Since November 2013 I’ve been using a Samsung Galaxy NX The first interchangeable lens camera to run the Android operating system. A common feature on new cameras is wireless connectivity that enables them to connect to phones or tablets to transfer photos so that images can then be posted online. Having a combination of Android and wireless connectivity cuts out the middle man, you can shoot pictures then use them in whatever Android app takes your fancy. You might think having full blown Android on a camera might get in the way of shooting, sure you could miss a photo op by playing angry birds, but no matter what app you’re using you can get into camera mode with one press of the shutter button. The build quality is really sturdy, it feels as small as it possibly could be while accommodating the large touch screen and large removable battery.
All photos taken with the Samsung Galaxy NX in this review were tweaked with Lightroom 5 which is included with the camera. You can click each of the photos to see the finer detail on Flickr.
Taking control of the Galaxy NX
The first thing you will notice is the distinct lack of buttons and dials. The camera has just 5 in total. You’d be hard pushed to find another mirror-less camera, even a compact with less buttons and dials. The 5 buttons you get are for shutter release, movie record, power on/off, flash on/off and the control dial that also doubles up as a button too. There is no need for lots of buttons as the camera features a whopping 4.77 inch 1280px x 720px touch screen which is larger than an iPhone 5 screen. Because the control system is mostly based around the screen it means that it can also be highly extensible.
The Galaxy NX has a choice of Standard and Professional user type. The Standard user type has a lot more hints and it’s easier to see how shutter speed, aperture and ISO are related which is great if you’re learning about photography.
There is also a smart mode (which is available in the Professional mode as well) in which you can select things like “light trails”, “waterfall” and “fireworks” for long exposure photos and “Action Freeze” for fast shutter speed. Other Smart modes include Panorama, Eraser which enables you to remove passers by and other moving objects from images easily. Then there is Rich tone which is basically an HDR (high dynamic range) mode. A nice little gem I found is Kids Shot which turns facial recognition on and plays silly sounds to draw a child’s attention when the shutter button is half pressed, it would of been nice if the focus light flashed in Kids mode. One mode that the self obsessed narcissistic selfie junky is going to love is “Beauty face”. After taking a shot it smooths the skin and gives you the option to slim the face and enlarge the eyes. Someone pointed out to me that it would been good if it did something about bags under the eyes. The ‘Animated Photo’ creates an animated gif where the majority of the image is stationary but select parts of the image are moving, you can have a lot of fun with this mode!
There is also a time-lapse mode called ‘Interval’ which could be better due to the shortest interval between frames you can set being one minute, whenever I shoot a timelapse my shooting interval is quite often 5 – 30 seconds. You also can’t set it to shoot infinite frames and you don’t have the ability set your own aperture or shutter speed, once the time-lapse is finished there will be a folder full of the images on the camera, ideally for the novice user I think the camera should also generate a movie file. This does not really matter as I found an app called ‘Lapse It Pro’, this is one of the beauties of this camera is that there will be an app to cover your specific needs.
The camera features voice control so there is no need to use timer mode as you can simply trigger the camera by saying “cheese”, “smile” and various other phrases, which is great because if you’re taking a group shot you don’t have to keep going back to the camera to trigger the next shot.
Quick control with the control dial and electronic view finder
When in professional mode the user interface is less cluttered but still intuitive and clicking settings on the screen will allow you to adjust them. You can set the main control dial to control the most common settings, if the dial is rolled it changes the shutter speed or aperture depending on whether you are in Aperture or Shutter priority mode. If you press down on the control dial it will toggle whether you are changing ISO, white balance or exposure composition. This means when using the EVF (electronic view finder) you don’t have to worry about having to use the touchscreen to control the camera’s main settings. The EVF is great for the most part as it’s bright and you can see additional info like the histogram. There is a slight problem with the EVF when holding the camera because it can unexpectedly triggered when your hand gets too near it when using the touch screen, it’s not immediately obvious what’s happened as you don’t notice the EVF turning on so it just seems like the screen has is turning off. Also in very bright conditions if sunlight is hitting the EVF it turns off as it assumes your face is not pressing against it, the only way round this is to push the viewfinder into your eye to block the light.
Being Location aware with GPS
For the most part there is no reason to shot jpeg photos because unlike the NX300 you can use raw photos in Instagram and other apps on the device. I’m big advocate of including as much metadata as possible with photos so I found it a little frustrating that location data is only saved in JPEG files and not RAW files. The Galaxy NX makes it really easy to find photogenic spots with the use of an app called ‘Photo Suggest’ which uses the camera’s location to show photos taken in near by places so you might use them as inspiration when in unfamiliar surroundings. Images in Photo Suggest are pulled from panoramio.com. I have not used this facility as I like my photography to be driven by a little serendipity.
Lightroom 5 in the Box
Being able to tweak the photos on the camera is great but like any camera that shoots in RAW you are going to get the images on your computer so you can really get to work with Lightroom or Photoshop. If like me you opt to use the Galaxy NX’s 16GB of internal storage to store your photos, moving the images to your Mac is not as simple as connecting the camera via USB and copying files using the operating system or the Lightroom, instead you have to use the Android File Transfer application for the Mac to get the files onto your computer.
Android as long term iPhone user
As a long term iPhone user this is my first real experience of Android and I have to say I am really impressed. The camera runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean which if you’re a hardcore Android user you will know this is not the latest version (4.4 KitKat) as an Android novice this does not really bother me as I don’t know what I am missing. One of the features I really like about Android is it makes it really easy to move a photo from one app to another, in most image based apps there will be an option to open a menu showing all the other apps installed that can accept images. On iOS unless it’s a core app like Facebook, Mail, Twitter Etc you have to save your image to the camera roll then leave the app, then launch the app you want to open the image in, it’s so much faster moving images on Android.
The device has 16GB of storage built in of which Android and apps take around 3 of, this left me with an ample 13GB enough for 600 RAW files. If that’s not enough for you then there is also a micro SD card slot. Even though Lightroom 5 is supplied with the camera you can’t use it to directly export pictures off the camera if you are using the built in memory to store photos. On the Mac you have to use the free ‘Android File Transfer’ app to move files to your computer before you can import them to Lightroom or other photo organising tool.
Another Android feature I really like is the Keyboard, on the iPhone if you miss type a word it will automatically correct it for you as soon as you hit the space bar, you have to take action to stop it correcting you. On the Android it’s the other way round, you type and take action when you want to be corrected which I thinks works better. If you type the same thing over and over again it will learn your habits. When I first got the device I was repeatedly typing “Taken and posted with the Samsung Galaxy NX”. Now that it knows I repeatedly type that sentence, as soon as I type “Taken” the device predicts that the next word is likely to be “and”, then “posted” and so on so all you have to do to type a commonly typed sentence is tap the predicted words repeatedly. It really speeds up those Instagram and Facebook updates.
The Galaxy NX has 3G and 4G wireless connectivity which I have not actually used because I did not want to splash out on extra SIM card just for the convenience uploading from the camera. Instead I opted to share my iPhone’s internet connection wirelessly, the only drawback to this is that you really notice how little your phone battery lasts when it’s sharing it’s WiFi connection with another device.
While the battery on my phone was running down quickly supplying the camera with the internet I did not have the same problem with the camera. For 5 months the Galaxy NX has become my carry round camera and I have never been caught short by its battery. The battery holds a whopping 4360mAh which to put into perspective is almost four times the capacity of the NX 300 1130mAh battery. That said, the Galaxy NX will be more energy hungry because of the always on nature of an Android device compared to a conventional camera and the whopping great screen but with power saving features this device will definitely last a full day’s shooting no problem.
Nerdy details a file by any other name would smell as sweet
I really like the way the camera names its image files, it’s a combination of date and time rather than just a number that counts up and then repeats after 9999 exposures. This means every single file that you shoot will have a unique name which is something I really like as usually I change my file names on import to a date-time format (you can read more about how I handle my photo library in this Lightroom tutorial).
Over all I think the Galaxy NX is awesome, in the past I would take a photo on my iPhone for Instagram and then regretted if I did not take the same picture on a real camera to. Now I don’t have to worry about that, I can take picture and post in the moment and I also have a high quality RAW file that I can do anything with and not compromise on quality. There is real a novelty to having interchangeable lens camera that is connected to the internet, people are often quite surprised when I take a photo and then launch Instagram, it reminds me of owning an iPod in 2001 when the majority of people did not know what they were. I think always connected cameras are definitely the future.
The Galaxy NX retails for £799.60 on Amazon UK and $1,199.99 on the US Amazon which to most people will seem a little pricy but remember it is the first of its kind so there is going to be a premium for that. To put it in perspective for the same price you can get a Samsung NX300 which has the same sensor and Samsung Galaxy S5 smart phone for the same price. If you are a hardcore photoblogger in the market for a midrange DSLR type camera it would be ideal for you.