Samsung is poised to do a Fujifilm and is due to release a massive update to the firmware for the incredible Samsung NX1 hybrid APS-C camera, adding plenty of professional-level features to this device in the sights of so many professionals and enthusiasts. The update will reportedly arrive any day now.
The pundits are excited…
But first some background on Samsung’s NX1 and why I only know what I read about it.
Respected industry professionals like Sol March at Suggestion of Motion and Michael Reichmann at The Luminous Landscape have written about the NX1 in articles like Samsung NX-1 First Impressions and The Samsung NX1 is the Camera from the Future You Have Always Wanted.
Reichmann tried out a full production model of the NX1 running firmware version 1.01 and writes that “the specs are amazing.” He goes on to say that “if this camera had come from Canon or Nikon (or any of the established players) we'd all be changing our underwear, we'd be so excited.” Sol March wrote that “the Samsung NX1 is the camera of your dreams” then provided “a crash course on why you should be excited about the NX1”.
Those two are excited and, on the basis of the camera’s specifications in the first public version of its firmware, I am excited too. Here in Sydney, Australia, though, it seems that Samsung’s groundbreaking camera from the future may be little more than a big, fat yawn. Pity.
But the stockist was blasé
After visiting several inner city pro and enthusiast camera specialists, my partner and I finally located a forlorn, neglected Samsung NX1 languishing away on a shelf at an inner city “home superstore”. The camera's battery had been dead for some time, we were told, and the store was not planning on recharging it for a while yet. No sign of the two premium S-series lenses that are attracting equal praise, the Samsung 16-50mm f/2-2.8 S ED OIS and the Samsung 50-150mm f/2.8 S ED OIS. Pity. Their specs look terrific. Add a premium wide-angle zoom and the set would be complete.
We were informed that this NX1 camera was the only one to be found in all of New South Wales. Samsung Australia’s social media person had earlier told me there were no NX1s for press people to see and try in Australia but that NX1s would be found in every Samsung Experience Store in the country. Something of an alternative reality bubble, as it turned out.
The next day numerous calls finally got me through to someone in Korea who promised to find someone to get back to me within 20 minutes. I am still waiting.
Disappointment at the Samsung Experience Store
Earlier that day, the folks at the Sydney CBD Experience Store admitted they had never heard of the NX1 but they were convinced the camera and its lenses were on sale in all the Sydney camera stores. Wishful thinking? None of the staff in the camera stores we visited had been able to get hold of stock. One store manager reckoned there might be an NX1 at the home superstore. Off we went. The rest you know.
All rather sad for a camera still in its first generation yet delivering so much already. And now it is poised to deliver so much more.
The next day I confirmed the desirability of the Samsung NX1 by downloading a 4K movie made by an accomplished moviemaker at Vimeo. Just type “nx1 4k” into Vimeo’s search bar and plenty of examples appear. Click the movie page’s Download button, choose Original then go for it.
I copied the movie onto a Flash stick then took it to the local Apple Store. After letting an assistant know what I was doing, I plugged it into one of their Retina 5K iMacs and away we went. What we saw impressed me, my best friend who works in high tech video and audio R & D and the assistant who had some knowledge of video production. The footage was straight from the camera, ungraded, and it was simply amazing. And the camera was, of course, running version 1 of the firmware.
The best of the version 1.2 firmware
My interest in this camera is its video capabilities although it looks to be excellent at stills too. Firmware version 1.2 is inching the camera’s video features up into Panasonic Lumix GH4 territory but what the NX1 has and the GH4 does not is an APS-C sensor.
If there is one thing that Sony’s A7s has taught us, it is that larger sensors have the potential to render better image quality. Whether Samsung’s 28.2 megapixel sensor, Adaptive Noise Reduction and DRIMe V high-speed image processor is a perfect combination for achieving amazing low light video and stills remains to be seen and tested by others who can lay their hands on an NX1. I plead ignorance but not by choice or want of trying.
I won’t list everything that is coming in version 1.2 – several other websites have already done a great job of that. But the following list includes some of the video features that grabbed my eye:
- D Gamma – a new logarithmic preset – for wider dynamic range.
- C Gamma – another new log preset – for higher contrast range.
- Control of dark level gamma – 31 levels.
- Adjustable audio levels while recording.
- Three luminance level options – 0-255, 16-235 and 16-255 – like the GH4.
- Autofocus (AF) speed controls when shooting video – fast, medium and slow.
- Free-run timecode.
- Pro-quality compression for FHD.
- Stills capture from selected video frames in playback – similar to the GH4’s 4K Photo feature.
- 23.98 and 24p in 4K UHD mode and in 1080p, whereas 24p was only available in 4K DCI in version 1.
- Markers for 4:3 and 2.35:1 aspect ratios and an action-safe marker option.
The best of version 1.01 firmware & the NX1 hardware
For me number one is the H.265 codec. Lately I have been receiving some videos encoded as HEVC – High Efficiency Video Coding – contained in H.265 Matroska container files and have transcoded them into H.264 MP4 files for playback on existing movie players on older computers.
The size difference is astounding, the H.265 file one-tenth the size of the H.264 version it was converted to in iSkysoft iMedia Converter Deluxe for Mac within a few short minutes on a recent Mac Pro here on loan. While few of us may have the luxury of current Mac Pros for transcoding processor-intensive files it is clear that H.265 will soon be a must and a format that the rest of the industry will adopt and cater for. Faster processors, bigger hard drives and NLE support are all just a matter of time.
Another virtue of the H.265 codec and radically smaller file sizes? Moviemakers in countries with poor to rotten broadband and especially dreadful upload speeds – like Australia, now 44th in the world – will be able to take hours instead of days to upload movies to clients and video channel services.
There are other intriguing aspects to the NX1. Its sensor is Super 35mm, ready for affordable Super 35mm cine prime lenses that may be appearing sometime this year. If the GH4 is a great documentary 4K Super 16mm camera, perhaps the NX1 will be its feature and low-light 4K Super 35mm counterpart?
The 4K NX1 footage I saw resembled high quality stills that just happened to move, with none of the “video look” that critics of digital often mention. Even without firmware version 2’s D Gamma, the dynamic range in hard sunlight was remarkable and makes me miss our now infrequent Sydney sunshine even more. I saw no evidence of noise at all.
The NX1 and other considerations
Only one Samsung lens was in evidence at the home superstore, the Samsung NX 16mm f/2.4 pancake lens attached to the NX1. Searches online turned up positive reviews of the 16-50mm f/2-2.8 S and50-150mm f/2.8 S lenses. Are these two just the start of a stellar Samsung S-seris line-up? Or will the NX1 languish from too few pro video-oriented lenses as Sony’s A7s has this past year? Will Metabones and its competitors start bringing out suitable adapters? Is the Samsung NX lens mont even adaptable? Time will tell.
I barely handled the NX1 – there was little point given its battery was dead. The feel of its body hinted at the solid build some reviewers are comparing to smaller alternative to Canon’s 1D C. Based on my experiences the other day I have serious concerns about the marketing and availability of the NX1 and lenses in this country at least.
I note though that many of my moviemaking colleagues buy their gear when overseas or online from US-based retailers. But does the NX1 have a local market outside those lucky few? I would have thought displaying the NX1 and whatever premium lenses are available for it would be a no-brainer at Samsung Experience Stores, especially in conjunction with their curved screen 4K UHD television sets. Imagine an NX1 plugged in to a massive Samsung TV displaying live 4K video or a gallery of amazing 4K movies and stills.
Regardless of where Samsung goes with the marketing and availability of the NX1, and their plans for more Premium S-series professional lenses, I truly wish them well and hope that other potential buyers will get to see and try this incredible camera out. From what I have seen on Vimeo so far, it places the efforts of the traditional DSLR camera makers in the shade. I have added an NX1 body and the two lenses on my B & H Photo wishlist but I really want to see and try them out first.
Just after competing the draft of this article, I heard from Samsung Australia's social media person again, informing me that NX1s may be available to see at some suburban camera stores. All but one are in outer suburban malls well beyond my public transport travel range. I will dive into the camera store in a southern suburb when I can though. Here is hoping!
(cover photo credit: snap from Karin Gottschalk)