Build and handling
The Samsung Galaxy NX looks very similar in style to the firm’s own NX20, although measuring 136.5×101.2×25.7mm the Galaxy NX is larger but with a thinner body profile. The size increase is largely due to the giant 4.77in screen on the back of the camera. This screen covers most of the camera’s rear, leaving only a small amount of space for a raised, rubberised thumb grip. Coupled with the large handgrip, it is really comfortable to hold, especially with larger lenses. I find both thumb and fingers have great support.
There are very few buttons on the Galaxy NX as most of the controls are handled by the touchscreen. The main physical control is the mode dial, which is located on the top of the camera. This can be pressed and held in to quickly access Android, or pressed to access different settings and then scrolled left or right to change their values. The same control is also achieved via the i-Function button on the lens. A power button is located to the left of the mode dial, and a designated video record button is located between the mode dial and the shutter.
I found these physical controls to be quicker when changing settings than using swipe gestures on the touchscreen, but the two methods mean that you will quickly settle on a way that suits you.
The control layout of the camera menus are intuitive and open to lots of persona customisation, which is something that I feel makes the camera stand out from the crowd. Certainly, the camera controls are far from traditional — in fact, the controls are more closely related to those of a smartphone than a traditional camera layout — but they are easy to pick up even after only a short time of use.
The Android operating system is fantastic. It unlocks a great deal of the camera’s potential and it works brilliantly. I downloaded several applications to the Galaxy NX and found all of them to work without a hitch. Image editing was quick and effective using Adobe Photoshop Touch, and linking the device with my home Wi-Fi allowed me to automatically upload to Dropbox.
The start-up time on the Galaxy NX is a little complex. When the camera is first turned on it takes around 23secs to boot the Android operating system and get into the camera mode. Once fully booted, the camera goes into sleep mode when powered off and takes just over 1 sec to start-up into camera mode thereafter If the battery is removed or the camera is left inactive for 48 hours, the Android system will again need to be booted up, taking the full 23secs before the camera is ready for use. I found that when the camera was in sleep mode, the battery dropped by just 1 % over a 12-hour period of inactivity. Samsung has said that sleep mode uses only 1.8% of the power that would be used if the camera remained on. This is an effective way around the long Android start-up time.
As a result of having a lot of hardware to process in-camera, the Galaxy NX has a huge 4,360mAh battery. Comparatively, this is nearly four times the capacity of the NX300’s 1,130mAh battery, but it is most certainly needed to power the large 4.77in touchscreen and Android OS. Much like a smartphone, the battery life can vary depending on use. I found that when I used the camera with the brightness turned to 50% and everything turned off, the battery drained by around 30% after 100 shots. Also, using the EVF uses less battery. Turning on Wi-Fi, GPS, using apps, uploading images and editing photos in-camera is power-intensive, and drains the battery much more quickly.
The Galaxy NX has the same 221-segment TTL metering system featured in previous NX models, such as the NX300, NX210 and NX200. Previously, we have rated the metering system’s performance well, and noted little need to alter the exposure valuation for most situations. It was only in conditions where we can expect the metering to be thrown that slight alterations Need to be made.
The Galaxy NX has that exact same level of performance as the NX300, but the camera excels over previous NX models by virtue of its 4.77in touchscreen, which allows precise control of its spot metering. This is easy to use, returns good results and can also be linked to a focus point for quick and easy control. In use, I found that multi metering and spot metering adequately covered the majority of situations.
Previewing the histograms of images I took in Lightroom showed that detail in shadow areas was rarely blown out and plenty of detail remained in both the shadow and highlight areas. In a variety of situations I found the Galaxy NX to strike a great balance between highlights and shadows, even in high-contrast scenes. Using the supplied Lightroom 5, I was able to lighten shadow areas in raw files and pull back a lot of detail.
Samsung provides two different dynamic range settings in the Galaxy NX. The Smart Range+ is an in-camera dynamic range optimizer that lightens shadow areas while preserving the highlights to allow a boost in tonal detail. The HDR mode, on the other hand, takes three images of varying exposure and stitches them together in-camera. This is an automatic setting so unfortunately it cannot be adjusted. Thankfully, both of these options give a nice subtle boost to the images and complement the scene.
Samsung has opted for the same advanced hybrid autofocus system in the Galaxy NX as in the NX300, consisting of 105 phase-detection and 247 contrast-detection points. Samsung claims the phase-detection points that work in the middle portion of the frame are the quickest, while the contrast AF points that work across the entire frame are the most accurate. Theoretically, combining these should result in quick and accurate AF.
In bright conditions, the AF is as quick and as accurate as you would expect from a similarly priced compact system camera. In low-light conditions, the autofocus spends a while hunting for focus, often taking a couple of seconds and on occasion missing completely. The focus assist beam does offer some help in finding focus in low light, but due to its placement on the camera the beam is commonly obstructed when using a larger lens or a lens hood. An alternative placement situated further from the lens mount would solve this problem.
Selecting a point of focus by touching the 4.77in screen makes autofocusing incredibly easy, and it was most certainly my go-to option when using the camera. It’s much faster than finding a focus point manually and offers more control over automatic AF points. Undoubtedly, this is one of the significant benefits of a large touchscreen with 247 focus points.
Also of note is that the Galaxy NX adopts the focus-peaking feature of the NX300. This allows the user to manually focus and preview a highlight around the outline of areas that are brought into focus. This outline varies in intensity to indicate optimum focus and the colour can be set to red, white or green. An on/off controllable feature called MF assist aids in manual focusing by zooming in 5x when the focus ring is moved.
Noise, resolution and sensitivity
At ISO 800, images show some noise but it is well controlled in both raw and JPEG format. It is not until ISO 1600 that noise starts to become noticeable. Images up to ISO 3200 are usable, but at ISO 6400 luminance and chroma noise start to become evident. This is especially the case at the maximum ISO 12,400 setting. I think ISO sensitivity of 100-800 is a good working range for both raw and JPEG images, striking a good balance between noise and detail resolution. Images taken at ISO 800 would still be fine for A3 prints without noise being a problem.
JPEG images do appear softer and it is clear to see that some in-camera noise reduction has taken place even at the lowest sensitivity setting of ISO 100, although for certain pictures it complements the images. At ISO 1600, very detailed areas start to become really soft because of the in-camera noise reduction.
white balance and colour
The Galaxy NX’s images were consistently colour accurate and true to the scene. The overall colour is very neutral and even vivid scenes did not appear over saturated. On occasions, dull scenes appeared better after a slight tweak in saturation to make the colour ‘pop’. Interestingly, the Galaxy NX doesn’t have traditional colour profiles like most cameras. Instead, the profiles offer the ability to change colour, saturation, sharpness and contrast in the settings menu, although different profiles cannot be stored and switched. Samsung does offer a huge number of smart modes for different colour control, but this is a post-capture process. Also, inside the Google Play store, there are hundreds of apps that support colour profiles, filters, black & white and more, all of which can be downloaded to achieve a specific look.
On the whole, AWB was accurate even in challenging conditions. However, all the standard white balance settings are available, including daylight, cloudy, tungsten, flash, custom, Kelvin and three different settings for fluorescent light. The interesting thing about these settings is that they can be altered to optimise colour accuracy, should you find the preset to be slightly amiss. An easy-to-use RGB menu allows you to control this simply by shifting the centre point towards a desired tone.
In the white balance menu is a custom Kelvin setting that can be changed using a swipe gesture while previewing the scene on the LCD. It allows the user to tweak the white balance quickly and decide how warm or cold the images look. I find this the most effective way of altering the white balance.
View-finder, live view, LCD and video
At 4.77in, the screen on the Galaxy NX is the biggest found on any compact system camera to date. It has the same 720p resolution as the Samsung Galaxy compact camera, which makes it class-leading in terms of resolution. While fingerprints on the touchscreen were impossible to avoid due to its size, they thankfully presented no problems when shooting.
In use, the Super Clear HD LCD is great in both bright sunny conditions and in low-light situations. I was very impressed with the viewing angles offered by this screen and how well it prevented reflections.
On occasions where I found myself shooting in really challenging situations, such as harsh sunlight, I opted to use the built-in electronic viewfinder. This viewfinder is clear, responsive and offers an approximately 100% field of view. However, the proximity sensor that shuts off the main LCD and activates the EVF has a frustrating delay. I found myself putting the camera to my eye and waiting nearly 1sec before anything were visible through the EVF. If a shot needs to be taken quickly, I found it best to stick with the LCD.
The Galaxy NX outputs video in full HD at 1920×1080-pixel resolution at 25fps, and is also capable of shooting 50fps, which is good for slow-motion, although the resolution is cut to 1280×720 pixels. The ability to use touch AF in video is brilliant, although the sounds of the lens motors are unfortunately picked up by the in-built microphone.
It is impossible to compare the Samsung Galaxy NX directly with any other camera because it is unique in the fact that it is the only compact system camera to feature an Android operating system. If Android is of interest, then the same functionality is offered by both the Samsung Galaxy compact camera and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom smartphone, but each of these lacks the image quality, among other shortcomings, when compared to the Galaxy NX.
Excluding the Android OS, the closest competition is Samsung’s own NX300, as it includes many of the same features and produces similar image results. Alternatively, the Sony NEX-7 features a 24.3-million-pixel sensor and has a street price of around £730 body only.
Essentially, the image performance of the Galaxy NX is on a par with the NX300, with the added advantage of a bigger screen that improves the usability of the touchscreen Af, previewing photos and spot metering. The big selling point is the Android operating system, and I think having the ability to edit in-camera, create time-lapse videos and share across social media, among a wealth of other things, is fantastic.
The images the camera produces are good, but the AF is slow in low light and high ISO sensitivity makes JPEGs soft. It is not the best image quality we have seen from a compact system camera, but the Galaxy NX is mostly about functionality and it is not aimed at professionals. Rather, it is aimed at people who either want all the functionality of Android or people who want to advance their photography from a smartphone or the Samsung Galaxy compact camera.