Leading the way in merging camera technology with smartphone functionality, Samsung has taken the versatility offered by its popular 2012 Galaxy Camera to the next level: enter the Samsung Galaxy NX. The new 20MP DSLR-esque Compact System Camera (CSC) represents another leap forward for the brand, blending all of the benefits of interchangeable lenses and top-notch image quality with the sought-after connectivity provided by the latest Android OS.
It’s a logical step forward from the compact Galaxy Camera, but expectation of its development makes it no less impressive to behold. A unique proposition in its sector of the digital camera market, the idea of melding a smartphone interface with a CSC might not be to everyone’s taste. But, if the Galaxy NX performs as well in the real world as its specs suggest it should, this pint-sized powerhouse could very well herald the future for digital imaging.
Samsung’s own line of CSCs – the NX series – has earned a reputation for delivering user-friendly, compact styling with all of the benefits of having interchangeable lenses and manual control. IFA 2012 saw the debut of the Android OS-powered Samsung Galaxy Camera, a compact device that took the concept of instant image-sharing and social media integration to an unprecedented level. The new Samsung Galaxy NX combines the best bits of NX series with the connectivity offered by its flagship compact, a move no other manufacturer has attempted to make yet.
This unique proposition sits alongside Samsung’s core NX range of CSCs, powered by the Android 4.2 Jellybean OS and offering fast, reliable Wi-Fi and 3G/4G connectivity, as well as Bluetooth. Along with these unique features, Samsung hasn’t forgotten to ensure the image capture part of the package is up to scratch, too. You also get a whopping 4.8in capacitive touchscreen with an impressive resolution of 921k dots, a built-in EVF, Samsung i-Function compatibility and a 20.3MP CMOS APS-C sensor with a sensitivity range covering ISO 100-25,600 (the same as the NX300).
This feature-packed camera also offers a full HD (1920 x 1080) movie recording, plus a similarly impressive top continuous shooting speed of 8.6fps, fast maximum shutter speeds of up to 1/6000 sec and a combined phase- and contrast-detect (Hybrid) AF system. Like the recently-launched NX300, it’s Samsung’s DRIMe IV image signal processor that drives this camera’s performance and nudges it ahead of some 5fps DSLR rivals (the Canon EOS 700D, for example) when it comes to speed.
Returning to the Galaxy NX’s connectivity options, the camera offers a micro SIM card slot that allows users to purchase data-only monthly/pay-as-you-go SIM cards for faster sharing while you’re out and about. This negates the use of a Wi-Fi hotspot for uploading your captures. You also get 50GB of Dropbox storage space thrown in, while the novel ability to access the Google Play online store means you can download a vast array of handy apps directly to the camera, enabling instant retouching and customisation of your images using the likes of Photoshop Touch and Instagram.
Design and handling
Sporting a mini-DSLR-like form, the robust Galaxy NX is comfortable to hold and simple to operate. Although it’s primarily directed at the younger, social-media-loving sector of society, tech-savvy photographers with a little more experience should have no issues in getting to grips with it either.
The Samsung Galaxy NX looks much the same as the rest of the NX-series cameras – it’s only when you spin it around that you discover the total absence of any physical controls. The entire back panel has been given to that previously mentioned, colossal capacitive touchscreen. The only physical controls you do get are on the top panel: the power button, shutter release button, control dial and a flash button over to the left of the camera’s built-in flash and separate hotshoe.
There’s also a dedicated movie recording button for fast access to the camera’s HD video mode, as well as a diopter adjustment knob to the left of the camera’s EVF. If you attach a lens that’s graced with Samsung’s handy i-Function technology, you can make some quick adjustments to settings using the iFn button located on the side of the lens barrel. Otherwise, it’s all about the touchscreen.
The Galaxy NX’s chunky rubberised grip is ergonomically shaped for comfort, with an additional rear thumb grip affording a firm purchase and easy one-handed shooting. When it comes to operating the screen itself, things couldn’t be simpler. Granted, there’s a bit of a faff when setting up the camera for the first time, but once this has been dealt with you can quickly forget about it.
The Galaxy NX's LCD screen is quick to respond to screen taps, whether you’re navigating menu options or setting the focus point for your shot. Half-depressing the shutter-release button primes the AF system; this proves to be both responsive and accurate under a decent range of lighting conditions, regardless of whether it's an action shot or still subject you're capturing.
On paper, the Galaxy NX sports an impressive range of specifications that matches – or in some cases – exceeds the capabilities of its Compact System Camera peers. One area where the Galaxy NX falls a little short, however, is when working with its built-in EVF. The 0.46-inch offering is by no means poor, but it does seem to lack the clarity and detail offered by some competitors. The eye sensor that detects when the EVF is lifted to the user's eye can also be a bit sluggish at times, taking a moment to register and shut off the touchscreen when the EVF is required.
That said, the big, bold touchscreen on the back of the camera means you may not be often using the EVF, such is its level of detail and visibility under all but the brightest of lighting conditions. The only slight issue is that, when shooting stills, its 16:9 aspect ratio doesn’t marry with the sensor’s 3:2 format, although it really comes into its own when you fire up the HD movie mode.
In spite of all of the technology on board, the Galaxy NX’s high-capacity battery provides enough juice to shoot stills and video for respectable periods of time (roughly a day or so when shooting continuously). Extra features like the big screen, Wi-Fi and GPS don't prove to be the drain you might expect, although it should be noted that charging occurs in-camera, so you need to be prepared with a pre-charged spare or two if you’re going to subject it to heavy usage.
Wi-Fi connectivity isn’t a new thing for cameras, although the Android OS does a brilliant job of streamlining the process of uploading and sharing images. The added facility to browse the web and edit images in-camera are particularly noteworthy features: you can scout locations, look up photo tips or search for inspiration, then shoot, edit and share your own creations – all on the go.
In use, the Galaxy NX leaves little to complain about. The AF system is responsive and accurate, with a range of different modes available for capturing an array of still and moving subjects. The touch-focus facility is also very handy, making light work of identifying your target within the frame. The 8.6fps continuous burst mode is a welcome addition for action-packed situations, although the camera does slow down when it comes to writing files to the memory card. If you plan to make extensive use of this feature in particular, I'd suggest investing in the fastest card you can afford.
Strip the Galaxy NX of its headline-grabbing connectivity features and – unlike some multifunctional products – at its core there's still an excellent camera. The advantage over some of its rivals in terms of sensor size is a notable one, and this helps the Galaxy NX to produce some really impressive results.
Sporting the same sensor as the Samsung NX300, we expect the Galaxy NX to fare well when it comes to noise control – and it doesn't disappoint. Images are clean right the way up to ISO 800, with some noise starting to appear at around ISO 1600, although shots taken at this setting remain perfectly usable. Beyond this point noise is more noticeable, with some colour shifts at the upper end of the ISO scale. ISO 6400 is pushing things a bit if you want to make larger prints, but still adequate for smaller-format printing and sharing online.
The facility to shoot in a Raw format ensures you can get the very best out of the camera, while videographers benefit from full HD movie recording in MPEG4 (1920 x 1080 at 30fps). Stills and movies from the Galaxy NX generally impress, with punchy yet faithful colours and accurate metering evident in shots taken in a range of lighting conditions. Dynamic range in JPEGs taken straight out of the camera is pleasing, although Raw files provide the best opportunity to make the most of the sensor’s capabilities.
The kit lens provided with the Galaxy NX is pretty good, offering the standard 18-55mm focal range that covers a good range of everyday shooting situations. The barrel feels a little plasticky, but the optic feels well-balanced when mounted on the camera body and puts in a decent enough optical performance. There is some evidence of chromatic aberration in some high-contrast scenes, plus some of the barrel distortion you’d expect at the wider end of the lens’s focal range, but nothing better or worse than your average kit lens from any manufacturer. One notable feature is the previously-mentioned iFn button located on the left side of the lens barrel – this is a handy addition if you want to make quick alterations to shooting settings.
The Samsung Galaxy NX has plenty to offer the budding enthusiast. Whether you’re into the social networking/sharing side of things or not, the Galaxy NX is still – in essence – an excellent everyday camera for those that prefer to travel light. It delivers some impressive specs that are capable of rivalling some DSLRs (as well as its natural CSC competitors), and combines a user-friendly interface, solid build and attractive styling with a plethora of high-tech gadgetry to boot.
The one bugbear we must mention is the price. Yes it boasts an APS-C sized sensor, yes it can do all sorts of clever things with its connectivity features, but does all of this add up to £1299 (including kit lens)? For this you could bag yourself a high-spec DSLR or CSC, such as the NX300, with a few extra accessories (although it's worth pointing out that this price does include a complimentary copy of Adobe Lightroom 5). As with most things, the Galaxy NX’s perceived value-for-money will very much depend on your priorities.
If you want a lightweight, decent all-round camera that you can use to shoot, edit and share images without having to go near a computer, the Galaxy NX certainly fits the bill. If all you’re after is a no-frills camera that simply produces great images then – at least until the camera’s street price starts to settle – there are better deals to be had elsewhere. The Galaxy NX is still in new territory in the field of digital imaging technology, but based on what we've seen so far we’re very excited to see what Samsung brings us next.
- Great image quality
- Android OS makes operation effortless and enjoyable
- Wi-Fi + additional connectivity features
- High-resolution, responsive touchscreen
- Impressive AF system
- Only average optical performance from kit lens
- Hefty price tag
- Built-in EVF could be improved
Samsung Galaxy NX: Key specifications
- 20.MP APS-C CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-25,600
- DRIMe IV processing engine
- Full HD (1920 x 1080) video, MPEG-4, stereo sound recording
- 4.8-inch HD TFT LCD, ScLCD (C-type Touch Control Enabled), 1280 x 720 (HD) resolution
- SVGA (480k dot) electronic viewfinder
- Raw and JPEG capture modes
- 30 - 1/6000 sec shutter speeds plus bulb
- PASM, User, My Mode, Auto, Smart exposure modes
- Continuous high-speed burst at 8.6fps (JPEG high), Normal (up to 5fps)
- SD, SDHC, SDXC (16GB internal memory)
- 495g (including battery)
- 137 x 101 x 26 mm
About the Author
Josie Reavely is a Hampshire-based technical journalist. You can view more of Josie's work on her website