Review: Samsung Galaxy NX Android Lens-Switcher

Android OS, interchangeable lenses

Published: October 29, 2013 2:06 PM
By Morgane Alzieu / Bruno Labarbere
Translated by: Catherine Barraclough
Samsung is continuing its original approach to 21st century photography with another hybrid Android-based device that's more about shooting and sharing than traditional photography. After the Galaxy Camera Android compact, the Galaxy NX takes the concept one step further by adding interchangeable lenses to the mix. The Samsung Galaxy NX is essentially a cross between the NX200 mirrorless lens switcher and the Galaxy S4 smartphone, bringing direct access to connected services over Wi-Fi or a 3G+/4G data network. As fas as we know, it's the first mirrorless interchangeable lens camera to run Google's Android operating system (Jelly Bean 4.2.2).

Handling4/5



Samsung has been hard at work developing its connected concept cameras since 2012's Galaxy Camera. But instead of build the workings of a compact into a smartphone, as with the Galaxy S4 Zoom, Samsung has taken the opposite approach with the NX. In a market where Sony's NEX and Panasonic's G cameras reign supreme, Samsung is carving out its own niche by expanding its ultra-connected camera line to include an interchangeable lens model. And as far as we're aware, the NX is one of a kind. This latest addition to the Galaxy family definitely has the looks and build of a classic lens-switching camera, with an NX lens mount, a chunky grip handle, an electronic viewfinder and a built-in flash. There's no doubt that this particular crossover device is first and foremost a camera. However, the huge touchscreen around the back and the minimal physical controls soon give away its hybrid status. This is no ordinary snapper. And it's true that the NX can take a little getting used to at first.

Camera Review: Samsung Galaxy NX from the back

For a camera with an APS-C sensor, the Galaxy NX certainly isn't the most compact, discreet model out there. It's about the size of a small SLR and its design is a far cry from the sleek little NX300. Then again, the NX does have to make room for the big 4.8" AMOLED touchscreen with 800 x 600 pixels. The display is decent quality too, with wide viewing angles, good brightness, a smooth image and reasonable colour fidelity (average Delta E = 5.4). Design-wise, the Galaxy NX inherits a similar look to the NX20. It has clear, simple curves that are soft and inoffensive with no harsh lines breaking the general flow. The body is finished in grainy black plastic, which is pleasant enough, and the handle has a very nice textured rubber coating. The chunky handle and thumb rest keep the NX easy to grip, which is definitely a good thing because the camera's weight isn't evenly balanced. The Galaxy NX is wider and heavier around the lens, which weighs it down on its left-hand side. That can be particularly tiring if using the NX in one hand. Like when handling a little SLR, you'll need to get used to using your other hand to support the camera under the lens. Still, that means you'll be able to easily reach the handy "iFn" button built onto the lens.

The Galaxy NX features Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, as well as 3G/4G support via a micro-SIM card slot in the same compartment as the battery and memory card. When loaded with a SIM, you can send snaps as MMS over 3G+ (up to 42 Mbps) or 4G LTE (up to 100/50 Mbps) when there's no Wi-Fi to hand. That can be handy when you're out and about. Don't forget to switch that function off when holidaying abroad, though, as you'll come home to a monster bill of data roaming charges. The Galaxy NX runs on a 1.6 GHz quad-core SoC, 2 GB of RAM and has 16 G of onboard storage. That can obviously be boosted with a memory card. Note, however, that the NX uses microSDXC cards! Given the camera's size, it's hard to understand why Samsung didn't just use full-sized SD.

Like the Galaxy Camera, the NX doesn't feature native call capabilities. However, you can use the built-in mic and headphones socket with apps like Skype (available to download from Google Play) for VoIP calls, turning the NX into a kind of luxury webcam.

Camera Review: Samsung Galaxy NX interface

The NX is controlled via its touchscreen, although the big clickable dial on top of the camera will no doubt reassure anyone who's used to shooting with classic cameras rather than smartphones. The function of this dial changes in relation to the mode selected. The interface and settings are as rich as what's on offer in the Galaxy S4 Zoom and the NX actually handles in a very similar way. We therefore recommend you check out our full Galaxy S4 Zoom review for an in-depth look at the interface.

Note that the camera application offers both "Standard" and "Professional" modes. We recommend that you opt for the "Professional" option, as in "Standard" mode it just feels like you're shooting with some kind of oversized smartphone. Ultimately, so long as you're OK with its rather unusual approach to things, the Galaxy NX handles perfectly well. Just watch out for the eye sensor, which is way too sensitive and tends to switch off the screen and fire up the EVF when your hands get near the display.

Speed3/5



The Galaxy NX is a mixed bag on this front. Once switched on and running it's very fast to focus in good light, both at wide angle and at the maximum zoom setting. In fact, it even out-does the NX300, advertised by Usain Bolt for its supposedly lighting-fast performances. Focusing aside, however, this camera is otherwise bogged down by the Jelly Bean OS.
Camera Review: Samsung Galaxy NX response times
The Android 4.2.2 operating system makes the Galaxy NX inherently slow. That said, Samsung has made huge progress since the Galaxy Camera and Galaxy S4 Zoom by at least allowing the NX to start up directly in photo mode when you press the shutter-release button. That's definitely a relief and it improves handling no end! However, it still takes over two seconds for the camera to start up and take a first photo. Another consequence of Android is that photo-to-photo turnaround is slow. This can't be caused by the shutter (which is sometimes the case), as the NX can shoot at 8.4 fps in JPG burst mode for 17 consecutive shots. In RAW mode the burst stops after four shots. Next time a bigger buffer memory would be a good idea.

But the OS isn't responsible for the sluggish autofocus performances in low light, where the NX takes over a second and a half to find its subject.

Note finally that shooting via the touchscreen is just as fast as using the physical shutter-release button. Plus, the onscreen image is smooth and fluid at all times. As it stands, the Galaxy NX is no super-sharp shooter, but it's a welcome step in the right direction for Samsung's connected camera line.

Image Quality5/5



The spec sheet is familiar stuff, as the Galaxy NX uses the same 20-Megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor used in other NX-series cameras, including the NX20, NX200, NX210 and NX300. And, as its name suggests, it uses the Samsung NX lens mount.

Camera Review: Samsung Galaxy NX picture quality, ISO tests

The 18-55 mm stabilised kit zoom lens does a decent job. The model we were sent to test our NX with behaved as expected, with sharpness levels peaking at f/5.6 and diffraction visible from f/8. Chromatic and geometric aberration is kept in check well by the camera's software. However, the edges of the frame are still hazier than the centre at all aperture settings. This kind of sensor really needs a sharper lens to get the very best out of its potential. The excellent 30 mm f/2 lens, for example, is an great all-rounder that's compact and keeps quality high.

The sensor gives the same first-rate performances we saw with the NX300. From 100 ISO to 1600 ISO, sharpness and detail are maintained perfectly well in our test shots. Smoothing is very well controlled. In fact, it's barely even visible. Even when you push up to 6400 ISO, picture quality is still fine. It'll be good enough to make 8" x 12" prints (20 x 30 cm). Plus, seeing as the Galaxy NX is mainly geared up for photo-sharing and posting online, you can be user that your snaps will look great when viewed onscreen. Samsung has really done a top-notch job here, with picture quality that's leaps and bounds ahead of the Galaxy Camera and the Galaxy S4 Zoom. The Galaxy NX feels like a proper camera that takes proper photos. And it seriously holds its own compared with the many mirrorless cameras that use Sony's 16-Megapixel APS-C Sony Exmor R sensor!

Camera Review: Samsung Galaxy NX sample shot
Bruno looking (more or less) like himself one Monday morning.
 
Camera Review: Samsung Galaxy NX sample shot with effect
Bruno goes kawaiiiiiiiii!

Another fun feature for users who aren't too bothered about making large-format prints or viewing photos at 100% size is the creative filters and artistic effects on offer in the Galaxy NX. You can play around with all kinds of effects and tricks directly in the camera without having to use a third-party app. Some of the filters are perhaps a little strange, like the "Beauty" mode, which just makes people look weird (see above). Still, it's a fun feature and there are plenty of options to test.

Video4/5



The NX films 1080p HD video at 25 frames per second. You can start filming quickly (in auto mode) using a virtual button on the touchscreen—there's no physical video-record button here. You can't change many settings either, with no controls for exposure, depth of field or sensitivity. It may be a hybrid lens-switcher, but the NX is a consumer-oriented camera rather than an expert model. "Auto" settings therefore take priority. Sound is recoded in stereo and quality is decent, with a good stereo effect. Image quality is pleasant and shows a good level of detail.

Camera Review: Samsung Galaxy NX video frame

It's a shame to see that the fun and easy-to-use video editing app isn't back again in this model. This was handy for adding filters or adjusting the quality of a video before e-mailing it or sharing online. It wasn't amazing, but it made a nice little extra. You may therefore want to download a third-party app from Google Play.
4/5 Samsung Galaxy NX DigitalVersus 2013-10-29 15:06:00

Pros

  • Wi-Fi , 3G+/4G, GPS, NFC, Bluetooth
  • Can be loaded with apps from Google Play
  • Touchscreen from the Galaxy S4 (excellent viewing angles, good display quality)
  • Easy to use
  • Picture quality up to 3200 ISO
  • Excellent battery life

Cons

  • Bulky
  • EVF eye sensor is too sensitive
  • No swivel or tilt screen
  • Screen gets quite hot after about 20 minutes' use
  • Uses microSD cards
  • Uneven weight

Conclusion

The Samsung Galaxy NX offers the best of both worlds, combining the flexibility and image quality of an interchangeable lens compact with the versatility and connectivity of a smartphone. Samsung has taken its hybrid camera concept to a new level here. However, the price is as ambitious as the camera itself, as for the same cash you could get a regular DSLM plus a smartphone. Still, if money is no object, the NX is a fun and original camera that's packed with possibilities.

OUR SCORE 4/5
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