Meet the world’s smallest and lightest interchangeable-lens camera, the 20.5-million-pixel Samsung NX mini. Read the Samsung NX mini review...
Samsung NX mini at a glance:
- 20.5-million-pixel, 1in BSI CMOS sensor
- 460,800-dot TFT LCD with C-type touch control
- ISO 160-12,800 (extendable to ISO 100-25,600)
- 21-point AF system in normal mode, 35 points in close-up
- 6fps high-speed mode
- Street price around £400 with 9mm f/3.5 NX-M kit lens
- See sample images taken with the Samsung NX mini
Samsung NX mini review – Introduction
No one could ever accuse Samsung of failing to innovate; the number of different devices the company releases each year is evidence of that. Yet while some may turn their noses up at the Korean tech giant’s previous digital compacts, Android-powered cameras and bridge cameras, the NX mini is an interesting prospect that deserves some attention from enthusiast and beginner photographers alike.
With the NX mini, Samsung joins the Nikon 1-series cameras and Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-GM1 in the miniature interchangeable-lens camera category. If size is a deciding factor, these cameras are your main options, although alternatives could include highly rated pocket travel model such as Sony’s 20.4-million-pixel Cyber-shot DSC-HX60V and Panasonic’s 18-million-pixel Lumix DMC-TZ60, both of which carry a 30x optical zoom that gives the range and flexibility of an interchangeable-lens system.
Samsung NX mini review – Features
A 20.5-million-pixel BSI CMOS 1in (13.2×8.8mm) sensor is housed inside the Samsung NX mini’s diminutive frame, which is the same-sized sensor used by Sony in its popular Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II.
Combined with the supplied wideangle lens and its ability to automatically take a picture once a face is detected (up to a maximum of ten faces) with the Wink or Smile Shot turned on, the camera’s 3in flip-up LCD touchscreen is perfect for self-composed portraits. Samsung seems keen to capitalise on the current global ‘selfie’ trend, and this camera will undoubtedly appeal to the vanity victims of that craze, but it will also be attractive to people who make video diaries or blog posts.
There is a host of wireless-connectivity options with this camera. As well as being able to connect to the internet and share images directly to familiar networks such as Facebook, Picasa, Dropbox and Flickr, it’s also possible to link the camera to other smart devices via Wi-Fi or NFC for file transfer, remote viewing and shooting. One of the things I like most about the file-sharing features of the Samsung NX mini is that you have the option to choose whether to transfer the original file or a smaller compressed version. Parents will find the option of using the NX mini as a baby monitor an added bonus, as it connects to a smartphone when both are on the same Wi-Fi network.
Samsung has also developed an entirely new NX-M lens mount to accommodate the camera’s ultra-compact format, although NX-mount lenses can be used with the optional ED-MA4NXM adapter.
The NX mini’s 2,330mAh battery life is another great feature of this camera, having almost twice the capacity of the battery featured in Samsung’s more advanced NX30, and rated to shoot up to 650 shots with the 9mm kit lens before draining completely.
Samsung NX mini review – Build and handling
Available in multiple colours at launch, the magnesium-alloy frame of the NX mini is covered in a leather-look tough plastic, giving it an instantly stylish finish, but the lack of actual leather or even a leatherette-type material prevents a premium feel. Don’t be fooled by commentators online or even Samsung’s own description of the camera, many of which I’ve seen describe the body as being ‘bound by natural leather-like material’. Only the feeling of cool metal on the NX mini’s top-plate reminded me that I was holding an all-metal-bodied camera and not a plastic one.
At 119.4mm wide, 61.9mm tall and 22.5mm thick, and weighing 196g body only, the NX mini is petite indeed, making less of an imprint in your pocket than most current flagship smartphones. It slips into a pocket quite easily, even with the 9mm f/3.5 prime kit lens attached. However,
your pocket will need to be a little deeper if you choose to buy it with the 9-27mm f/3.5-5.6 (24.3-72.9mm equivalent) collapsible zoom lens.
The forward-flipping motion of the camera’s 460,800-dot (320×480-pixel-resolution) LCD screen is assured and positive, with the graphical display flipping instantly once in position. Some of the button placement is a little frustrating, though: direct link is positioned too close to the power button and movie record is directly under your thumb at all times. I accidentally pressed each of these buttons regularly while testing the NX mini.
Samsung NX mini review – Metering
Image: This is a challenging metering scenario. The subject of this image is well exposed, but unfortunately highlights in the bright background were lost in the process
It’s no surprise to discover the same TTL 221-block segment metering system in the NX mini that has featured in many previous NX cameras. We’ve rated the system as good in the past and that remains the case; I found metering on the NX mini to be consistent and reliable, with little need to delve into the exposure compensation settings to make corrections. Multi-segment, centreweighted and spot metering modes are available, but I was able to stick with multi-segment metering, which is linked to the autofocus for the majority of situations.
Samsung NX mini review – Dynamic range
Given the small sensor housed inside the NX mini, I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by its dynamic range but it is still respectable, scoring 10.69EV at ISO 100 in our lab test. One of the most interesting things to note is that the dynamic range performance of the camera is very stable up until ISO 3200, delivering consistent performance where other cameras show a much larger decline as you move through the sensitivity range.
Overly bright skies are easily lost as the camera fights to capture information in darker areas. However, Samsung has included Smart Range+ and HDR modes in the dynamic range section of the menu to help you squeeze a greater amount of detail from highlight and shadow areas, and the results are decent. Smart Range+ intelligently analyses the scene and brings up shadows while preserving highlight detail, whereas HDR mode combines three images captured in quick succession at different exposures settings.
Using the Lightroom software provided, it’s possible to adjust the exposure settings to get more out of the raw files.
Image: The NX mini has done a good job of capturing the varying colour tones, but in doing so the background highlights in this image have been slightly overexposed
Samsung NX mini review – Autofocus
Unfortunately, the NX mini doesn’t feature the on-chip phase-detection autofocus we saw in its slightly bigger brother, the NX300. Instead, it is contrast method only for the mini’s 21 AF points in standard mode, or 35 points in close-up mode. In good light the AF performed well, though, focusing quickly the majority of the time.
However, on a number of occasions the camera would capture entirely blurred frames, particularly when taking self-portraits; for no apparent reason, the camera would acquire focus and then just before taking the shot it would hunt, lose focus and then trigger. I didn’t miss any critical images due to this quirk, but it’s still a concern.
Tracking and shooting fast-moving subjects is a little better, thanks in part to the ability to track subjects by touching the screen and the camera’s super-fast maximum shutter speed of 1/16,000sec, and raw+JPEG shooting at up to 6 frames per second, so it’s possible to freeze fast-moving subjects well, provided you’ve got good light.
Samsung NX mini review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity
Keeping up with the competition, the NX mini has a native sensitivity range of ISO 160-12,800, which can be extended to ISO 100-25,600.
In practice, ISO 160-3200 produced pleasing enough results and helped me get a shutter speed fast enough in low light to capture decent shots handheld, although noise is particularly noticeable from ISO 1600. I did attempt to push the sensitivity to ISO 6400, but around that point images become quite smudged and unattractive due to aggressive in-camera noise reduction. Of course, this can be dialled down somewhat and cleaned up using the raw files, but for usable images straight out of the camera I would recommend avoiding using sensitivities towards the NX mini’s limits.
The NX mini actually scored slightly higher on our resolution chart than the APS-C-format Samsung Galaxy NX, which was about three times the price of the NX mini when it launched last year. The technology has definitely moved on and I think it’s fair to give Samsung credit for achieving this level of performance with a significantly smaller sensor.
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the Samsung 18mm f/4.5 macro lens. 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.
Samsung NX mini review – White balance and colour
Image: The camera’s slight tendency to lean towards red leaves greens lacking the same vibrancy as the warmer tones in images
The NX mini has a distinct tendency to lean towards warmer tones when given the opportunity, but in a standard day scene it can reproduce attractive blue skies. The issue I found with this camera’s warm tone bias is that whites and greens in particular tend to suffer and appear less vibrant than they should.
Setting the white balance is relatively easy and can be done by pressing the Fn button on the touchscreen to bring up all the available controls. Navigating through to the white balance setting, you will find seven options as well as auto, colour temperature and one slot for a custom white balance. Each setting, however, can be tweaked in seven steps along the amber, blue, green and magenta axes.
Samsung NX mini review – Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video
The resolution of the NX mini’s 3in TFT LCD touchscreen is relatively low at 460,800 dots compared to the 1.037-million-dot LCD on the Nikon 1 J4 and 1.036-million-dot screen of Panasonic’s GM1, but it’s the only one that can flip up. In use, I found the display a little dark and obviously lacking the sharpness of its competitors, but it’s not a deal breaker as you can, of course, connect it wirelessly to another device with a better display for situations where monitoring your images in greater quality is essential.
Being able to tilt the screen 180° is useful for more than just taking self-portraits; it’s also great for composing shots lower than eye level without having to crouch, or even from ground level. I utilised this feature a lot, especially when taking pictures of wildlife and plants.
I found the touchscreen responsive and all the settings I wanted to change were quite easy to find and adjust using the touchscreen alone. It’s not as fast as having dedicated dials and wheels, but it’s one of the better touchscreen shooting experiences I’ve had compared to other cameras.
Video can be recorded in full HD 1920×1080-pixel resolution, but it is restricted to a frame rate of 30fps, no matter what resolution is selected. It’s limiting, but probably not a big concern for people who will be considering this camera.
Samsung NX mini review – Our verdict
It’s always good to see innovation in the camera world, and Samsung is a manufacturer that is currently willing to try new things, constantly adding to its arsenal. This latest addition provides some worthy competition to the other miniature interchangeable-lens system cameras offered by the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1 and Nikon’s 1-series models. On paper, the Samsung NX mini offers a decent feature set when compared to its competitors, but I’m now very keen to put the three cameras up against each other to see how they all compare in real-world scenarios.
The NX mini is a very neat package that enabled me to capture decent images without having to carry around any bulky equipment, while the equally mini NX-M lenses (three announced at launch) are defiantly small and well designed.
For day trips, holidays, nights out and family fun, the NX mini will do a good job, and thanks to its attractive looks, it will likely acquire many admirers.