Samsung NX1000 review

Delve into Samsung’s website and it now terms all of its cameras as "SMART cameras" with Wi-Fi as standard. Samsung is one of the few manufacturers trying to push forward connectivity in the camera market.

The Samsung NX1000 - the company’s entry-level yet high-resolution compact system camera - is no exception, as it too includes a one-touch Smart Link button for Wi-Fi connectivity to share between devices.

But it’s not just the Wi-Fi: despite its position at the bottom of Samsung’s NX-series pack, the NX1000 has the same 20.3-megapixel sensor and a host of other features as found in the higher-spec NX20 camera.

So what gives? Is the well-featured NX1000 akin to an NX20 but without a viewfinder? And with that in mind is it therefore the dark horse and possible champion of the budget compact system camera world?

20.3-megapixels

If you’re new to the compact system camera market, then you might want to glance over our definitive "Which mirrorless system is best for me?" round-up. It helps explain the relevance of sensor sizes and, in turn, relevant body and lens sizes, plus the resulting potential of image quality.

The NX1000, as with all of the Samsung NX models, utilises an APS-C sized sensor, which is the same size as that found in most DSLR cameras. It’s big, and it’s crammed with resolution - 20.3-million effective pixels of resolution in fact.

So its pictures are large, but also full of quality. Since the NX200 was launched in 2011, Samsung has seen the potential of this sensor, which is now standard across the NX range.

The NX1000's images offer bags of detail from ISO 100-800, and colour noise is kept at bay through the standard Auto ISO range up to ISO 1600. Even at ISO 3200 the JPEG processing smoothes out images well except for in more-detailed, textured areas. ISO 6400-12,800 images do push it when it comes to finer detail, but these high ISO shots are still useable at a smaller output size.

Impressed as we are by the level of detail, there are occasional slip-ups in exposure and white balance. You’ll want to keep an eye on exposure when it’s a bright day to ensure that the focused area isn’t close to blown-out, while white balance has a tendency to jump between slightly different casts. Nothing major, and a little practice to control means you can always get what you want out of the camera.

But overall, and specifically when thinking about the pound-for-pound cost, there’s not much else out there that can compare to this sensor and, indeed, the NX1000. It’s a heavyweight punch for its £529 price tag.

i-Function

Every Samsung NX lens has a small button on it, called an i-Function (or iFn) button. One press and you can dive into the most common manual settings: aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO, white balance and iZoom make up the full list, and can be adjusted by turning the lens’ focus ring. Cool, huh?

There’s also in-camera customisation should you want less than the five options available, though on the downside there aren’t more than those listed options available. There’s no access to AF type, continuous shooting or similar modes here.

As keen as we are on the iFn feature, we do feel that it works best in conjunction with a viewfinder. And here’s the NX1000’s first wall: it doesn’t have a viewfinder, nor can a viewfinder be fitted at a later date. There is a hotshoe fitting, but the lack of an accessory port on the camera means it’ll never be possible to acquire a viewfinder, even at a later date. This might sound like a downside, but it’s a conscious decision, and it’s the most significant thing that separates the NX1000 from the NX20.

Design

The non-viewfinder NX series, first seen in the NX100, has gone through subtle changes and now has a form more similar to the Sony NEX and Canon EOS M systems. The Samsung may look stripped down compared to its sister models, but there are enough controls on the body and a sizeable grip. It’s a small system, but it’s not too small. It just makes sense. Excluding, that is, some of the lenses. The likes of the latest 85mm prime lens positively dwarf the camera’s body, and this is one potential downside of the large sensor size: large lenses.

Whereas the NX210 and NX20 both have an AMOLED screen on the rear, the NX1000 instead opts for an LCD screen, sans the tilt-angle bracket mechanism. However its 921k-dot resolution is more than satisfactory, so this change will have little to no impact to most users, at least in terms of visible detail. Indeed, the NX1000’s screen is higher resolution than the AMOLED screens found on its pricier compadres.

Performance

The NX1000’s autofocus system is swift and features a variety of auto and user-selectable options. Whether you want to let the camera do the work, identify and focus on faces, or select a specific area of the frame to focus, everything is at your fingertips.

On the downside checking focus in bright sunlight on the NX1000’s LCD screen can be tricky, and close-up focus (lens-dependent, in this case with the 20-50mm f/3.5-5.6) can result in the camera proclaiming to focus but in reality focusing a little further back than anticipated. However, this isn’t an issue for more standard distances.

When it comes to continuous autofocus the NX1000 suffers the same problems as its NX20 cousin. We’re yet to find a compact system camera that’s really shone in the continuous autofocus department, as contrast-detect autofocus just doesn’t lend itself well to moving subjects.

If you want to snap fast-moving subjects then the NX1000 is a bit out of its depth, but then so would any other camera and lens combination be at this price point (the Sony SLT system isn’t far off the price point however).

Continuous shooting, on the other hand, is available at up to a nippy eight frames per second (8fps) in single autofocus mode. Compared to the dog-slow NX200’s processing times, the NX1000 takes great benefit from some clever work behind the scenes. The camera can snap a burst of JPEG fine shots and clear the buffer in about seven seconds. Granted you’ll be "locked out" from adjusting any settings during this processing period, but it’s a vast improvement compared to the earlier models. At a slightly slower burst rate, shooting raw & JPEG takes about twice as long to clear, but 14 seconds is none too bad.

We’d still like to see the "lock out" issue solved because it can be a right nuisance, and will limit the camera’s ability to shoot multiple bursts of shots. But as the continuous autofocus already has its limitations, don’t kid yourself that the NX1000 is the camera to get for well-focused action shots as, frankly, it’s not.

Wi-Fi

As we said in our Samsung NX20 review, connectivity is a great thing, but - there’s always a but - it has to be accessible and easy to use.

The NX1000 has a Wi-Fi mode on the main mode dial and, unlike the NX20, a one-touch Smart Link button to push images to other devices. Neither is isn’t a problem to locate, so the concept is right, but getting the most out of the modes can feel like a bit of a faff.

The variety of Wi-Fi options - MobileLink, remote viewfinder, social sharing, email, SkyDrive, auto backup and TV link - are fun and extensive, but the necessity to download an app, get each device to talk to one another via various clicks and so on can feel like more bother than the final reward. The inclusion of the Smart Link button for quick access does make the process potentially quicker and more accessible than the NX20's setup however.

That might sound a little bit negative, and we don’t like turning our noses up at tech. There’s potential here, but it just needs to be tweaked and simplified. Then of course the idea of sharing on the go has its own share of issues, at least in the UK where access to free public Wi-Fi networks isn't common (less of a problem in some other, more generous countries).

But the main thing at issue here is battery life. Wi-Fi is a further drain on the NX1000's already limited battery. We thought that the NX200 didn't perform for long enough, and the fact the NX1000 uses the very same battery, plus has Wi-Fi, means it doesn't last as long as we'd like it to.

Verdict

Samsung’s been a bit of a slow burner in the compact system camera market, but that’s not on account of its quality.

The NX1000 might not be much more than £500, but it sure doesn't scrimp on the features front. The inclusion of the decent 20.3-megapixel sensor - the very same as found in the NX20 - is the star of the show, so if image quality is your main concern then the Samsung might have already caught your attention.

But there are lows: if you want a camera with a viewfinder or any kind of eyepiece then look away now, as that’s just not what the NX1000 has been designed for. The battery life is poor too. A shame, as this is an area in which we’d hoped to see vast improvements compared to the poor standings of the NX200’s shots-per-charge ability.

Other quibbles include a processing “lock out” when burst shooting, but this has been improved so much compared to its predecessors that we struggle to find it a massive complaint any more. And, of course, the headline Wi-Fi feature may be exciting on paper, but, in our opinion, it’s a little bit of a faff really, yet a grand idea.

The NX1000 might be affordable, but that hasn’t taken any of the bang out of its build and image quality. We’re impressed with what you get for the cash.