Conclusion - Pros

  • 28.2 MP backside illuminated sensor
  • Hybrid AF system with phase-detect points covering 90% of frame
  • 153 cross-type AF points with industry-leading frame coverage
  • Mostly effective subject tracking
  • High quality 4K video performance
  • 4K 4:2:2 8-bit video out
  • Outstanding dynamic range and low light image quality
  • Bright OLED viewfinder with essentially no lag
  • 15 fps burst shooting
  • Touch screen
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
  • H.265 video codec

Conclusion - Cons

  • Lens family is limited at this time
  • Best AF performance limited to select lenses
  • Autofocus is less predictable in low light
  • Overly aggressive Jpeg noise reduction
  • No true live view during burst shooting
  • Noisy high-ISO video
  • Onerous procedure for downloading support software
  • H.265 video codec

Overall conclusion

It's not uncommon for us to review a camera whose intent is to challenge an existing market leader. Samsung seems to have taken this tactic to the extreme with the NX1, not with the intent of challenging a market leader, but with the intent of challenging the entire market of crop-sensor cameras.

One can almost imagine a group of Samsung engineers sitting in a conference room and having the spec sheets of every leading APS-C and four thirds camera dropped in front of them, along with a directive to outperform the whole lot.

The NX1 doesn't just aim to outperform one or two competitors. Instead, it aims to outperform the entire crop sensor camera market – with impressive results.

And here's the crazy thing - to a certain extent they seem to have pulled it off. Almost every feature on the camera seems aimed directly at a class leading competitor. Canon 7D II for autofocus and frame rate? Check. Panasonic GH4 for video? Check. Sony sensors for dynamic range and ISO sensitivity? Check. The result is a camera loaded with features for both still photography and video, and which excels at both.

In fairness, the NX1 doesn't best every competitor in every area. Despite having an outstanding autofocus system it struggles to focus and track subjects in low light situations where some of its competitors don't. And while it's capable of producing great quality video, that too struggles in low light.

The NX1 also has the disadvantage that its family of lenses is less mature and more limited than some of its established rivals. Lenses such as the 16-50mm F2.0-2.8 S and the 50-150mm F2.8 S are outstanding optics and function really well when paired with the NX1, however many of Samsung's other lenses seem less that optimized when paired with the camera, particularly when it comes to autofocus speed.

The NX1 performs best when paired with Samsung's S series of premium lenses, including the 50-150mm F2.8 S and 16-50mm F2-2.8 S

Handling

The NX1 has excellent ergonomics and a highly customizable user interface. It has a few quirks, such as image review buttons that are reversed from virtually every other camera out there, but even these can be changed via custom function. In fact, if you're coming from another brand, chances are good you can customize the NX1 to get close to your preferred control layout.

The NX1 also has one of the best electronic viewfinders we've ever seen on a stills camera. For all practical purposes it has no lag (a common problem on EVFs) and has excellent color and clarity. It's qualitatively different than using an optical viewfinder, but works very well and enables features you'll only find on viewfinders of mirrorless cameras such as histograms and zebra exposure warnings.

The camera's autofocus and subject tracking systems work well, though the key to getting good results is having enough light. Both struggle in dim conditions.

The good news is that as long as you have enough light, the AF system does a good job of keeping up with the 15 fps burst shooting speed. And that's quite a feat - to be able to follow subjects across the frame and focus on them at such high speeds, with the shutter operating in between each shot (a lack of mirror certainly helps here). At these burst rates you will, however, have to learn to shoot while watching a rapid series of freeze frames through the viewfinder instead of a true live view. It's one of the few real disappointments on this camera.

Image Quality

The NX1 is the first camera to use Samsung's own 28MP backside illuminated sensor, and in doing so sets new standards for resolution and performance in the APS-C camera category. At low ISO the NX1 holds its own against top competitors, including the excellent Nikon D7200 with its Sony sensor. It even performs neck-to-neck with the best of its APS-C competitors in terms of low light, high ISO image quality - despite its higher resolution. No doubt low light performance is aided by BSI technology, which increases light gathering efficiency of the smaller pixels necessary for higher resolution sensors. Curiously, the NX1 didn't do quite as well at high ISO in our tungsten-balanced tests, falling slightly behind the Nikon D7200 and Canon 7D Mark II.

The NX1 also offers impressive exposure latitude, which translates into excellent real world dynamic range that almost matches the Sony sensor in the Nikon D7200. For all practical purposes the NX1 is ISO-invariant; when working from Raw files, shadows can be pushed up to 5EV in post processing and look just as good as "correctly" exposed files pushed natively in-camera by using a higher ISO setting. The advantage of the former method is that it allows you to retain literally stops of highlight information that might otherwise be clipped by the higher amplification in-camera from a higher ISO setting.

The only real disappointment with regards to image quality comes from the camera's overly aggressive noise reduction in Jpeg files. The NX1's files have a lot of information and very low noise so this heavy approach to processing really isn't necessary, and hopefully Samsung will address it in one of their frequent firmware updates.

Unedited raw file

Adobe Camera Raw conversion. Exposure +5.0

Example of real world dynamic range. This image was pushed 5 stops to reveal details in the shadows.

Video Quality

Videographers will find a lot to like in the NX1. For starters, internal 4K video quality is outstanding and slightly surpasses the Panasonic GH4, making the NX1 our new reference camera for internal 4K video recording. Add to that a well designed user interface, an effective touch screen with tap to focus, and useful video settings such a wide dynamic range gamma profile and the whole thing becomes a rather compelling package.

The NX1 uses the H.265 high efficiency video codec. You may notice that we've listed H.265 as both a pro and a con, and it may be the first time a feature has made both lists. This is largely a function of timing. As of today, it's still more of a con: despite the efficiency and space savings the codec provides, the most common non-linear editors such as Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro don't support it. Extra time, complexity, and expense will therefore need to be factored into your workflow if you plan to use it, especially if you plan on using Samsung's Movie Converter software.

The situation will undoubtedly change as H.265 sees wider adoption and better software and hardware support across the industry. Once that occurs H.265 should swing to the 'pro' side of the equation. Samsung was forward-thinking in adopting the codec, but they may have been a bit ahead of the market by making it the only option on the camera.

The Final Word

Samsung is still a relative newcomer to the high end prosumer camera market, but it seems to have pulled all the stops when designing the NX1 – with impressive results.

The company seems to have listened to users when designing the camera. Not only is it a well designed tool from a usability standpoint, but Samsung managed to pack it full of technical improvements that are hard to ignore, such as best in class image quality and best in class video quality.

What's also clear is that several months after release Samsung is still listening to customers. The company has already released a couple of major firmware updates that directly address feedback from users and sites such as DPReview; the NX1 is a much better camera as a result.

In fact, for those who are curious about why our review took so long to publish, you can blame those firmware updates. Imagine having a review practically written and out the door when a firmware update suddenly changes much of what you've just written about. Samsung really seems to want to get this camera right.

We could probably justify giving the NX1 an award simply based on technological advancements and raising the bar for both image quality and video performance in its class. But those achievements are wrapped inside a well designed camera with a great user experience. We also have to credit to Samsung for really innovating on this product. In the process they got a few things wrong, but they got a lot of things right, and that's the type of product we like to see because it pushes boundaries and drives innovation across the entire market. Congratulations to the Samsung NX1 for winning our Gold Award.

Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.

Samsung NX1
Category: Semi-professional Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
Not only does the NX1 feature the largest BSI sensor we've ever seen, but it also offers the highest pixel count of any APS-C body. The combination results in excellent image quality and - just as important - the NX1 also incorporates one of the most extensive and effective on-sensor phase detection systems we've seen. All this, along with the magnesium alloy body and top-plate LCD info display, means that the NX1 can compete with the best APS-C models on the market.
Good for
Sports shooters, videographers, anyone who needs high resolution still images.
Not so good for
Photographers who need access to a large family of lenses or the shallow depth of field provided by full frame cameras.
87%
Overall score

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