Samsung Galaxy NX mirrorless camera: hands-on with an Android ILC (video)

Samsung Galaxy NX camera handson

After last year's Galaxy Camera, Samsung split in two directions. It went closer to the phone with the Galaxy S 4 Zoom, shrinking the form factor (and some of the specs) for something that closer approximates a pocket-friendly device, and it got serious about interchangeable-lens cameras. This is the Galaxy NX, an ILC with LTE connectivity that's capable of capturing at 8.6 fps and contains a hybrid autofocus system made by Samsung. In fact, the company says it's behind every part of this new device, from the quad-core 1.6GHz Pega-Q processor, to the 4.8-inch LCD screen, to even the shutter mechanism. With a "DSLR-class" 20.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS image sensor we've seen on other NX cameras, new DRIMe IV image processor and ISO settings from 100 to 25,600, Samsung appears to be making a serious pitch for photographers interested in more than just an Instagram hook-up. This mirrorless shooter will be compatible with the full gamut of NX lenses, currently totaling 13. We paired the Galaxy NX with its 18-55mm OIS kit lens and tested it out for a bit. Read up on our impressions after the break.

Update: Now with a dollop of video from the Premiere event in London.%Gallery-191821%

Samsung's packed an impressive amount of technology into the Galaxy NX. One feature worth talking about is its hybrid AF system, which combines phase detection (across 105 points) with contrast autofocus (across 247 points on the image). The idea is that while phase detection will offer faster focus, contrast will kick in to ensure accuracy at a higher level. From our first impressions within a pretty hectic meeting room, focus was certainly quick, although a lack of any high-speed (or distant) objects meant it's something we'd certainly like to give more serious testing. An upgraded image processor, called the DRIMe IV signal processor, speeds up both capture and processing and will let the Galaxy NX even utilize 3D lenses.

Size-wise, the Galaxy NX actually falls between a DSLR and other ILC cameras we've used. If the original Galaxy Camera was more Android device than camera, then the scales tip the opposite way here. The handgrip is substantial and comfortable, and the only curious thing we noted when first handling it was how big that 4.8-inch touchscreen looked on the back of what otherwise felt like a typical ILC shooter. Controls along the top of the camera include a dial, shutter button (which was a tad sensitive, but these are early models), as well as switches for video capture, flash (on the left of the flash unit) and power. You can switch between manual and autofocus on the lens itself, which also includes an i-function button for shortcuts between aperture, shutter speed and exposure -- in tandem with the control dial.

Samsung Galaxy NX camera handson

There's a built-in flash, plus a hot shoe for more potent lighting, while the touchscreen is the same resolution (and tech: HD Super Clear TFT LCD) as the Galaxy Camera. This means that while it won't stand up to the color reproduction or clarity of the Super AMOLED of the Galaxy S 4 (or IPS displays found elsewhere) it's made for outdoor viewing. Indeed, during our initial hands-on, it had no trouble displaying pictures and apps in harsh lighting indoors. We're also happy to see a substantial 4,360mAh battery, plus both 16GB of built-in storage and support for microSD cards. Flipping open the battery cover grants access to both microSD and micro-SIM slots -- the camera can connect to LTE and HSPA networks. There's also dual-channel WiFi and Bluetooth 4.0 to round out the wireless connectivity options. On the side, there are ports for both micro-USB and micro-HDMI for big-screen sharing. We're still checking on whether you'll be able to charge through that USB socket.

If you thought you'd miss out on Samsung's... flair for extra software, you haven't. The Galaxy NX houses more than 30 new smart modes, offering more casual shooters some automated camera settings to maximize their chances of a good shot. These new automatic profiles tie into a new feature called Smart Mode Suggest, where the Galaxy NX will auto-detect shooting conditions and offer up three possible ways to take the shot. There are a few here that we'd like to try out in the field, like Light Trace and Action Freeze, but you'll also find more typical settings like multi-exposure, HDR and continuous shot. Another pre-installed addition we are happy to see here is Dropbox, and the app arrives with 50GB of cloud storage free for two years. Sharing photos and images beyond the viewing screen is, unsurprisingly, pretty effortless. You can send / upload through the camera UI and a few menu presses, or exit out to the Android home screen and interface through your app of choice or the gallery. Browsing around the base Android OS offered up a few apps and options familiar to anyone that's played with recent Galaxy phones, with the ability to create picture books from your shots and even the ability to suggest notable landmarks nearby worth photographing.

Samsung is trying to please two crowds here: within the smart ILC's interface, there are both expert and normal options for control layouts and a gentle blurb appears on screen as you cycle through shooting settings like aperture priority and shutter priority, explaining what they do. Likewise, while in normal camera mode there's a pull-up arrow along the lower edge of the screen that offers up a handful of stock filters (sepia, greyscale and the like) -- another feature pitched at those who might come to the Galaxy NX from smartphones or simpler point-and-shoots. You can either use the 4.8-inch touchscreen or the 800 x 600 EVF to see -- the touchscreen shuts down when you're using the viewfinder.

Samsung Galaxy NX camera handson

When it comes down to tweaking more technical settings, this can be done by combining the physical controls (usually involving the handgrip dial) and the touchscreen. On standard settings, we used the wheel to cycle to aperture priority, and locked in the setting by depressing the i-function key. Happily, too, the Galaxy NX displays a row of current settings along the top of the screen, while focus mode and other information reside in the top-left corner.

If we have one major concern with the Galaxy NX, it's the start-up time. Sure, you'd typically keep the camera on while you're near something worth shooting, but it's a lengthy wait to start up cold, despite the presence of a quad-core processor. (Note: Samsung says certain regional versions will arrive with other chips instead.) During our test time, we also sometimes landed on an Android menu instead of the shooting screen, which could be a concern when trying to capture immediate action. We're hoping the company can sort out these minor quirks -- there's still time between now and when the camera launches later this year -- and we're looking forward to testing the device and comparing image quality against its ILC rivals.