determine whether or not you've nailed the shot much quicker than having to remove the camera from your eye frequently.
Samsung has been sticking with the same sensor for quite some time now for its NX range of cameras. It's a pretty good performer, so it's not hard to see why.
Colours are excellently reproduced, being rich and vibrant without excessive saturation. Similarly, the amount of detail captured by the camera is impressive with the right lens attached. 20 million pixels also means you can crop a picture and still retain a good resolution.
Samsung's general purpose metering does a good job in the majority of situations, including some high contrast scenes. If you're finding that the camera is struggling slightly, switching to spot metering is beneficial.
The Galaxy NX comes packaged with an 18-55mm f/3.5 – 5.6 lens as standard. It's a reasonably good performer for a kit lens and makes for a decent carry-around lens. Images taken with it are sharp and detailed, and there's little sign of chromatic aberration or fringing.
Focusing is quick, though it still doesn't quite match the exceptionally quick speeds of the Panasonic and Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras. Although accuracy is generally good, there were times when the first version of the camera's firmware that it didn't seem capable of picking the most appropriate autofocus point. For instance, while shooting a portrait, the camera would often choose to focus on a tree behind the model we were shooting. This was especially frustrating considering that even after setting the AF point yourself, the camera would reset after each shot is taken. In the new firmware upgrade, Samsung says that it has improved the focusing algorithm to make it more accurate. We found that to be true for the most part, with the camera accurately focusing on the area of the frame we wanted it to when letting it select its own AF point.
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One of the biggest problems with the first version of the Galaxy NX was its processing speeds, with raw files sometimes taking up to 10 seconds write. The latest firmware appears to fix this a little, but speeds are still a little slower than we'd like. However, the problem of randomly dropping raw files seems to have disappeared, which is excellent news.
At first, we found shooting in "professional" mode, meant that after changing a setting, such as sensitivity, subsequent shots were not saved. The ability to take shots is obviously a fundamental part of the camera experience and so we were extremely pleased to see this problem fixed.
Unlike other models in the NX range, the number of creative options is a bit more limited. Perhaps this is because of the greater possibilities to download apps from the Google Play store if you want to edit shots. You can shoot panoramic shots though, which is good fun. Panoramic images are quite low resolution, but they're certainly good enough for sharing online and so on. Double exposures are also possible. It's worth exploring the different areas of the camera if you want to get a bit more creative, and of course, the amount of interesting photographic apps available for Android is pretty big.
Images are very good throughout the ISO 100-1600 range, with low noise and lots of detail. Above this, images are fine at small printing or web sharing sizes. At high sensitivities, such as ISO 3200, noise remains fairly low, but there is evidence of image smoothing and loss of detail.
The large screen is one of the selling points of the Galaxy NX, however it does suffer from glare and reflections, especially when using it in bright sunlight. Because you can't articulate or tilt the screen, it can be difficult to see what you're composing, and perhaps worse, the settings you're trying to change, in these conditions.
As you might expect, a camera which includes the Android operating system, requires a hefty battery life. The physical size and weight of the battery helps to explain the huge proportions of the camera. It's a decent performer, lasting almost all day, but less if you're using the Android portion of the camera a lot.
Image Quality and Resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Samsung Galaxy NX, 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 Samsung Galaxy NX is capable of resolving up to around 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files with the 18-55mm kit lens mounted.
For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
ISO 100, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 6400, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 12800, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 25,600, score:10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 100, score: 26 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 26 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 26 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 6400, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 12800, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 25600, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image).
Noise and dynamic range
As part of our testing 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.
We have retested the Galaxy NX with the new firmware applied. Results do appear better, but not significantly so.
JPEG signal to noise ratio
The chart indicates that the Samsung Galaxy NX has performed moderately well, beating the Sony NEX-7 at its lowest sensitivity of ISO 100. In the mid ranges, it is beaten by all of the other cameras on test, aside from ISO 800-1600 where it very closely matches the Olympus OM-D. At the higher end of the scale, it beats the Sony NEX-7 by some margin but, competes very closely with the other cameras on test.
Raw signal to noise ratio
When shooting in raw format, the Galaxy NX doesn't compare as well, being beaten by all of the other cameras on test at every sensitivity. At higher sensitivities, it is reasonably close to the Panasonic GH3, but it is well below the Olympus OM-D and Sony NEX-7 at the lower end of the scale.
JPEG dynamic range
Again the charts show that the Galaxy NX was not able to perform as well as the other cameras on test, being beaten at every sensitivity apart from ISO 200 where it is almost identical to the Panasonic GH3. It is quite marginally below the Sony NEX-7, at the lower end of the sensitivity scale, catching up at the higher end. The Olympus OM-D performs the most consistently here.
Raw dynamic range
It's a similar story with the raw dynamic range results, although the camera does more closely match with the Panasonic GH3, even beating it throughout most of the sensitivity run. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 is the best performer here, outperforming the Galaxy NX by some margin at every sensitivity.
The Samsung Galaxy NX comes equipped with an 18-55mm kit lens as standard. It puts in a decent performance, and makes for a good carry-around lens.
Use the touchscreen to set the AF point where you want to focus. If you're using the electronic viewfinder you'll lose control over the AF point selection, with the camera deciding for you.
The large sensor on the Samsung Galaxy NX helps to produce creative shallow depth of field effects.
The Samsung Galaxy NX's sensor is capable of resolving plenty of detail.
Colours directly from the Samsung Galaxy NX are well represented, without being overly saturated.
The Samsung Galaxy NX is compatible with the full range of NX-mount lenses, of which there are now quite a few. Several interesting prime lenses are available, including a 20mm f/2.8 optic.
The automatic white balance system does a good job of producing accurate colours in the majority of conditions.
Using fully automatic mode is a good way to let the camera take control over settings, leaving you free to worry about composition.
Creating a panoramic image is easy to do from the smart menu. Simply select the Panoramic mode and hold down the shutter release button, while sweeping the camera across the scene either from left to right or up and down.
Another creative option is Double Exposure mode.
Since the Samsung Galaxy NX is equipped with the Android Jelly Bean operating system, you can download a huge number of apps to edit and manipulate your photos. This, for instance, has been created with the ubiquitous Instagram.
Sensitivity and noise images
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 12800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 25600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
The Galaxy NX was a camera that we want to like, but unfortunately when it first went on sale it seemed like it was just not quite finished. However, now that a new firmware update has been issued, it's a much, much more appealing prospect.
There's still a few quirks you'll need to get past, and if you can you've then got the huge asking price for the camera. For the same price, you can get some seriously impressive kit from other brands, so while it was initially almost impossible to recommend this camera to anyone, it's now recommendable to those who are in the market for something a bit different. It will be a interesting decision to make, and ultimately it will be interesting to see whether Android is an appealing enough factor to justify a high asking price for consumers.
Samsung's NX sensor is once again capable of producing excellent images which are finely detailed and display excellent colours. The range of NX lenses is growing, and there are some interesting prime optics available at the moment if you want to expand your range.
Including a full Android operating system on the camera is an excellent idea, in theory at least. It means that you have the instant sharing capability of your smartphone for your high quality images. The myriad of apps available to download also make it quite an attractive prospect, especially when it comes to image editing.
In theory, there's a lot to like about this camera. The huge screen makes images really shine, and makes it nice to use when working with various Android apps. Image quality is also good, when you can get the camera to work as you want it to.
Initially there was a lot to dislike about the camera, but with a new firmware update, Samsung has managed to iron out a lot of its biggest problems. We'd still like there to be a way to change autofocus point when using the viewfinder, and of course, the high asking price is still offputting.
Ultimately, despite the undoubted improvements, we're still not entirely sure who this camera is aimed at. The professional who has this kind of money to spend on gear like this may get easily frustrated by some of the handling aspects of the camera, while the beginner who is likely to be tempted by the large screen and Android operating system is unlikely to want to spend this kind of cash.
Now that Samsung has fixed a good deal of the major problems of the camera, we can recommend it if it's something you're in the market for - which admittedly is probably a niche market. It will be interesting to see if there will be even further improvement for the next generation of the Galaxy NX. Watch this space.
First reviewed 12 September 2013.