Samsung NX1, a dream camera to fit my tiny hands?

By July 9, 2015Blog, Events, Portrait
20150707-samsung nx1-_MG_4013- Bibi Veth

I am sucker for testing new gear – photography related gear that is. And these days there are loads of new cameras and lenses with brand new shiny technologies I like to get my hands on: Sony A7(r ii), Leica Q and Fuji Xt-1 to name a few. For seven years, when I picked up a camera for the first time, I have been a Canon user. Don’t ask why! It is what I knew best and I just went with it. But, lately the chunki- and heaviness of my beloved 5D is starting to annoy me a bit. As a prime-only user, it means I have to do my job with two cameras to not miss a shot. I can assure you, being a rather tiny girl swinging around with my camera, lunging and squatting like crazy to get a good shot, it feels a bit like weightlifting. I want something fast, sharp with an excellent performance that fits my small hands. And more importantly, as an event/documentary photographer, I like to be inconspicuous. I mean, there is nothing inconspicuous about flashing a big black box called 5D mark-something in your face. So, when I got the change to test the mirrorless Samsung NX1, I was quite excited. Not because it is so inconspicuous – far from, sorry – but it is a lightweight camera with shiny technology. What’s not to like?

Anyway, I used to be quite the mirror snob. A mirrorless camera that isn’t full frame? A year ago that wouldn’t even get near my house. No, a camera was supposed to be a full frame – still does, to be honest – and it has to have a mirror, because reasons. But these days cameras are getting better, sensors are getting better and the performance is getting way better. I’ve had my eye on Sony’s A7-series for a long time, reading all the reviews being published. And somewhere in between I forgot about other cameras, like the Samsung NX1 for example… Whoops!

I know one of my colleagues, Jöran Maaswinkel, has been using the NX1 for some time now and is wildly enthusiastic about it. But I was still in the mirror-phase. The NX1 got my attention again when I had to pay Chipclean a visit to clean my cameras and calibrate my lenses. Ton, the owner, is a Samsung-ambassador and while I was waiting for my gear, he gave me his NX1 to play with for a bit. “I would like to test this camera to see how it performs during events”, I said. Because, out of sheer curiosity, I like to know what I am talking about and know the different cameras that are out there. Luckily, he got me in contact with Samsung and a week later I got about a week with NX1, with some nice lenses, 50-150mm f2.8, 85mm f1.4 and a 16-50mm f2.0-2.8, to play with.

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For events and documentaries, speed and accuracy are crucial aspects of a camera. If there is a lag in any way, you will miss an important shot. If I want to even think about replacing my second Canon for a mirrorless, this camera needs to be at least those things, and of course way more.

A week with Samsung NX1
No, this is not quite a review, and certainly not a blog, about all the specifications of the camera. First of all, I am not that kind of tech nerd. And second, don’t you think there are enough reviews about the amount of megapixels a camera has? It is really easy to test a camera and a bunch of lenses in optimal light conditions. But I want to know how a camera performs under the circumstances I have to work in, during events with extremely difficult light. I’ll try to be as honest as possible. But please keep in mind, this is all based on my experiences and my opinion of how a camera should perform. Having said that, how was my week with the NX1? Can it be my dream camera?

Lets start with the things I am overall pleasantly surprised with. The NX1 is sturdy and has great ergonomics, it feels good in your hands. The body itself is very lightweight – yay – but combined with the heavy lenses it makes it still a bit too heavy for my taste (frowny face). The handling of the body is easy, customisable and intuitive. There are a few quirks I am actually quite excited about, and maybe I’ll even go so far as to call some features brilliant.

Normally, I am not a fan of using live view. But Samsung made it more convenient by giving it a touch screen. I can set the focus with one finger and even take the photo by touching the screen. I can even point out an area to focus on and another to use for the exposure. It works fast and is easy accessible.

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I may sound like a noob for saying it out loud, but I do like the tilting display. I wish every pro cam has it, because it comes in handy when you want to take low or hip shots. I am the doofus that lies down on her belly or standing in the most dancelike acrobatic and silly poses to get the shot from whatever viewpoint I have in mind. Sorry, guilty! A tilting display will save both my back and my clothes.

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One of the features I think is brilliant is actually on the lens. Samsung calls it the i-Function control. This feature enables me, with one push on the lens’s button and a turn of the value ring, to cycle through and adjust the iso, exposure value, aperture and shutter speed. I don’t even have to take my eyes off the shot, because it is displayed through the electronic viewfinder (EVF). Once again, easy, fast and very accessible. Yes, of course when you know your camera well you can adjust blindly. However, I still think it is a brilliant feature, especially for amateur/beginner photographers. So there!

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Speaking of the EVF. The EVF works nice, it enlarges the image, but it has a slight lag when releasing the shutter button. Even with its slight lag and making me a bit queasy in the beginning, I have to say that – out of habit – I used the viewfinder more often than the screen on the back.

Stadsleven through the eyes of Samsung NX1
I tested this sturdy little fella during one of my monthly events Stadsleven. The light conditions are always a challenge. It’s either too dark or too many wrong colours. I hate red and purple light, yuk…so not flattering. Below you can see some of the ‘test’ shots I took using a 50-150mm f2.8 and a 85mm f1.4. Keeping in mind that the NX1 is a crop camera. I thought it was a nice range for a semi-large space.

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1/250, @2.8, iso 1000, 78mm (NX 50-150mm S)
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1/250, @2.8, iso 1000, 50mm (NX 50-150mm S)
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1/125, @2.8, iso 2500, 85mm (NX 50-150mm S)

 
Like I said before, speed, accuracy and low light performance are crucial especially for events. The autofocus is incredibly fast, but – yes, there is a but – only if there is enough light and the subjects aren’t moving too much. During low or difficult light it was quite a challenge to get the shot in focus. The autofocus would hunt quite a bit. However, when the light is good the AF is superfast and almost matches the speed of a DSLR.

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1/125, @2.8, iso 2500, 85mm (NX 50-150mm S)
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1/250, @2.8, iso 1250, 68mm (NX 50-150mm S)
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1/100, @2.0, iso 3200, 85mm (NX 85mm 1.4)

 
To be honest, I liked the 85mm f1.4 better. It is way faster and sharper than the 50-150mm, and it has a nice DOF. Of course a 1.4 is great when shooting under dimmed lighting conditions. Especially because it enables me to dial down the iso. The lower the iso, the better. I am not fond of noise.

Sometimes it is unavoidable to take shots on iso 2500, 3200 or > 4000, even if you have a 1.4 or a 2.0 lens. But the NX1 tends to get rather noisy above 2500, a bit too much to my liking.

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1/250, @2.0, iso 3200, 85mm (NX 85mm 1.4)
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1/250, @2.8, iso 1250, 78mm (NX 50-150mm S)
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1/250, @2.8, iso 1250, 78mm (NX 50-150mm S)

Kitty and Samsung NX1
That same week I shot some portraits of the 91 yo Kitty, for one of Haarlem municipalities projects Haarlem Heroes. This sweet and strong woman has helpt others all her life as an informal caretaker which is why my colleague and I had to do an interview with her and take some photographs. I wanted to test the NX1 under these circumstances as well and find out how it would hold up.

I have to say it performs well under ‘normal’ conditions. Even when you have a lot of back light! I did have to turn up the EV to +6 in Av mode to get some well lit images. For these portraits I used Samsung’s 16-50 2.0-2.8. I’d rather have it have 2.0 all the way, but okay.

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1/80, @2.8, iso 500, 50mm (NX 16-50mm f2/2.8 S)
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1/50, @2.8, iso 800, 35mm (NX 16-50mm f2/2.8 S)
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1/100, @3.5, iso 500, 40mm (NX 16-50mm f2/2.8 S)

 
I am glad that the NX1, like my Mark iii, is near silent. I can be like a fly on the wall and be inconspicuous. Which is quite helpful especially during events. In a normally lit room the AF is superfast without any lag whatsoever. I was also pleasantly surprised about the quality of the 16-50mm. Well, it is a Premium lens, so it supposedly has to be good right? Fortunately, it is true. I like that it is fast, sharp and accurate. 9 Out 10 images are sharp and well focused. And shot on 2.5/.8 it adds a nice softness to the images. Yes, I can say I like the character of the images. It isn’t as contrasty, raw and edgy as I like them to be, but we can tweak that with Photoshop, Lightroom and whatnots. Still, it has a nice 80’ish vibe about it. Also, the live view and touch screen come in handy if I have to interact with my model, I can keep focussing and shooting while looking my model in the eye to keep the nerves down.

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1/125, @2.2, iso 800, 22mm (NX 16-50mm f2/2.8 S)
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1/125, @2.0, iso 500, 18mm (NX 16-50mm f2/2.8 S)
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1/160, @2.0, iso 800, 16mm (NX 16-50mm f2/2.8 S)
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1/200, @2.8, iso 800, 40mm (NX 16-50mm f2/2.8 S)

Conclusion
Do I like the NX1? To this I can whole-heartedly say yes I do. It is a small, sturdy beast and you can make exceptional photos without any hassle. It is a great camera for those who are about to jump into their first camera, who want to step up from a compact to a quality camera or want to jump into mirrorless over DLSR without spending a fortune (€2500 for the body + 16-50mm f2/2.8). For those who already own a DSLR camera and are looking for a second smaller go-to camera, this isn’t it. In the end it is still a big black box. But, did I find my dream camera? Well, it wouldn’t replace my 5D at moment, even if I think it is a nice cam. I like to have a smaller full frame camera which delivers crisp, raw and low noise images and speed under any conditions. Still, Samsung did a great job here staying on top of the ever changing market.

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