Cell phones have had a camera component incorporated into their platforms for years now--even my ancient Motorola RAZR flip phone has a primitive 2 or 3GB photo capability. Smart phones have raised the image capture bar even higher as camera resolution, sophistication and overall performance have inexorably improved. But it took until mid-2013 for someone to flip the equation with the introduction of a mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera running an Android operating system: the Samsung Galaxy NX.
The Galaxy NX platform is a mirrorless camera featuring a 20.3 megapixel APS-C sensor (1.5X crop factor) mated with Samsung's DRIMe IV Image Signal Processer and incorporates the Android 4.2 Jelly Bean operating system. Samsung formally describes the Galaxy NX as a "3G/4G LTE Connected Compact System Camera (CSC)". The monitor that caught my attention when I first unpacked the camera: a 4.8 inch HD LCD touchscreen through which you control virtually all camera functions.
Beyond the basic hardware listed above, the Galaxy NX includes an Advanced Hybrid Auto Focus (AF) System utilizing phase and contrast detection as well as a speedy 1/6000 second maximum shutter speed and a continuous shooting rate in excess of 8 frames per second. The camera features 16 GB of internal memory, but user-available memory is less due to storage of the operating system and software used to operate the phone features. Actual user memory will vary depending on the mobile phone operator and may change after software upgrades are performed. The camera has a single slot which accepts microSD memory media up to 64GB in size; a separate slot accommodates a SIM card. There is a full 1080HD video component and a built-in flash; the camera is compatible with lenses utilizing the Samsung NX lens mount.
The Galaxy NX is available as a body only or in kit form matched with an 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 ED Lens. Here's a look at both ends of that lens focal range.
MSRP on the kit is $1700; body only is $1600. The camera can currently be purchased via reputable Internet vendors for about $1500 as a kit or $1400 body only. Samsung includes a camera strap, battery and USB charging cable with 120V plug, printed Quick Start Guide and a small Handbook along with a Photoshop Lightroom 5 CD with each camera. Camera Raw 6.7 in my Photoshop CS5 did not recognize Galaxy NX RAW files, but my Photo Ninja RAW Converter did; Lightroom 5 will also.
With regard to the aforementioned Quick Start Guide and Handbook: the handbook is a brief basic photography primer and the Quick Start Guide an equally rudimentary introduction to basic camera and phone function-- it doesn't, for example, explain how to format the camera memory card (among myriad other operations). Samsung offers a 212 page User's Manual on their website, and my first order of business as a new Galaxy NX owner would be to download this manual to the camera as a ready reference in the field, at least until one becomes familiar with the many nuances of this platform.
BUILD AND DESIGN
At a quick glance the Galaxy NX would appear to be a DSLR: body dimensions are approximately 5.37 x 3.98 x 1.01 inches and include an exaggerated handgrip at the right front along with a pentaprism-like bulge on atop the camera body, which in reality houses the built-in flash and an electronic viewfinder (EVF). That relatively narrow 1 inch body depth combined with the deep handgrip give the camera a somewhat ungainly look when viewed from directly above. Shooting weight (battery, memory card, kit lens) is 25.3 ounces. Camera construction is of composite materials with a metal lens mount; the kit lens features a composite barrel and metal lens mount. Both camera and lens are constructed in China.
Ergonomics and Controls
With the kit lens onboard the Galaxy NX offers a fairly pleasant carrying weight for extended shooting trips. The large handgrip is covered with a rubberized material that is a bit smoother than I would like but nevertheless in combination with a raised lip at the right rear edge of the camera body offers a firm and solid feeling grip for the right hand. The shutter button lies almost directly under the second joint of my index finger, requiring a conscious repositioning to activate the shutter with the tip of the index finger. The Galaxy NX can be configured to activate the shutter upon a verbal command of "capture", "shoot", "cheese" or "smile" --there's a more pronounced delay than using the shutter manually, but it's an easy way to trip the shutter without having to resort to the self-timer or a cable release.
What I find most striking about the Galaxy NX is the absence of external controls on the camera body. The top left of the body contains a flash release button adjacent to the diopter adjustment knob for the electronic viewfinder. A power/lock button is positioned adjacent to the electronic viewfinder on the top right portion of the body, along with video record and shutter buttons as well as the command dial. That's it for the body--the kit lens has an "i function" button on the lens barrel that allows you to quickly select aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation and ISO for adjustment, depending on your particular shooting mode.
With my personal camera platform a pro-body DSLR, I've grown accustomed to a wealth of external controls that allow me to change camera settings in short order, so the largely control-free exterior of the Galaxy NX was worrisome at first. However, once you get past a one-time initial setup of the entire platform, control access via the touchscreen isn't too bad. One of the initial startup settings is to select the camera operating type: "standard" or "professional". As you might suspect standard is used for basic camera operations and emphasizes automatic modes so the user shooting options and input to settings are relatively restricted. The user can access semi-automatic and manual exposure modes from the standard operating type, but the process is slower as it is accompanied by explanations of the various settings and modes and requires more steps to implement. Professional is used for more advanced camera operations, offers automatic along with semi-automatic and manual shooting options in a more straightforward way than in the standard operating type and gives the user a wide variety of inputs into camera settings and capture methods. I shot the Galaxy NX in the professional operating mode for this review.
If you start up the Galaxy NX and it opens to the home screen, you'll see something like this:
Tapping the camera icon in the lower left of the screen produces this display, the basic camera setup for aperture priority:
Some things to note here are the camera and video buttons toward the right side of the screen --you can initiate still or video capture by tapping the appropriate button. The camera will acquire focus before initiating still capture, but starts video capture immediately as it attempts to autofocus. You can also initiate video capture via the dedicated video button atop the camera body, or still images via the shutter button, and there's that voice activated feature as well. You can select various settings displayed on the screen for adjustment by tapping their icons, but if you tap the cogged wheel toward the upper left of the screen you get access to these settings via the so-called "smart screen":
Adjustments here include shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, metering mode, photo size, image quality, autofocus type, autofocus area, shooting rate, and flash deployment. Selecting the camera icon in from atop this screen brings up an additional menu that includes the above settings along with others such as viewfinder brightness, focus peaking, manual focus assist, overexposure guide, framing mode, dynamic range settings, anti-shake, noise reduction, bracketing, distortion correction and color space selection.
Generally, most camera-related controls and settings can be accessed off of the basic camera shooting screen, but you'll search long, hard and unsuccessfully trying to find the format memory card control from here. In a setup I personally find a bit puzzling, the road to format runs through the home screen: you first have to select the "apps" icon at the lower right of the screen; next, select the "settings" icon and after that go to the upper right of the screen and select the "more" permissions box. Scroll the permissions screen to "storage", select it and then scroll down to "format SD card". Three more taps and you're done! While most of the camera controls on the Galaxy NX are relatively intuitive as you wander through the various touchscreen camera menus, the "format SD card" is located in a different part of the galaxy (sorry, couldn't resist) and is one reason why I would have the complete user's manual downloaded to my Galaxy NX until I had committed such a vital function to memory.
Menus and Modes
As you can see from the above, the differentiation between controls and menus is significantly blurred in the Galaxy NX compared to a more traditional DSLR or even the abundance of mirrorless cameras finding their way to market. There just aren't many external controls on the Galaxy NX with the exception of the i function button on the lens, so of necessity menus and controls are intertwined and everything runs through the monitor. Here's just a sample of what you get when selecting the "apps" icon on the homepage:
These three scrollable pages illustrate the icons present on the camera as it comes from the package, before user customization. Probably not out of the ordinary for experienced smartphone users, but for a primarily camera-oriented buyer it's a definite wake-up call that the Galaxy NX is a sophisticated and complex platform given its range of capabilities and features.
Shooting modes of the Galaxy NX set to the professional operating type are as follows:
The 4.8 inch LCD touchscreen display on the Galaxy NX offers 1280 x 720 (HD) resolution, approximately 100% coverage and is adjustable for range of brightness via slider control. Because virtually all operations of the Galaxy NX platform are handled by the touchscreen, smudging from finger use can make using the screen in outdoor light conditions problematic. Samsung states that the touchscreen is not compatible with a stylus, pointer or other artificial means; only fingers are recommended for touchscreen applications.
The camera has a bit too much screen, however. Many times, when resting my thumb/pad of hand against the back, the touchscreen was activated. This could be avoided by making the right 1/5th or 1/6th of the screen non-sensitive to touch. I even question if this can be done through a firmware update. Could it be possible to make that part of the screen unresponsive to touch only while in camera mode?
The electronic viewfinder has SVGA resolution (800 x 600), offers approximately 100% coverage and features diopter adjustment. The viewfinder is enabled as a user places the camera next to his eye.
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