A new CMOS sensor and fast f/1.4 lens should ensure that the Wi-Fi-enabled, enthusiast-level Samsung EX2F compact is a consummate low-light performer. Read the Samsung EX2F review...
Samsung EX2F at a glance:
- 1/1.7in (7.44×5.58mm) CMOS sensor with 12.4-million-effective-pixels
- Built-in Wi-Fi
- Effective 24-80mm f/1.4-2.7 Schneider Kreuznach lens
- 3in articulated AMOLED screen
- Street price around £380
Samsung EX2F review – Introduction
When the Samsung EX1 was announced just over two years ago, it demonstrated that the company is perfectly capable of producing a compact camera for ‘serious’ photographers. Back then, there was little in the way of competition in an area of the market long dominated by Canon’s PowerShot G-series cameras. The Samsung EX2F is a direct replacement for the EX1, but now the competition has warmed up somewhat with models from most of the big camera brands, such as the Fujifilm X10, Olympus XZ-2 and Sony Cyber-shot RX100.
In order to make the Samsung EX2F stand out from the competition, Samsung has packed the camera with features and included an even faster lens, just as Panasonic has done with its Lumix DMC-LX7. Both cameras are the fastest around, with a maximum f/1.4 aperture at 24mm, but in the EX2F it is reduced to f/2.7 at its 80mm telephoto end while the LX7 is f/2.3. Pair this fast lens with Dual Image Stabilisation and the EX2F can be used in its optimum ISO settings in low-contrast light. The ‘F’ indicates that the EX2F has built-in Wi-Fi for immediate image upload and sharing, which is an area of the market where Samsung has been leading the way.
While some of the improvements to the EX2F over its predecessor appear to be subtle, the camera has been modified across the board and offers an impressive feature set. If the marketing is anything to go by, Samsung is most pleased with the camera’s f/1.4-2.7 24-80mm lens (compared with the EX1’s 24-72mm f/1.8-2.4 unit). The camera has a built-in ND filter, which reduces the level of light entering through the lens. Even with a fast maximum 1/4000sec shutter speed and ISO 80 setting, the filter is a useful tool. The ISO 80-3200 range can now be expanded up to ISO 12,800.
Images are recorded onto a revised 7.44×5.58mm back-illuminated CMOS sensor with 12.4 million effective pixels (the EX1 features a 10-million-pixel CCD sensor). Raw and JPEG capture is possible, with full-resolution raw files taking up approximately 30MB and JPEGs around 5MB.
There are numerous shooting modes to choose from, some of which are new to the camera. The Magic Plus menu contains, among others, panorama, HDR, split shot, picture in picture and magic frame.
In the image playback menu, there are several edits that can be made to an image in-camera. Edits include Smart filters like vignetting and old film, as well as image adjustments such as saturation, contrast and brightness. With this in mind, the camera can be left in its standard shooting mode and these changes made post-capture. When combined with its Wi-Fi capability, the EX2F can be used to edit and share images without the aid of a computer, and these features are genuinely useful tools rather than just gimmicks.
Unsurprisingly, Samsung has improved the video capture capability, given that the EX1 featured a modest 480p format. The EX2F has full HD 1080p capture with stereo sound. If a compact camera needs to offer a great feature set in order to tempt those whose main camera is their mobile phone, then the EX2F succeeds.
Image: Panorama mode is consistently reliable in use and provides an approximate 180° angle of view. It relies on the shutter being pressed continuously during capture
Build and handling
At 112x62x29mm, the EX2F is similar in size to the EX1, but it is significantly lighter at 286g. This still means the camera is quite a bulky unit when compared to some of its competitors, but even with its lens protrusion (where the camera is actually nearer 45mm deep and not the quoted 29mm) it is small enough to slide in a trouser pocket.
There is little change to the style of the camera, with the body of the EX2F being made from ‘high-intensity’ magnesium alloy with a rubberised handgrip. The only real change to the body is that some of the controls have moved around, with a couple of new options to accommodate the
Serious photographers will appreciate the number of controls directly accessible on the camera body. The rear and front wheels can also be used for manual exposure and menu navigation, while there are two dials on the top-plate – one for drive mode and the other for shooting modes, which includes a Wi-Fi option. Through the Wi-Fi menu, images can be shared via email, viewed on a compatible TV or backed up. Samsung’s own MobileLink and Remote Viewfinder apps can also be accessed to link the camera to a phone (for sharing images and remotely controlling the camera respectively). Incorporating manual controls on the lens barrel, such as the company’s iFn button, would be good for an ‘authentic’ feel.
The built-in flash has a modest output, but a hotshoe port is compatible with (optional) external flash units for those who need an extra bit of power.
The electronic zoom lens can be a little fiddly to handle when trying to get the correct focal length, but no more so than other electronic zooms. I would like to see a stepped zoom option. Like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7, the EX2F has a separate lens cap that is manually attached. The lens extends on start-up, and if the lens cap is in place the camera flashes a warning and then switches off. We did not like this in the EX1, and nor do we like here.
All in all, the EX2F handles really well, but I would like to see faster processing of large raw files. I found it frustrating to have to wait an extra second or two before I could take control of the camera again after capture. Those who shoot JPEG-only will not share the same frustration.
White balance and colour
I suspect that many photographers will keep the camera in its auto white balance setting, and most of the time this will be fine. Overall, the AWB is a little cool, but this is only really noticeable when directly compared with the preset or a custom reading. The difference in sunny conditions is subtle, while the overcast preset goes too far the other way with an overly warm rendition. As with any camera, it is best to use a custom WB setting, which here is quickly achieved by selecting the option and pressing the shutter for a measurement.
Interestingly, the camera does not have a colour mode menu, so a vivid or neutral colour rendition is achieved by changing the saturation in the image adjustments menu. In Samsung’s compact system cameras the Picture Wizard is used for colour modes. By creating a vivid setting, reds in particular are too bold to be ‘real’. Without adjusting the saturation, I find the colour rendition is punchy and believable.
The direct control for metering found on the Samsung EX1 has been replaced by a control for Wi-Fi on the EX2F. The multi, centreweighted and spot metering options can now be accessed via the function or main menu. The multi-segment metering, thankfully, is predictable. It produces print-ready images, which benefit from underexposure being dialled in to avoid the loss of detail in highlight areas (for scenes with a wide dynamic range). Exposure compensation can be controlled quickly by pushing in the front dial and using this dial to makes the changes. For most of the test, I found it best to have -0.3 or -0.7EV dialled in.
Noise, resolution and sensitivity
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured with the lens at its 80mm setting. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution at the specified sensitivity setting.
With a 12.4-million-pixel resolution, it comes as no surprise that the EX2F outresolves its 10-million-pixel predecessor, impressively scoring 28 on our charts all the way to ISO 200. This is a strong performance in the centre of the frame, while at the wide 24mm focal length there is a minor drop off in edge detail due to lens distortion.
It is difficult to extract the best possible detail from the raw files using the company’s Data Converter raw software. This is reflected in our resolution charts, where processed JPEGs outresolve the raw equivalent at ISO 100. Certainly, in low light it is best to shoot in raw, and once the camera’s raw files are compatible with software such as Adobe Lightroom, I would expect to get more detail from the files.
There are key points where the noise levels increase noticeably with a subsequent drop the level of resolved detail. At ISO 800 there is a significant drop in resolution as detail begins to become mushy, as it does at ISO 3200. I would avoid this final native setting, along with the two new extended settings that takes the ISO ‘sensitivity’ up to 12,800, because detail is poor and the tones are flat. The EX2F is a camera that performs particularly well in good light.
We were moderately impressed with the autofocus of the EX1, and the system has not been updated on the EX2F. That said, most of the competition has not developed in this area, either. For static subjects in good light, the EX2F is quick to latch onto its subject. Due to the relatively small size of the sensor, the camera is able to offer a macro mode with close focus of 1cm.
Selecting the correct focus area helps the speed and accuracy of focusing. Multi AF is reliable enough, but for precise focusing spot AF is best. Spot AF can be selected from any one of 45 points in the central area of the frame, although the size of the focus point cannot be altered and is quite large.
LCD, viewfinder and video
The EX2F’s 3in rear screen is an AMOLED type, and exactly the same as the one used in the EX1. This means its display is bright and crisp, and handily can be articulated via its hinge on the side of the camera for viewing from a number of angles – a feature not common in this class. It is not a touch-sensitive type, so shutter and focus points are selected using the controls on the camera body.
The camera does not feature a viewfinder of any kind, although the company’s OVF1 optical viewfinder can be attached to the hotshoe port. Samsung has brought the video capabilities of the EX2F in line with most of the competition, with full HD 1080p video capture possible at 30fps and with stereo sound. An optional EM10 external microphone can be attached to the camera too.
Like most cameras, the performance of the EX2F is affected by the available light, exposure and ISO setting used. In low-contrast light, where a high ISO is required, the range of tones and colours is compromised. Images shot in good light are punchy, with a good level of tonal detail maintained in sunny skies. The introduction of an HDR mode is a saving grace for those scenes with a range of tones beyond the camera. In this mode, it is possible to meter for the highlights of the sky, yet still gain detail from the shadow and midtone areas. This option is preferable when you need to pull back detail from shadows where it can be noisy due to underexposure.
Like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7, the Samsung EX2F is a solid camera without being spectacular. It builds well on its predecessor and is an attractive proposition in many ways, such as its good build quality, fast and sharp lens, and variety of shooting modes. Its trump card is the Wi-Fi capability and in-camera editing, which together can eliminate the need for a computer for many images and is particularly suited to this market. Compared to some of today’s competition, the imaging sensor used here is relatively small, while the camera body is quite large, which could put some people off. Likewise, serious photographers are likely to be annoyed by the slow file processing speed. All in all, though, the EX2F will satisfy those looking for a camera that gives good quality images yet is fun to use.