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Hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy NX

24
The Samsung Galaxy NX is the first mirrorless system camera running Google's Android OS.

In contrast to more established camera makers such as Nikon or Canon, Samsung is a manufacturer that covers the entire spectrum of consumer electronics, from LCD TVs to laptops and from surround-sound amplifiers to  tablets.

In the camera world, the Korean manufacturer is steadily growing its market share but remains in the shadow of better-established competitors. In the smartphone sector the situation is very different. Samsung has overtaken its biggest rival, Apple and its range of iOS devices, and is now the world number one in terms of units sold. 

From the front, the Galaxy NX is a pretty conventional,  albeit very large interchangeable lens camera that looks similar to other models in the Samsung NX series, such as the NX20.

This puts Samsung in a unique position. It is arguably the only camera manufacturer (apart from maybe Sony) that has the know-how to design and manufacture an Android-powered "connected camera" without having to source either camera or mobile technology externally. The first result of this fusion of technologies was last year's Galaxy Camera, basically a cross between a Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone and the 16x zoom WB850F compact camera. The Galaxy Camera wasn't the first camera running Android but arguably the first one that was fun to use. Previous attempts at an Android/compact camera hybrid by Nikon and Polaroid seemed rather half-baked and not quite ready for consumption.

That said, the Galaxy Camera wasn't quite without its flaws. In our review of the device we found the  camera interface to be a little clunky and the image quality did not really get anywhere near dedicated cameras in its price bracket. The Galaxy Camera was essentially a very expensive snapshot-camera with the ability to install and run hundreds of thousands of apps, the processing power of a smartphone, a very flexible 21x zoom range and a decent built-in flash. That made it a lot of fun to use and a great device for photo-centric smartphone users and that's not bad at all for a first generation product.

Now the Galaxy NX system camera is taking things an impressively large step further and shows how serious Samsung really is about making Android-powered cameras the image capturing devices of the future. The Galaxy NX is not only the first mirrorless system camera powered by Google's Android OS but also the first to offer a Raw file format, making it attractive to an entirely different user group than the Galaxy Camera.

The Galaxy NX combines the design of Samsung's NX20 mirrorless camera with camera components of the newer NX300. The specification of the smartphone components, such as processor speed and screen size and resolution look very similar to Samsung's 2012 model Galaxy S3 and are not quite on the level of the latest flagship phone, the Galaxy S4. At present though, we have no idea what it is likely to cost.

Samsung Galaxy NX headline specification:

  • 20.3 MP APS-C CMOS sensor
  • DRIMe IV image processor
  • ISO 100-25600
  • Samsung NX lens mount
  • 1.6 GHz quad-core processor
  • Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
  • 4.8-inch 1280 x 720 pixel LCD screen
  • SVGA Electronic Viewfinder
  • 2GB RAM
  • 16GB internal memory and Micro-SD slot
  • NFC
  • WiFi and 3G/4G LTE connectivity
  • 4,360 mAh battery
  • Controllable via Smartcamera app from Android and iOS devices

Handling & operation

We've only had very little time to play with a prototype camera, so we'll have to wait for a final production unit before we can make any final assessments but it's already clear that shooting with the Galaxy NX will require some adjustment from photographers who are used to operating more "traditional" cameras.

The Galaxy NX follows the same design patterns as the SLR-style NX20 but is significantly larger.

As most settings are controlled through the camera app in Android the number of buttons on the camera is minimal. There are no controls at all on the back and on the top the video and shutter buttons, a control dial and the flash button is all you get. This lack of physical controls means that when you are framing your shots using the electronic viewfinder you rely almost exclusively on Samsung's i-Fn button on the lens to change your settings.

The control dial on the top should allow for easy modification of settings as well. However, by default the dial behaves as a mode dial when the camera is powered up. A long click on the control dial takes you into Android, but unfortunately doesn’t then take you back to the camera app.

 

The back is dominated by the 4.8-inch LCD screen which means there is no space for any hard buttons or other controls. 
There aren't many controls on the top plate either. Here you'll find the shutter and video buttons, the control dial and power and and flash buttons.

The large screen, which is the same size and resolution as on the Galaxy S3 smartphone and the Galaxy Camera, and the hefty battery also mean that the camera is about the same width as a mid-range SLR like the Canon 60D or Nikon D7100, and the EVF means it’s almost as tall. The decision to make the Galaxy NX's screen as large as its smartphone equivalents means that you can operate the Android OS exactly in the same way that you are used to from your phone but it also means that one of the main advantages of mirrorless systems over DSLRs - their relatively compact dimensions - has been nullified.

This concept - a minimum of external buttons and controls, with a touchscreen central to the operation - worked reasonably well on a point-and-shoot camera like the Galaxy Camera but it remains to be seen how well suited it is for a camera that comes with an electronic viewfinder and is targeted at an audience that likes to play with their camera settings more frequently. 

Camera app and Android OS

The Galaxy NX runs the latest version of Google's Android OS, 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, but comes with a proprietary camera app that is quite similar to the one found on the Galaxy Camera, so in theory you can operate the camera without any external controls at all. On the main screen you get a virtual mode dial plus shutter and video buttons. A range of shooting parameters is displayed at the top of the frame. A tap on any of them opens an animated array of "lens-barrel-style" control rings that you can slide to change parameters.

This interface is nicely designed but, like on the Galaxy Camera, can be a little cumbersome to use if you change settings frequently. The app also offers an electronic level and more settings can be accessed through the menu. The camera app also features "Standard" and "Expert" modes which change how complex it appears.

 The layout of the camera app is similar to the Galaxy Camera but the NX also comes with an electronic level.
 A few key settings can be accessed via an animated "fake lens barrel". It looks nice, but isn't ideal for quick modification of shooting parameters.
Less often used options can be accessed via the menu.

Like the Galaxy Camera and the Galaxy smartphones the NX offers a range of shooting modes. 

Like the Galaxy Camera the NX also offers a feature that you wouldn't find on most conventional cameras: voice control. Once activated in the settings you got a range of voice commands at your disposal that allow you to take a picture, record a video, switch to Auto mode and go to the Gallery app among other functions. This can be useful as a remote-control substitute in situations when you don't want to touch the camera to avoid shake or simply for shooting a self-portrait.

This being a Samsung device the NX is of course loaded with a whole array of Samsung proprietary apps and modes:

  • Photo Suggest gives you location-based recommendations of popular photography spots which are sourced from a library of images taken by other photographers.
  • Story Album allows you to create digital photo books which can be viewed and shared on your other devices.  
  • Multi Exposure merges two shots
  • Animated Photo combines still images to create a moving GIF file
  • Sound & Shot stores sound with an image
  • Camera Studio is a customizable widget screen where you can put your favourite photo-related apps all in one place. So you get a screen with all your apps inside a graphic outline of a camera.

Once you close the camera app the Galaxy NX operates just like any current Android smartphone, albeit a very bulky one. That said, despite 4G connectivity you cannot place a phone call with the 'stock' Galaxy NX. Apps like Skype will let you do that, but be prepared for some puzzled looks from bystanders...

The Galaxy NX runs the latest version of Google's Android OS - 4.2.2 "Jelly Bean"...
 ...which means you also get the familiar Android notification tray.

Because the Galaxy NX is an Android device you can install most apps available through the Google Play store. In theory you could use the NX for navigating to your destination on Google Maps, check a restaurant on Yelp, or simply play a round of Angry Birds in Space but in practice third-party camera and editing apps will of course be the most interesting ones to install and use.

However, what we've seen when testing the Galaxy Camera will likely also be true for the Galaxy NX. Namely, although you will be able to install third-party camera apps, unless developers update them for 100% compatibility with the NX, you won't be able to shoot at full resolution and/or use the entire ISO range. There is a good chance some of the controls won't work either but we will only find out once we get a reviewable test unit and can install some third-party apps such as ProCapture or Camera FV-5 on it.

In contrast most of the popular editing apps such as Snapseed or Pixlr-o-matic should be fully compatible and usable in the same way as they would be on any Android phone or tablet. However, one thing to bear in mind is that most editing apps don't allow you to save an edited image at full size. On the one hand, this makes images more easily shareable via wireless connections, but on the other it also means that your output images might not have enough pixels for printing or displaying at large size. At 612 x 612 pixels, the popular filter and sharing app Instagram is one of the worst offenders in that respect. Snapseed's maximum image size is a more useful 2304 x 1728 pixels but that is still a long way away from the Galaxy NX's 20.3MP pixel count.

That said, its ability to record Raw files makes the Galaxy NX more interesting than any other Android device in the context of thirdy-party editing apps. The Photo Mate App, for example, includes a fully fledged Raw converter that offers similar levels of control to what you're used to from Adobe ACR or other desktop Raw converters, much more than what we've seen on the built-in Raw conversion functions on some other cameras. Installed on the NX, this would allow for full Raw editing on the go without ever getting close to a computer, as long as you're happy to do it on a 4.8-inch screen.

The Galaxy NX's Android OS and connectivity features also give you a plethora of options for sharing your images via Wi-Fi or 3G/4G. You can post your images to Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter and any other social networks, just as you would from your smartphone. It's also easy to save your images directly to the cloud via apps such as Dropbox, Google Drive or Amazon Cloud Drive, and then access and view them from any device or share them with others.

You can set the Dropbox app to automatically upload all your images. There's also an option to do so via Wi-Fi only for those with limited data plans.
You can then access your images from your desktop computer or any other device in a browser or through the Dropbox app.

The Galaxy NX also comes with various Samsung-specific sharing functions. Share Shot allows you to share pictures right when they are taken with other Samsung devices that support this feature. This includes the Galaxy S3/S4, the Galaxy Note 10.1 and the Galaxy Note II.

There is also the Buddy Photo Share feature which uses facial recognition to match your photos with your contacts. By tagging photos you can send and share pictures, and sort them in your gallery by faces. 

Initial thoughts

By implementing Android in a mirrorless system camera Samsung demonstrates how serious it is about using the Google OS not only in point-and-shoot devices like the Galaxy Camera but also models that are aimed at more serious shooters who value the ability to change lenses, the better image quality of large sensors and the flexibility of processing Raw files.

On paper the Galaxy NX comes equipped with more than capable hardware components but the large dimensions mean it's almost as bulky as a mid-size DSLR and due to the small number of external controls photographers who frame their shots through the electronic viewfinder and like to change their settings frequently will have to seriously adapt their shooting style. The Android camera app offers a whole new way of operating the camera including voice control but only a full-test will show how well the concept works on a system camera.

Another important factor for the system's success will be the willingness of Android developers to optimize their third-party camera and editing apps for the NX. Unfortunately this relationship is a circular one. The better the NX sales figures will be the more attractive the device will be to developers and the more fully compatible apps are available the more attrative it is to consumers. We will have to wait and see if Samsung can can come up with any creative solutions to tackle this chicken-and-egg situation. 

Overall the Galaxy NX looks like an interesting concept that doesn't appear to be without its flaws, but Samsung diserves some kudos for the bold move of implementing Google's Android OS in a mirrorless system camera and we are looking forward to receiving a production unit for testing.


Comments

Total comments: 24
Jon Ragnarsson

I wonder if the camera API is open, and I could write my own interface... That could open up some interesting possibilities.

0 upvotes
siberstorm27

If you can get a good DSLR in the same size, why would anyone downgrade to a mirrorless camera? Isn't that the whole point of the mirrorless camera space, that it's smaller? Having Android on board isn't really necessary as you can pair a DSLR or smaller mirrorless camera to a smartphone and edit or send with that instead. Using a smartphone to edit is way easier than trying to touch and hold on to a heavy and thick camera. Samsung is letting out too many prototypes loose as products and it tarnishes the brand and makes people wary of these hybrid devices. The Galaxy Camera had far worse images than the Galaxy S3, only showing some promise at very high zoom levels. It's not even a phone. The S4 Zoom isn't looking much better, and is much thicker than an S3 or S4 as well. This NX seems like another shoehorned job. It would probably be more practical to just pair a good DSLR with a smartphone over wifi and call it a day.

1 upvote
peevee1

" It is arguably the only camera manufacturer (apart from maybe Sony) that has the know-how to design and manufacture an Android-powered "connected camera" without having to source either camera or mobile technology externally."

Panasonic also makes smartphones.

0 upvotes
speculatrix

Panasonic could also do an Android Lumix device... Not so long ago they launched a fairly decent android phone but abandoned it.
The new G6 and GH3 cameras have wireless connectivity.

So why haven't Sony and Panasonic done this ? Lack of imagination? Market research denying the need?

Maybe DPReview could do a poll of how many readers would buy a Panasonic Lumidroid, Sony AlphaDroid, Nikon D7200droid or Canon DroidEos?

0 upvotes
vFunct

It seems that Android isn't the proper operating system to put on the camera, since the apps aren't going to be optimized for proper camera handling.

What would be better if the camera's native OS would allow for custom apps to be built instead.

I'd much rather have the default Nikon controls with a additional downloadable apps that can upload to Instagram than have the entire UI replaced by something as complicated as Android.

0 upvotes
tecnoworld

I agree on most of the points you raised. I'm really, really happy with my nx300. It's a totally much better experience than with nx200. I think this galaxy nx is a step back in both erghonomics and performance.

I already said this elsewhere: if the nx300 had a 2+ mpixel evf on the left corner, it would be the best aps-c camera in the world, for me.

2 upvotes
wansai

Here's the first real problem. Look at the title image above. See where the thumb rests? There's actually not enough space there. Thumb rejection or not, you WILL trigger the touchscreen & screw up your settings.

I've used the galaxy camera, this was a real problem with it. There was a tendency to keep triggering the screen during actual use. Also, trying to change settings was clunky and counter-intuitive. It just required a lot of tapping, tapping, swiping and tapping. The hybrid convention of touch + physical control of the NX is convoluted. It should be either/or, not both at the same time. They are two different sets of activities and motions.

What will be really interesting will be during testing, how many shots will this do on a charge in between processing, filtering and transferring with mobile data? My guess is, it won't be many shots at all. Likely in the 200 range.

Then there's boot up time. so far, it seems boot takes up to 30 sec. We know with android, it can go 1 min+

2 upvotes
wansai

This presents real problems for anyone outside of purely casual/amateurs. With what will amount to low shot count, swapping batteries will be a common thing. Let's say you shoot an event, typically 2000+ shots. You'd swap out 4 maybe 5 batteries or more. That's a lot of waiting time for your camera to be ready.

But perhaps there is an internal buffer that allows you to swap without fully powering off. One can only hope that's a feature.

The final point would be, for a mobile photog, would they really want to pay 1000+ on a camera this big when it has been derided for so long? putting a smartphone OS and touchscreen on it doesn't make it any less of a "dinosaur".

Idea is there, execution, again, is poor. It looks very much that they had parts of an NX and GS3/4 laying around & cobbled this together rather than make deliberate decisions on the fit, form and function.

2 upvotes
jcmarfilph

I think Samsungraphy sounds a lot better and pleasing than iPonography. =D

1 upvote
jcmarfilph

Die in envy iT@rds. =D

1 upvote
David Elliott Lewis

This camera's announcement is exciting for me mainly in showing the future direction of DSLR photography. I find the touch to focus feature compelling as well as the ability to quickly edit and share images. Android allows for some powerful image editing apps.

As I have a significant investment in Canon lenses, flash and accessories, however, I can hardly wait until Canon is inspired or motivated by this trend to finally adopt Android as its main operating system (O/S). I believe this will happen. I just hope it happens soon.

I am an event photographer that heavily relies on social media for sharing. While my Eye-Fi card is helpful, I would prefer to upload and post directly from my camera.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 7 minutes after posting
1 upvote
Impulses

Meh, you don't need Android for touch focus, direct upload, or 9 out of 10 of the other features people are interested in or they've highlighted with this NX... Plenty of other ILC CSC and advanced compacts have identical functionality.

I'm a huge Android fanboi btw, but I'm just not seeing the upside of using it on dedicated devices like a yet.

2 upvotes
Impulses

On dedicated devices like a camera yet

0 upvotes
HowaboutRAW

David Elliott Lewis:

Lets hope not the other Samsung OS camera is already a disaster to take pictures with.

The NX (nonAndroid) system cameras have excellent menus and button placement. As Andriod runs today in 2013, there is no reason to pursue this idea.

(In other news cash registers are often stupidly being replaced with iPads; that's for cash transactions--the really obvious problem is that the customer can't directly see the bill/check/ring up total--well at least that idiocy can be fixed, but not this camera's.)

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 10 minutes after posting
0 upvotes
Akpinxit

Well , the Samsungs' move is bold , since EVF , in my opinion will be left to collect dust - SLR shooters like to keep an eye in VF and their fingers on dials , so it 'll be a challenge to drew'em in , while smartphone community have no additional requests above Galaxy 4 (so highly rated by DXO) on-screen compositioning and build-in lens .

Comment edited 20 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Amateur Sony Shooter

Call me traditionalist, I just can't see the usefulness of touch screen based camera. I mean how can you control, make adjustment through viewfinder, without physical dial and button? This works on P&S cameras but once you start to use viewfinder the whole ergonomic situation suddenly changes.

1 upvote
sensibill

I don't see why you'd expect (or need) much in the way of third party full camera hardware support. If they sell a ton of these, maybe...

Don't see all the 'flaws' the author mentions, but then again, DPR has never been one to think Samsung 'diserves' much attention.

0 upvotes
Lars Rehm

I'd say we have given Samsung quite a lot of attention today. I do really like this camera and think it's a step into the right direction but hardly any first-generation products are perfect.

1 upvote
CDBayy

This is the camera I have been waiting for. Placing my order as soon as it becomes available.

1 upvote
Bill Bentley

In our review of the device we found the camera interface to be a little clunky and the image quality did not really get anywhere near dedicated cameras in its price bracket. The Galaxy Camera was essentially a very expensive snapshot-camera...........

Really? This is the camera you've been "waiting" for? Okay.

2 upvotes
sensibill

Why is waiting for this camera a 'really?...Okay' moment for you? Man, DPR really does *not* like Samsung, eh?

0 upvotes
John down under

Bill B, the comments about the clunky interface and IQ less than dedicated cameras in the same price bracket were about the Galaxy Camera, not the Galaxy NX Camera that is the subject of this article.

5 upvotes
Lars Rehm

Exactly

2 upvotes
klopus

Before placing an order don't you want first to see the image quality this camera (it's stall an imaging device, right?) produces?

0 upvotes
Total comments: 24
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