Samsung is making a concerted push at hybrid still and video shooters with its new flagship, the NX1, introduced at Photokina 2014. It’s one of the first cameras capable of recording 4K in the new HEVC codec, which promises more efficient compression than its H.264 predecessor.
We had a little hands-on time with the unit ahead of its Photokina debut and we think it will definitely pique the interest of video and still photographers alike.
The NX1 is built around a 28-megapixel backside illuminated, APS-C-sized CMOS image sensor (23.5 x 15.7mm). It’s a sensor of Samsung’s own design and is the first of its size to feature backside illumination. While it offers roughly 8 million more pixels than the NX30, the photo diodes are the same size (a space-saving consequence of the BSI sensor). This endows the NX1 with better low light performance, up to ISO 51200 (from a native 100). The sensor construction was also changed from polysilicate to copper, which Samsung says makes it faster and more energy efficient.
One of the highlights of the NX1 is its 4K and Ultra HD video capture. The NX1 will record compressed 4K (4096 x 2160) direct to an SD memory card at 24 frames per second (fps) and compressed Ultra HD (3840 x 2160) footage at 24 or 30fps. It employs the new, more efficient H.265 or HEVC codec, which is what enables the NX1 to store 4K video to a Class 10 SD card rather than rely on an external recorder. The HEVC codec is used on many new 2014 4K televisions as well, so the NX1’s video can be played directly from a memory card on a compatible TV without prior transcoding.
You can also record uncompressed footage to an external recorder via the NX1’s HDMI 1.4 output. The NX1 can also record 4K to a memory card and output 1080p footage to an external recorder. What it can’t do is simultaneously record 4K to a memory card and an external recorder. There are mic and headphone jacks as well for audio recording and monitoring.
If 4K isn’t your thing, the NX1 also supports 1920 x 1080 HD recording at 60, 50, 30, 25 and 24fps.
Another highlight of the NX1 is its new autofocus system. It employs 205 phase detection points, of which 153 are cross type sensors, for 90 percent frame coverage. This phase system is combined with 209 contrast AF sensors enabling the NX1 to track focus on moving objects even while bursting at the NX1’s rapid 15fps.
The phase detection AF will also come as a boon to videographers since the NX1 will be able to lock focus faster and smoother than a purely contrast AF system could.
From our brief dalliance with the NX1, it was immediately obvious that the camera is fast. We aimed it outdoors at cars streaming down a busy New York Street and it locked focus quickly and burst rapidly. Reviewing the results in camera and we were impressed with how crisp (and reckless) the cabs appeared.
Rounding out the new AF features is its patterned AF assist beam which stretches out up to an 15m to help establish focus in very low light.
The DRiM processor has also been supped up from the NX30’s 64-bit chip to the NX1’s 128-bit engine. In terms of performance, the processing power delivers in-camera RAW image processing that’s three times faster than the NX30, in addition to a host of ultra-specific new scene modes such as Auto Shot. In this mode, designed for shooting baseball games, you highlight the batter and the path you suspect the pitcher’s ball will travel. The camera scans the scene at 240fps for the ball and Samsung promises the NXi will be able to reliably capture the moment the bat makes contact with the ball and snap a photo.
The new processor also powers a new multi-shot HDR mode that snaps two images in rapid succession so that even if objects are in motion in the frame, it wouldn’t scuttle your HDR composition. There’s a standard three image HDR mode in the camera too.
The NX1 offers a new, dust and weather-resistant magnesium alloy build. It feels sturdy in the hand, something professional shooters will feel right at home with. Samsung added a top LCD display for camera settings, another feature pros should appreciate. The pronounced hand grip gives you a firm hold on the NX1’s body. There will also be a battery grip for the NX1 that provides an extra 500 shots worth of life.
The NX1 is outfitted with a new electronic viewfinder that Samsung says has a 5-10ms recycle time that is “imperceptible” to the human eye. In our time with the camera, the scene flashing by on the viewfinder’s OLED panel appeared extremely crisp. The main LCD display on the camera flips out between 45 and 90 degrees and has a resolution of 1,036k dots.
For connectivity with mobile devices, or for wireless 4K streaming, the NX1 uses the fastest possible Wi-Fi (802.11ac). It also uses Bluetooth for Wi-Fi authentication with a mobile device and for pulling metadata, like GPS coordinates, into image files.
The NX1 will ship in the middle of October for $1,499 (body only). There will also be a “pro kit” bundle that includes a 16-50mm S lens, the battery grip and an extra battery and charger for $2,799.
Joining the new camera is another S series lens: the 50-150mm f.2.8 lens (77-231mm equivalent). It will offer four axis image stabilization good for four stops of correction and a nine bladed circular diaphragm. New for the S series is a custom focusing range button that, once pressed, will let you set focusing parameters on the NX1. According to Samsung, the custom focus button will only work on other NX series cameras with a firmware update and no upgrade is scheduled as of this writing.
The lens will be dust and splash resistant and will set you back $1,599. Availability hasn’t been finalized.