With the widest maximum aperture on the compact camera market and a set of features to rival a DSLR, Samsung’s EX1 wants to be the best enthusiast compact around.
There really is more to the Samsung EX1 than a maximum aperture of f/1.8, but inevitably this is the highlight feature. The lens is a Schneider Kreuznach Varioplan 5.2-15.6mm, which delivers the same angle of view as a 24-72mm lens on a 35mm camera. Although most of the High Street would turn its nose up at a 3x zoom lens, this one is unusually wide and fast.
Samsung has adopted backlit-sensor technology for its ability to reduce noise levels, a factor made even easier by a relatively low pixel population of just ten million.
We’ve already seen the success of the fewer pixels strategy in Canon’s PowerShot G11, and with a bright lens, a less hindered path to the sensor and larger pixels, the EX1 appears, on paper at least, to be firmly following in the same direction. The larger-than-usual 1/1.7in sensor produces images that measure a maximum of 3648×2736 pixels.
On the subject of control, the EX1 offers scene modes and semi-automatic exposure as well as full manual access to shutter and aperture settings. While many manual modes restrict us to two or three choices of f-numbers, this model has 13 positions between f/1.8 and f/6.7 at the wide end, and between f/2.4 and f/7.2 at the longer focal lengths. Couple this with shutter speeds that run from 16secs to 1/1500sec and an ISO range of 80-3200, and you will be able to see that real control is there for the taking.
The camera records both JPEGs and Samsung’s own ‘.swf’ raw files for still images (both at the same time if you wish) and uses MPEG4 for its VGA, 30fps movie mode. As we have seen on a few previous compacts and the new NX10, Samsung’s AMOLED screens allow impressive viewing from almost 180° angles, and to add to that utility Samsung has mounted the 3in screen on a swivelling hinge. It may not rotate continuously about 360°, but it can be positioned for viewing from any angle.
Making monochrome, darkening, adding vignetting, increasing contrast and then adding a custom tone in-camera gave me control, but also six files on the memory card.
The camera’s menu is packed with features, but those that stand out include the ability to select shooting styles and to create your own characteristics using contrast, saturation, colour and sharpening controls. Styles can be applied post-capture, too, along with additional effects and adjustments so some editing can be done in-camera
In addition to the built-in flash unit that pops up when called on, the camera can illuminate your scene using one of the flash units announced to marry with the NX10. There are two: the ED-SEF42A is the more powerful, with a guide number of 42m @ ISO 100, but the GN 20m @ ISO 100 ED-SEF20A is much more compact and is better suited to this particular camera.
If the focal range doesn’t suit all your photographic needs, a 0.75x adapter is available (which is due to go on sale next month) to extend the reach at the wide end to about 18mm.
Samsung EX1: Features in Use – Selective Focus
Depth of field control is not something we associate with compact cameras. Usually the combination of a tiny sensor, tiny maximum apertures and ultra-wideangle measured focal lengths mean that even in macro mode compact digital cameras deliver front-to-back sharpness.
When used at f/1.8, though, the EX1 does provide selective focus and can render backgrounds soft to help us to concentrate the attention of the viewer where we want it. The great thing is that portrait subjects can be separated from the scene, but equally we have to exercise more care when choosing a point to focus on.
I had expected the price of such a wide aperture to be chromatic fringing, but the lens is well corrected or firmware removes offending colours, as the vast majority of images I shot are fringe-free, even at the edges of the frame.