Device Review: Samsung Galaxy NX (or Building the Ultimate Android-Powered Camera Setup)
Picking out a mid- to high-end camera is a bit like picking a phone. Once you’ve made your decision and plunked down the large investment, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you in order to make it your own. A good camera can be accessorized and tailored to your needs, and the Galaxy NX is no exception. While many people prefer a high end “dumb camera,” yours truly is content with nothing less than Android Power.
While photography is a very subjective topic, we will attempt to be as objective as possible during this review. But more importantly, we’ll also try to explain everything in terms that even non-shutterbugs can appreciate.
On the Android side, the Galaxy NX is quite similar to the Galaxy Note 2, according to XDA Elite Recognized Developer Supercurio‘s Voodoo Report analysis. Of course, there are differences in the hardware such as the 4.8″ HD screen, the 20.3MP APS-C sensor, and entirely reworked software. Rather than write unimportant specs, I will direct you to the manufacturer’s website.
Aside from the obvious physical differences, you can expect the same Android performance as you would expect from a Note 2. The EK-GN120A runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean and boots up to a camera, rather than a traditional home-screen. A standard Android home screen is accessible by pressing the home button. The camera is activated by pressing the shutter button from almost any screen or while in standby mode.
Measuring in at approximately 1 inch, the NX’s APS-C sensor is far larger than what is available in the vast majority of point-and-shoot cameras (Sony RX1, excluded), and up there with the vast majority of low- to mid-range consumer SLRs from Canon, Nikon, Sony, and Olympus. Due to the sensor’s large size (for an Android device), the camera has excellent low light capabilities (again, for an Android device). The sensor’s 4.2 μm pixel pitch gathers considerably more light per pixel than even the 4 “Ultrapixel” sensor in the HTC One M7 and M8, which rocks a 2 μm pixel pitch. This translates to far better low-light performance, which is comparable to other APS-C offerings, albeit with a high level of visible noise reduction. (See the images at the end of this review to see the camera in action.)
While many devices benefit from aftermarket camera software, the provided camera software on the NX will likely be all that you need. As expected for a camera in this class, you have full manual control of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. On the Samsung lenses, there is an “iFN” button that, in tandem with the top scroll-wheel or camera focus ring, allows you to adjust shooting options without having to reposition your hands or find a special software button. This seamless integration makes for an excellent software-hardware experience.
Samsung also provides above average on-device image/video editing software. While anyone would be hard pressed to say it provides a “top notch” experience, it is certainly possible to shoot, edit, and upload video or picture content using only the provided Samsung software. The benefit of Android, though, is that nearly any media can be shared with any app, or transferred through a variety of means, allowing for full customization of the resulting video or image.
The device’s internal storage space is adequate for one or two moderate-length video shoots. But as one would expect from a prosumer camera, the NX offers external storage capabilities. It even gives you the ability to hot-swap storage, while asking if you’d like to switch to external SD automatically. The camera is designed in such a way that you can swap storage, even with a quick-release tripod mount attached, which is a major advantage of the NX over the Galaxy Cam. The downfall of Android, on this particular device, lies in auto-sync capabilities. The output media from this camera can be upwards of 20 MP. Naturally, this filled up my Google Drive capacity rather quickly. Luckily, disabling Google’s auto-sync is a non-issue.
A camera hotshoe is quite important, as it allows you to attach various different types of accessories to your device. A hotshoe provides add-ons with power and signal, and is the primary means of attaching most accessories to the camera. On this device, the hotshoe has a non-standard pinout, and is not compatible with many third-party accessories.
For those who know about camera lenses, this is simple stuff. For those who don’t, there are generally three classes of lenses used frequently in photography: wide-angle, normal/standard, and telephoto. A wide-angle lens is used to capture outdoor landscapes such as the iconic Windows XP desktop background or for a wider shot in close-quarters pictures. A telephoto lens allows you to zoom in on a subject from afar. The normal or standard lens is the all-around choice for grab-it-and-go shooting when you need a general-purpose lens for close ups, certain types of portraits, or group pictures. While these are the traditional three categories of lenses, there are several other special-purpose lenses available that are beyond the scope of this review.
In order to obtain the shot seen at the end of the video above, I used the Samsung NX wide-angle lens (not unboxed in the video). The $600 lens provides nearly zero fisheye distortion, unlike the wide-angle attachment shown in the video. This will be my primary video lens, as it works well for over-the-bench and across-the-room.
The wide-angle attachment with standard Samsung lens yielded a fisheye effect and blocked out the corners in a circular pattern to such an extent that the wide-angle effect was effectively negated when cropped to a square. While the telephoto attachment lens operated fine with the standard Samsung lens, it is not as effective as Samsung’s dedicated telephoto zoom lens. Using the extender caused severe blurring. As an added bonus, the wide-angle lens comes with a macro lens attachment in order to refocus the wide-angle into the stock lens. While the macro lens works, all other lenses in the kit were essentially useless.
I could not get the DLSR300 flash, which was included with the kit, to work with the Galaxy NX. However, the DSLR400V worked perfectly with the NX. The DSLR400V allows for bounced lighting, and greatly enhances overall light control compared to a standard popup flash. The flash does not operate in automatic mode, but rather only in manual mode. Using manual mode, you can compensate for brightness and set the camera up perfectly when using the DSLR400V to achieve the desired results, while using the stock flash for automatic mode pictures.
Cleaning your camera and its sensor is very important. Any cleaning kit with a squeeze-duster and q-tips should work fine for cleaning this device. As for special instructions, there are none. Samsung recommends using a water dampened cloth to clean the lenses, which is just slightly odd, as many other manufacturers recommend a special or proprietary lens cleaning fluid.
The Polaroid 48 LED ring lamp allows for steady lighting, changing the shooting conditions entirely. It’s bright enough to illuminate a small room enough for auto-focus to operate, and it provides ample lighting to shoot nearly any target from 0m-1m away in a dark environment. The lamp blocks the light from the stock flash, so you must remember to disable the popup flash when using this. The Polaroid ring lamp does not operate in flash mode on the NX, presumably for the same reasons as the DSLR300 flash, and there are no known solutions at this time.
The Heavy Duty Photography L Bracket shown in the video has two additional hotshoe mounts for extra equipment. The bracket is sturdy and comfortable. If you’re into Galaxy NX gaming, it can also turn your device into an augmented-reality turret for games like FlapShot by Recognized Developer EatHeat.
Samsung outsources nearly all of its service to J&J Electronics (a.k.a. +Samsung Support USA). Service manuals are available for $5 USD from J&J Electronics. The shipping speed from J&J is nowhere close to what can be considered fast. Manuals are available on a USB drive or in paper format, which as I was advised, is quite a bit more expensive.
Once again, Samsung fails to provide a straight-forward method of connecting a microphone. So, in order to obtain granularity in audio volume control, I ordered an XLR to 4-pole mic adapter TASCAM iXZ mic/instrument unit.
This camera leverages the strengths of the Samsung NX camera line, with most NX30 camera accessories being compatible, as well as the power of Android 4.2.2, with all the standard app compatibility. This camera also features impressive connectivity options such as Bluetooth, WiFi, LTE, and of course USB. Finally, and this is the first time I’ve ever said this, Samsung did a great job with the software on this device. The camera app is irreplaceable because nothing else comes close to providing the same abilities, and the built-in photo/video editors work well too. While this device is Samsung’d with TouchWiz, Launcher Pro fixes that problem. The overall experience is great and the only thing I would ask for is 4k-video recording.
Below, you can find some unretouched images taken with the Galaxy NX. Click for full size.