Over the last couple of weeks I have been testing out the brand new Samsung NX1 4K camera, which all in all I have been very impressed with. The NX1 was generously loaned out to me by B & H last month, and it was really a treat to get my hands on it so early on so that I could shoot this extensive video review for all of you.
If you’re not already familiar with the NX1, essentially it is the latest and greatest mirrorless camera from Samsung, which has been drawing a lot of attention by DSLR shooters based on its internal 4K capabilities and impressive feature set.
The NX1 very much reminds me of the GH4 for a number of reasons, and as such I decided to not only review the camera but also to do some Samsung NX1 vs. Lumix GH4 comparison shots throughout the entire video. I tested a number of major categories including: Image Quality, Dynamic Range, High ISO, Slow Motion, and Rolling Shutter… In the end the results were very interesting, and I think they act as further evidence that in many ways the NX1 and GH4 are very much in the same league.
Please note that the tests that I did throughout this review were not scientific by any means. There were loads of variables at play – including the fact that I had to use two different lenses on each camera. The only lens I had access to on the Samsung NX1 was the Samsung 16 – 50mm Zoom lens, and on the GH4 I was using the Lumix 20mm pancake lens. I did try to keep all of the variables in check as much as possible, and didn’t adjust any other settings on either camera with the exception of the picture profiles (Cine D on the GH4 and Gamma DR on the NX1). All tests were shot in 4K/24p mode on both cameras, except for the slow motion tests which were done at 1080/60p. So the results should still be representative of how these cameras stack up to each other, even though they certainly weren’t done scientifically.
So without further ado, here is the full 20 minute video review! If you aren’t able to watch the review for any reason, I have also done a quick summary of each chapter below.
Before even shooting with the camera, I had some very positive first impressions simply based on the build and design of the NX1. I really liked the way the camera felt in my hands. It has a substantial build to it, it’s comfortable to hold, and I was happy to see that the button placement was very intuitive… In general, I felt very much at home with this camera right away, and there were few (if any) negatives to point out right off the bat.
The only two issues that I could nit pick over are the On/Off switch, which doesn’t quite lock into place as securely as I would like, and the fact that the 3″ AMOLED Screen on the back of the camera doesn’t flip out – it only tilts up and down. The screen by the way is actually quite good in my opinion, I just wish I could get it to pivot left and right to help out with tricky shooting situations. Generally though, these two little quirks are not deal breakers for me, and my initial feeling was that the NX1 was quite well designed.
The first thing that I wanted to test on the NX1 was the overall image quality in optimal shooting conditions. I was looking for everything from sharpness and detail, to color accuracy and motion. I captured a nice cityscape shot of downtown Los Angeles with the Hollywood Hills in the foreground, as it offered a very complex looking scene that I thought would help to illustrate just what the NX1 is made of. Looking back at the footage after the fact, I was very impressed to say the least. The footage was so sharp and detailed that I almost couldn’t get it over it. The colors were very accurate too, and the general feel of the image was quite filmic, at least subjectively.
When I compared this shot to the GH4, it was hard initially to say which image I liked better.
Both of them looked really amazing when played back, but the biggest difference I noticed between the two initially, was that the colors on the NX1 seemed to be more accurate to my eye. This wasn’t a huge surprise to me as the GH4 has never had the strongest color science in my opinion, but all in all they weren’t too far off.
It wasn’t until I punched in the images to 400% as you can see in this side by side comparison shot, that I really got a feel for the difference in sharpness between these two cameras. Clearly the NX1 looks a lot sharper right off the bat, but it’s very hard to tell whether or not the image is truly sharper, or if there is simply more in-camera sharpening being applied on the NX1. Also, I’ll re-iterate I was using two different lenses so that could have affected the results, however both lenses happen to be quite sharp as it is. Both the NX1 and GH4 will be able to deliver very detailed 4K video files – with the NX1 possibly having a slight edge in the sharpness department.
Going into the Dynamic Range test, I wasn’t expecting to see amazing results from either the NX1 or the GH4. I already knew the GH4’s limitations very well (specifically in the DR department) from first hand shooting experience, and I had heard some complaints about the NX1’s dynamic range capabilities too, so I really wasn’t anticipating to be blown away by the results.
For the test shot, I stood in front of a bright window in my kitchen and exposed for my skin tone. As you can clearly see in this side by side comparison shot, the GH4 is retaining more detail both in the shadows and most noticeably in the highlights.
The top right panel of the window is almost completely blown out in the NX1 footage, whereas there is still some detail left on the GH4 shot. As I mentioned in the video review though, it might be possible that you can squeeze out a bit of extra dynamic range from the NX1 by customizing your picture settings (black level, etc.), or by adjusting your exposure to compensate. Nonetheless, for this middle of the road type of test, where all things were pretty much equal on both cameras (with the exception of the lens of course), the GH4 did perform slightly better.
Much like the previous test, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot in the way of high ISO performance, simply based on some NX1 footage that I had seen prior to doing this review. For the shot itself, I simply took a few items and placed them on the desk in my office, and bumped the ISO all the way from 200 to 6400 on both cameras to see how they would hold up.
This particular test is definitely going to be best to watch in the actual video, but below is a split screen comparison of ISO 6400 on both cameras to give you a reference point.
The bottom line is that neither of these cameras performed very well in this stress test. Above ISO 1600, they both fall apart quite quickly and for that reason I highly recommend shooting at 800 or below on both cameras. ISO 1600 is useable on the NX1 in my opinion, but I wouldn’t bump up the ISO that high unless I absolutely needed to in a pinch, and again I recommend that you keep your settings on the lower side to maintain the cleanest possible image. Personally, this isn’t a deal breaker for me with the NX1 (or GH4 for that matter) as these cameras are not designed to be low light cameras. If you need to shoot in ultra low light situations, you might want to get a specialty camera like the Sony A7S that can do that well. But for every day shooting under normally lit situations, the NX1 and GH4 both are exceptional.
I was really excited to test the slow motion capabilities of the NX1, simply because it is so feature rich in that regard. The NX1 can record at up to 120 frames per second in 1080 mode, which is very impressive – or at least it seems that way on paper. When I actually got out in the field and shot with the 120fps mode, the results were not great to say the least. Here is a frame grab from my first test shot in this mode.
The image overall just feels very mushy and there is no detail to be found anywhere, especially not in the grass or trees. This is obviously a hugely different image than we would be looking at if shooting in 4K mode, which is to be expected… But personally I would not ever shoot in 120fps mode on this camera as the image quality just isn’t good enough.
For the purpose of this test though, I didn’t want to compare 120fps on the NX1 to 96fps on the GH4 (which is the GH4’s maximum frame rate), mainly because it wouldn’t be a fair comparison. First off, the frame rates aren’t an exact match, and secondly neither 120fps on the NX1 or 96fps on the GH4 are modes that I would recommend using in day to day shooting. Instead, I compared the 60p mode in both cameras, and slowed down that footage to 40% speed to play in a 24p timeline. The results this time around were much better.
Here’s an image from the NX1 in 60p mode.
And the GH4, also in 60p.
Clearly both cameras are able to pull a much nicer image at 60p, and I would gladly shoot in this mode on either one of them. There’s a nice amount of detail in both shots, the compression is kept in check, and the motion is actually quite smooth. So if you are going to be shooting slow motion on the NX1, definitely consider shooting 60p and slowing down in post as opposed to over cranking to 120fps.
The next test that I did was a rolling shutter comparison, in which I whip panned both cameras on a tripod as they were stacked on top of each other. The results of this test don’t really exemplify how extreme the rolling shutter artifacts can get on either camera (because I wasn’t using a telephoto lens), but the test shots do still offer some insight with regards to how these cameras compare to each other.
Looking back at the footage, it was clear that both cameras obviously suffered from noticeable rolling shutter (even at a relatively wide focal length – 20mm on the GH4 and 25mm on the NX1), but the NX1 initially felt slightly more severe. When I did a split screen comparison of the two cameras, it was more clear that the NX1 did seem to be exhibiting a bit more of a rolling shutter issue. Once again, this was absolutely not a scientific test, but I did find that the NX1 would take 1 – 2 frames longer on average to settle the image into place (after a whip pan), when compared to the GH4.
One thing to note though, is that in UHD mode (as opposed to 4K mode) the rolling shutter artifacts on the NX1 are substantially reduced. I wasn’t able to do a side by side comparison in 4K and UHD mode, but from shooting a bit more in UHD mode recently myself, I would say that it definitely feels like rolling shutter is much less of an issue than it is in 4K mode.
The biggest complaint about the NX1 by far has been the fact that it uses H.265 compression, which isn’t readily supported by most editing or conversion software. If you don’t know about H.265, essentially it is a codec that will allow for files to be recorded at near ProRes quality, but that have sizes you would expect to see coming from an H.264 file. This is really incredible in my opinion, and H.265 may very well be the future of DSLR filmmaking, but at the moment you do need to almost treat it like RAW footage and convert it with third party software before editing.
Samsung does bundle an app with the camera called Samsung Movie Converter, but I wouldn’t recommend using it to transcode your footage. It doesn’t let you output to ProRes or DNxHD, and ultimately you are left with H.264 files after a very slow transcoding process. Instead, I would suggest purchasing any number of other applications that do support the H.265 format, such as Wondershare video converter. This is what I used for my review video, and it’s a far better platform than the Samsung application, as it allows you to convert your files to a higher quality codec.
In general, I really don’t think that H.265 should be the deciding factor in terms of whether or not you purchase this camera. Over time, the format will definitely be supported more thoroughly across various editing platforms, and for now you simply need to convert the files as you would would most cameras that shoot RAW.
All in all, I was actually very impressed by the Samsung NX1. Although I highlighted a number of it’s quirks and limitations in this post, just about any camera that I could test would have just as many issues and workaround to discuss…
The Samsung NX1 offers a massive amount of value for the money. The image quality off of this camera in 4K mode is extremely impressive and I genuinely think that (like the GH4) it rivals the quality of cameras that cost in the $10k – $20k range. I also really like that the camera feels so intuitive, and is in many ways pushing the boundaries of technology today. Samsung has clearly taken a risk by integrating the H.265 format in the NX1, but I actually see that as a good thing. I like that they are taking risks and willing to experiment, which ultimately will help to continue to push technology further.
If you’re interested in purchasing the Samsung NX1, it is currently listed for only $1499 at B & H, which really is a steal:
If you’ve already done some shooting yourself with the Samsung NX1, or if you simply have questions – please leave your thoughts in the comment section below!
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!