2014 was a big year for camera releases, especially in the DSLR/DSLM world. The Lumix GH4 and Sony A7S largely stole the spotlight, with both cameras offering incredible image quality, 4K capabilities, and loads of other great video features that got filmmakers everywhere excited… But one camera that hasn’t had as much buzz as we’ve seen with the offerings from Panasonic and Sony, is the Samsung NX1, which is surprising as it has the potential to be the next best thing to hit the DSLR video market.
Several months back, Samsung announced the NX1 and to the surprise of many, there were some really impressive features listed – both on the photography and video side of the spectrum. As far as it’s video capabilities go, the camera offers internal 4K & UHD recording, slow motion (at up to 120fps @ 1080), a really fantastic APS-C sized sensor, and a mirrorless body (which of course is ideal for adapting lenses). Photographers are just as intrigued by the NX1 as it’s sensor is not only 28MP, but is also capable of shooting in a 15fps burst mode, which is really amazing for such a high megapixel camera. What’s interesting too, is that the sensor on the NX1 features backside illumination – meaning that the circuitry is hidden behind the sensor (as opposed to in front of it), allowing the camera to capture 1/2 a stop more light, simply based on the efficient design.
Samsung NX1 Highlights
- 28.2 megapixel APS-C BSI-CMOS sensor
- Hybrid AF system with 205 phase-detect points covering 90% of the frame
- 15 fps burst shooting with continuous autofocus
- 4K (DCI 4K & UHD) video recording using H.265 codec
- Can output 4:2:0 8-bit 4K video over HDMI
- Stripe pattern AF illuminator with 15m range
- Weather-resistant magnesium alloy body
- Context-sensitive adaptive noise reduction
- 3″ tilting Super AMOLED touchscreen display
- 2.36M dot OLED EVF with 5ms lag
- LCD info display on top of camera
- Built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
- USB 3.0 interface
- Optional battery grip
Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to shoot with the camera yet myself, but from what I’ve heard from colleagues and seen online, the camera is capable of delivering some awesome results. That said, like any camera the NX1 has it’s drawbacks and definitely isn’t going to be for everybody. So if you’re as interested in this camera as many shooters are, here’s what makes it camera good, what makes it bad, and what gives it a chance of becoming a frontrunner in the video DSLR game.
I’ve already briefly touched on some of the obvious pros when it comes to the video functionality – including the ability to over crank (120fps), and record 4K internally. But rather than just rattle off a list of features that look good on paper, I’d rather focus on where this camera fits into the marketplace, as ultimately that will dictate it’s success. It’s safe to assume that the NX1 in many shooting scenarios can produce very nice images that are detailed, have accurate and rich colors, and deliver strong motion cadence. But today, simply having those qualities isn’t enough for a camera to disrupt the market, as the bar for high performing DSLRs has been set so high in recent years. In order to really compete with the bigger players in the DSLR space, the NX1 needs to go above and beyond, and offer features and functionality that you can’t find elsewhere… And in many ways, I think it does.
Perhaps the best thing that the NX1 has going for it (outside of image quality and performance specs), is the fact that it is filling a small gap in the DSLR/DSLM market that hasn’t yet been satisfied. There’s certainly no shortage of great DSLRs out there today, but there are only a few that can offer truly professional grade performance and features. And while the two current front runners (Lumix GH4 and A7S) are covering the needs of many shooters, they are very different cameras from each other and have invariably left a gap in the market. The GH4 for instance has a small sensor (at least when compared to the full frame sensor of the A7S), which means shallow DOF is slightly harder to achieve and it’s not nearly as good in low light. But the A7S doesn’t offer internal 4K, and in my opinion it’s E-mount leaves a lot to be desired – as even though it is theoretically adaptable to nearly any lens, the current adapters available (such as the MetaBones Speedbooser for EF lenses), have lots of quirks of their own and aren’t always ideal.
The NX1 seems to fit right in the middle of the two cameras by offering features and performance that create a best of both worlds situation. The NX1 has a larger sensor than the GH4 (APS-C sized), yet it’s smaller than the full frame sensor in the A7s – which for many is preferable. in fact, my favorite sensor size for video is APS-C as it’s the closest size to 35mm motion picture film, and I have found that to be the sweet spot in digital cinematography for the majority of shooting scenarios. There are currently no affordable APS-C DSLRs that offer functionality that can rival a GH4/A7s, with the exception of course of the NX1. Yes, you can use a speedbooster on the GH4 or use crop mode on the A7S to emulate the look of APS-C, but it’s not the same if it isn’t happening natively. And even with sensor size aside, the NX1 (on paper at least) seems to deliver some of the best features from both the GH4 and A7s, all in one package.
When the camera was first announced and some early reviews came out, there was no shortage of criticism – some valid, and others not so much. One of the biggest criticisms of the camera is that it shoots to H.265, which of course is the successor to H.264 – and allows for very high quality video recording with minimal file sizes. This might sound great (and for the most part it is), but like any new format, it takes time for editing software and other programs to be able to handle the footage natively, and currently raw NX1 footage needs to be transcoded before editing. Many initial reviewers were frustrated by the workflow involved in dealing with the H.265 files, but truthfully that wouldn’t be a big concern to me. At the end of the day, image quality trumps all else in my opinion (within reason of course) – and if I need to wait an extra few minutes or hours to cut my footage, that’s perfectly okay with me as long as the results are worth it. Would I prefer to start cutting it right away? Sure I would, but it’s only a matter of time before there will be an abundance of H.265 transcoding software out there, and every major NLE will start to support it… Just like we saw with RED RAW. So this concern isn’t a huge one for me.
Another big criticism of the camera has been it’s poor dynamic range performance. This is shocking as the sensor itself is reported to be capable of some really impressive dynamic range, but somehow it’s being rated at around 10.3 stops at the moment. That said, this concern also may be completely nullified as Samsung just announced a new firmware for the camera, that among other things offers log gamma setting. For those of you that don’t know, a log setting (which is typically accessible by a camera profile) will allow for the image to be recorded very flat in order to maximize dynamic range. It compresses all of the highlights down and brings up the shadows as much as possible so that as much range as possible is captured and retained. So with all that said, there’s no question that DR is something you should keep your eye on with this camera, but once the new firmware gets out into the wild, we will see what this camera is really made of.
The last concern that many have with the NX1 is it’s relatively unimpressive low light performance. Although it is reported to have better performance than the GH4, it certainly is no match for the low-light performance of the A7S. Personally, I can’t speak to it one way or another as again, I haven’t shot with the camera yet. What I can say though, is that low-light capabilities are not my number one concern when I buy a new camera – unless the intention is to use that camera as a specialty tool for low light situations. In most scenarios, I like the challenge of having to light a scene traditionally and I feel that some of the cameras that deliver extremely high level ISO performance aren’t always conducive to a cinematic image. Yes, they can produce noise free images at high ISO’s, but a scene that isn’t lit properly isn’t going to look good, no matter if it is noisy or noise-free.
Will It Break Through?
Until the camera is actually in the hands of shooters, rental houses, and DPs, there’s really no way of knowing what the general reaction will be to it. Right now it really has a lot going for it, and based on it’s unique place in the market it could be the camera that comes out of nowhere and takes over… Or it may dwindle off completely, who knows! That said, it many ways the NX1 feels a lot like the GH1 and GH2 did when they were first hitting the market. At that time Lumix was introducing some amazing features into their cameras, but because they weren’t as trusted as Canon was at the time, no one really took them seriously. At least that was the case until the GH4 came out… And if history is any indication of what’s to come, then no matter how well received this camera is, it’s unlikely to completely shift the marketplace given the fact that Samsung has a lot to prove if they want to compete with Canon, Lumix, Sony, and Nikon. Regardless, it’s great that there’s another competitor in the DSLR 4K world, as it will continue to push other manufacturers to improve their offerings that much more – and if it turns out to be the camera we’re all looking for, even better.
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