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.
Build and Handling
There are plenty of well-made Samsung compacts – it was the thing the company got right before image quality – so it’s no real surprise that this flagship model is solid and well put together. Screw-fitted, textured metal panels make up the exterior of the body shell, while a cross-hatch-finish rubber coating adds a secure hold for the main grip.
The screen has a metal cover and the hinge feels anything but a weakness. To finish, the control dials are also in metal and feature ribbed edges for grip and an engineered appearance. In short, the camera is the product of high manufacturing standards.
Two top-plate dials share exposure and shooting modes, while a collection of just seven rear-mounted buttons add further access points. There isn’t much that cannot be accessed quickly, and in the time I have been using the camera the only mode I wished had a dedicated access point is white balance – everything else is found without delay.
Once found, though, the method of setting up a custom white balance is typically straightforward for a Samsung camera.
A front-mounted scroll wheel lends a DSLR feel when whizzing through aperture and shutter speed settings in priority exposure modes, and with a light press we land directly into the exposure compensation zone. I used A and S modes extensively during this test, and made plenty of use of spot metering combined with exposure compensation, and found that with familiarity a very SLR-like experience can be enjoyed.
The built-in flash is very small and sits close to the camera body, but the hotshoe allows this to be forgotten about. Mounting an external flash is as simple as it should be, and enhances creative opportunities no end. I used the ED-SEF20A a lot during this test and found that, when camera and flash communicate, excellent results are the norm both inside and out.
The bulk of the section above the foot of the flash is slightly too wide for the layout of the EX1’s top plate, so the drive dial and the camera’s power button are less easy to get to. Although this is less than ideal, in use it isn’t much of an issue.
In review mode the EX1 offers post-capture manipulations, such as applying one of the preset shooting styles, or a collection of more manually controllable micro-adjustments. A colour image can be switched to monochrome, or tinted, or softened, and so on. New features include a useful vignetting mode that darkens corners to concentrate attention on the centre of the frame, while miniature mode emulates the effect that can be achieved with a tilt-and-shift lens.
Unlike the same mode used in Olympus Pen cameras, though, the position of the sharp area of the defocused image cannot be controlled. The controls are interesting and provide an excellent reference for post-capture work in software for high-end users, or a finished product for those less inclined to sit in front of the computer. It is a shame that only one manipulation can be applied to any one file without the camera saving.
I suppose it would take more processing power to remember multiple changes, but if you want to convert to black & white, apply a vignette and then tone it, you will end up with a total of four files of the same image on your memory card. It is a shame too that, unlike in cameras such as the NX10 and GX-20, manipulated files are downsized to 2292×1944 pixels from the 3648×2736 originals – a dramatic fall from ten to 4.5 million pixels.
The most frustrating handling issue for me, though, is that the camera will not switch on while the lens cap is still covering the front element. A warning flashes and the camera switches off again, so you have to remove the lens cap and start again, which just takes time and makes me swear. A warning is fine, but there is no need to switch off. Seeing a very dark screen is sufficient to make me realise the lens cap is on. In fact, there is nothing wrong with switching a camera on while the lens cap is in place – I do it all the time with all sorts of cameras. It is only when you point the camera at the assembled families of the bride and groom while the lens cap is on that it really matters.