Samsung Galaxy NX Review
It's long been rumored, and it's finally happened: the interchangeable-lens camera has just stepped into the modern, connected world and become a smart device! With the Samsung Galaxy NX, Korean consumer electronics powerhouse Samsung has taken the smarts of a smartphone and the expandability of a mirrorless camera to create a single, coherent product.
Building on experience. The Samsung Galaxy NX, not surprisingly, draws much from the company's experience not only with smartphones -- a section of the market in which it has a dominant presence -- but also from 2012's fixed-lens Galaxy Camera. Like that model, the Galaxy NX runs Google's Linux-based Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system, which offers not only a powerful, connected feature set of its own, but can also be extended to do almost anything courtesy of a vast array of third-party apps.
It's that extendability, along with the Samsung Galaxy NX's built-in 3G / 4G LTE and Wi-Fi wireless connectivity that make it exciting. Sure, you could probably slap an Eye-Fi card in your current SLR or mirrorless camera, and pair it to your existing smartphone, and many of us do -- but the experience is clumsy, and that makes it far too easy to leave a photo on your camera that might otherwise have been tweaked and shared with friends and family on social networks.
An all-in-one imaging powerhouse. The Galaxy NX is an all-in-one device that takes away the hurdle of working with multiple devices. Whatever your Android smartphone can do -- at least, with the exception of standard voice calling -- the Galaxy NX should be able to do as well. A bundled Photo Suggest app lets the Galaxy NX recommend popular photo spots and guide you to them. When you're there, you can grab your photo using Samsung's camera interface, or if you prefer you can opt for a third-party app that provides the features and layout you need. And unlike Nikon's Coolpix S800c, which didn't provide access even to basics like the full camera resolution or optical zoom, the Galaxy NX lets third part apps get at its full camera feature set, via an interface called Camera Studio, though depending on the app used, it might down-res the image (for example, Snapseed resizes images to 2,736 x 1,824 pixels.)
And then, once you've shot your photo, you can view it, tweak it, and share it to the likes of Facebook or Instagram. Ditto videos, which can be uploaded to YouTube straight from the camera, so long as you're in range of a mobile data connection or Wi-Fi network. There's also a Story Album tool which creates digital photo books from your shots, which can be shared with and viewed on other devices. And when you're done, you can use the Galaxy NX check your email or browse the web.
Extendability. And that's just a snippet of what you can do with the bundled apps. Hop onto the Google Play store or Samsung's AllShare Play, and an endless selection of apps extend that functionality still further. Want to navigate your way to the location of a past photo? You can. Perhaps you'd like to translate some text in one of your images? Not a problem. That's the delight of working with a smart device: new uses crop up almost on a daily basis -- you're not limited to the feature-set your camera had the day you bought it.
Think back to the likely reasons why you chose an interchangeable-lens camera in the first place -- the ability to build a system of lenses and accessories which would extend the capabilities of your camera beyond that of a mere fixed-lens model -- and you realize that a similar degree of expandability on the inside could prove to be a very exciting thing. And if past experience is anything to go by, you may even be able to look forward to third-party ROMs that could restyle or even radically alter the entire user interface of your camera. It happens on Android smartphones, and Samsung has proven uncommonly supportive of such efforts by releasing the necessary source code to make life easier for the hacker types amongst us.
Pricing and availability. When originally released in October 2013, the suggested list price was US$1,599.99 body-only, and US$1,699.99 for the kit with 18-55mm OIS lens. MSRP has since dropped $300 to US$1,299.99 for the body and US$1,399.99 for the kit.
That still makes the Galaxy NX the most expensive NX-series camera by quite some margin, but it was only to be expected: You're essentially purchasing a complex camera and smart device in one, and although Google doesn't charge for its Android operating system, the hardware needed to run it is not inexpensive. Take a look at the pricetag of even a fairly basic smartphone without carrier subsidy, and it was clear that just the smarts of the Galaxy NX were going to come at a cost.
Samsung Galaxy NX Hands-on Preview
First impressions of a prototype
Look at the 20.3-megapixel Samsung Galaxy NX from the front and you may think it's a DSLR, but once you turn it around and see its impressive, 4.8-inch high-definition screen, you'll know it's something different all together. Of course, the Galaxy NX is not a DSLR at all. It's a mirrorless, compact system camera with cellular connectivity -- both 3G and 4G LTE -- and that massive touchscreen on back has its roots in smartphones. It's also the first interchangeable lens camera to run Google's Android 4.2.2 (Jelly Bean) operating system, making the Galaxy NX a truly unique device. And working with the camera, too, is a unique experience.
I got some hands-on time with a prototype Samsung Galaxy NX yesterday and I found it to be both wonderful, and at the same time a bit confounding. But first off, it's important to emphasize that the camera I shot with was not a finished model, and all early impressions should be taken with a grain of salt. It's also worth noting that I'm an iPhone user, although I have used and reviewed Android smartphones in the past. I'm also quite well versed in Samsung's "traditional" NX-series compact system cameras, which the Galaxy NX is partially based on, having reviewed several of them for Imaging Resource.
Click to read more of our Samsung Galaxy NX Hands-on Preview!
Samsung Galaxy NX Technical Info
Under the hood
Sensor. The Samsung Galaxy NX uses the exact same image sensor as in the NX300. It's an APS-C sized CMOS chip with an effective resolution of 20.3 megapixels, but what's more important is that it provides 105 on-chip phase detection points to allow for a hybrid autofocus system.
Maximum resolution of the Samsung NX's image sensor is 5,472 x 3,648 pixels.
Processor. Also like the NX300, the Samsung NX is based around a DRIMe IV-branded image signal processor that is distinct from the 1.6 GHz quad-core processor used to power the camera's smart functionality.
Performance. The pairing of sensor and processor combine to allow a swift manufacturer-rated burst shooting performance of 8.6 frames per second. (It wasn't quite that fast in our lab tests, but it managed 8.2 fps for JPEGs and 7.8 fps for RAW files.)
Click to read more Samsung Galaxy NX technical info!
Shooting with the Samsung Galaxy NX
An awkward convergence of ILC and smartphone
The Samsung Galaxy NX is in many ways the pinnacle of smartphone photography -- it's literally an ILC (Interchangeable Lens Camera) with essentially a fully functional Samsung smartphone embedded in it. (Standard voice calls are not supported, however VoIP calls are of course possible.) Yes, that means SIM card (T-Mobile Data SIMs only in the U.S.), lenses, exposed sensor, Android, the whole nine yards. The problem? It's an awkward marriage of styles, which I had hoped would combine the best features of both, but instead left me feeling distinctly dissatisfied on both fronts.
At its core, the Galaxy NX is a pair of brilliant devices. Fundamentally, the camera side of the equation is excellent. Samsung makes good use of its APS-C sensor for sharp, low-noise images that are on par with a solid entry to mid-level mirrorless or DSLR camera. It has a great grip that most photographers will love for long shooting sessions. The touchscreen is huge, bright, and extremely high quality. You can see it clearly even in bright sunlight, and the inclusion of the full Android operating system means that you can tap into an untold number of alternative apps to edit, share, and use your images -- plus you can use it for all manner of non-photography related tasks.
Read our Samsung Galaxy NX Shooter's Report!
Samsung Galaxy NX Image Quality Comparison
Can it compete with dedicated APS-C cameras?
Here we have crops from our laboratory Still Life target comparing the Samsung Galaxy NX against the Samsung NX30, Canon 70D, Fujifilm X-T1, Nikon D7100 and Sony A6000. All of these models sit at relatively similar price points and/or category in their respective product lineups. The only exception is the A6000, but it uses Sony's latest 24-megapixel APS-C sensor and BIONZ X processor, shared with the similarly priced A77 II.
These comparisons were somewhat tricky to write, as the cameras vary a great deal in resolution, so bear that in mind as you're reading and drawing your own conclusions. (We generally try to match cameras in these comparisons based on price, given that most of us work to a budget, rather than setting out to buy a given number of megapixels.)
NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses. Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera.
See our Image Quality Comparison!
Samsung Galaxy NX Print Quality
How does it look on paper?
The Samsung Galaxy NX is an impressive camera when it comes to print quality and resolution. At base ISO and 200, the Galaxy NX's 20MP APS-C sensor is able to handle prints all the way up to 36 x 48 inches and wall-mountable at 40 x 60! Highly detailed with excellent color reproduction, the prints at these low ISOs are fantastic. Even at the mid-range higher ISOs, like 1600 and 3200, the Galaxy NX produces very good 16 x 20 and 13 x 19 inch prints, respectably. While noise reduction, by default, is quite aggressive, it does very well at removing practically any and all hints of grain, while leaving most of the fine detail intact (NR is most noticeable in the shadow areas). It's only at the very high ISOs levels that the noise and heavy NR take their toll on fine detail, making ISO 12,800 the maximum sensitivity with an acceptable print at 4 x 6 inches.
Read more about the Samsung Galaxy NX's Print Quality!
Samsung Galaxy NX Conclusion
Successful fusion of camera and smart device?
In this day and age, the popularity of the smartphone being used as the camera-of-choice for many people continues to skyrocket. As a result, many camera manufacturers are feeling the squeeze as sales decline in favor of these multi-purpose, pocketable devices. Camera companies have started adding Wi-Fi and NFC features to their cameras to help bridge the gap between dedicated cameras and smartphones. The aim is to make it quicker and easier for photographers to transfer their work from their more advanced camera onto their social network of choice.
With the Galaxy NX, Samsung's gone in a different direction. Instead of enhancing the connection between your smartphone and your dedicated large-sensor, interchangeable lens camera, Samsung has pretty much put a full-on smartphone right inside the camera. Right off the bat, Samsung deserves some praise for attempting such a bold device. Unfortunately, this marriage between the ILC and the smartphone is a bit of an awkward affair.
Read the Samsung Galaxy NX Conclusion for our final verdict!