Good things (can) come in small packages
by DharmaTeja on 2014-08-28
While I rated this 5 star in my intial review, now, I took off 1 star. The camera is still a very good quality compact for the price, much better than any other 1 inch sensor camera. But what is lacking is availability of lens range. Outside Indian market, there is only one OEM lens - 17mm f1.8 prime, which is not available in Indian market. Both 9mm and 9-27mm lens are not superb in low light. They just get the job done.
For an ILC, without of backing of quality lens range, future is bleak.
So, as of now, this camera is not recommended for anyone but who can be content with the kit lens and is not looking to add any other lens. Sad to see an excellent pocketable camera allowed to die slowly in the market.
Features and advantages exclusive to NX mini:
1. Super quick selfie mode. While at first this might not sound as a much helpful feature but believe me it is. Camera does some processing to selfie shots to make skin look glowing, smooth and faces are sharp. This little camera takes the best selfies than any other smartphone or high end cameras. And it doesn’t take more than a second to flip up the screen and click the shutter button for the camera to start its 3 second timer to let you settle and pose. And if that is too late for you, you can just wink at the camera and it takes a snap (no it doesn't catch you winking but with just a slight delay to show you normal).
2. Ultra small form factor without sacrificing any functionality. The small form factor might have made the designers call for some tradeoffs especially with respect to control buttons and other physical features. But all the features one can expect from a bigger DSLR are present and available through the menu system. Yes, it takes a couple more button presses (or touches if you prefer), but it’s a practical tradeoff to fit all those into a small package.
3. Super slim kit prime lens is of great quality too. I was a lot skeptical about the quality of this 9mm tiny lens (if you can call it a lens). But I was blown away by its sharpness. When properly exposed and handled,it produces very sharp images that are almost equivalent to expensive prime lens on bigger SLRs. But obviously it lacks the kind of bokeh and DOF that you can achieve with bigger lens. The aperture might not be large by prime lens standard, but it is sufficient on this camera given its high ISO capability. Actually its maximum aperture is just right for many practical purposes. Because usually anything lower than f3.2 can cause parts of large subjects become out of focus. F3.5 of this kit lens gives you sharp subject while subtly blurring the background which is just right. But if you want the subject to stand out even better, look for other fast primes for this model, which are going to be released soon.
4. Battery life is almost double that of any other compact mirror less camera. The battery life is just excellent. It is something no other camera in the world can beat. No am not exaggerating. It is true and one has to experience the bliss of not worrying about charge left when going around with truly versatile camera like this.
5. In-camera charging means one less accessory to carry with you. With the excellent battery life you don’t need to worry about recharging on a short trip. On longer trips, if you have a mobile with micro USB charger, then it serves to charge the camera too. Plus, if you have a powerbank then you can use even that to charge the camera battery. Or you can even charge this from a laptop USB port.
6. Good lineup of lenses have been announced and priced lesser than competition. I didn’t buy this with intention of using multiple lenses on it. But given its outstanding performance I did lookout for options. Samsung has already announced a few other prime lenses which are available at very affordable prices, even cheaper than micro 4/3rd counterparts.
7. Fully functional remote view finder using your Android/iOS phone: I used an android tablet and a phone to check this functionality. It worked well on both and is very practical too. You can control almost all settings of the camera through phone/tablet. Touch focus works on phone interface too. However, the live view streaming from the camera to phone interface is 640x480, so one may not get full screen view of the live view if mobile screen resolution is higher. The remote view finder functionality is quite useful when you want to take group shot including yourself. Everyone can settle in and then you can check the framing, adjust focus with touch and shoot from mobile itself.
While in remote view finder mode, camera display goes off, so it conserves battery too.
8. Low Noise and great details even at high ISO. This was exactly the information that I was looking and searching everywhere for. I had high doubts on the ISO capability of this small 1” sensor but Samsung managed to pull it off amazingly with its BSI sensor module. At ISO 3200 you barely notice any noise while all details are present and colors are accurate. Beyond that, noise slowly starts creeping in but is well within limits even at ISO 6400. It's only at ISO 12800 that one finds noise prominent but good thing is noise reduction doesn’t smear off details in Jpeg even at this high ISO setting. ISO can be adjusted manually in 1/3 or 1 steps (setting can be changed from menu).
10. Detailed and resourceful manual which explains basic fundamentals of photography nicely to a beginner. The manual explains all settings and their purpose quite concisely and comprehensively too. I actually enjoyed reading it, though am not a beginner, I was more than pleased by the pain they took in compiling it. This is some hint that Samsung is expecting a large section of point and shoot users to get converted to using this model.
11. Body construction might be a mix of metal alloy and poly carbonate. Lens is full metal construction. Camera does feel solid in construction, all the buttons are flush with body on top and have smooth texture on back.
12. 9mm lens doesn't have a lens cap and it comes instead with scratch resistant tempered glass on front. For some this might sound like a disadvantage but I consider it a unique merit. I can quickly take camera out of its holster, switch on and start shooting without loosing a moment. As the lens surface is flush and flat, it's easier to clean any accidental finger prints.
Features in NX mini but are generally also available in competitive models:
1. NFC and Wifi for sharing , viewing and shooting. All work as expected and are practical too. Especially the PC auto backup and mobile link features let you quickly send photos without the need to connect cables or extract memory card.
2. Tilting and capacitive touch screen. The screen with 320x480 resolution, is acceptably sharp and viewing angles are good. Better still, one has the ability to flip it up for low angle shots. And if you are wondering about shots from high angle, use your mobile as remote view finder, you can even position the camera on first floor to take a group shot from ground.
3. 1" BSI sensor ( like the one in Sony RX100 ii, but that camera costs more than double that of NX mini). This sensor is one amazing technological marvel. It is so capable that I never needed flash even while taking photos inside home under normal tube lighting. One can shoot regularly even at ISO 3200. Only downside of the small sensor is that you don’t get as much shallow DOF as you get on bigger sensors for portraits. But sharpness is the same and even better than some higher end models.
4. Touch focus that works in all modes. Though the AF is fast enough for most purposes, I also enjoyed taking shots selecting AF point by touch. It’s quite a practical feature than what classical photographers might think. Especially if you have two or more subjects overlapping one another, one can quickly (very quickly) focus by just tapping on the required subject. Also, you can set a focus point by touch to force the camera to focus at that exact point while you can re-frame the shot.
5. The AF point can be manually enlarged or resized with touch. Actually this is something unique to this model as far as I remember. This is helpful if you want to focus over a specific area like entire face, complete flower etc.,.
6. Despite being 24mm wide, I didn't notice any barrel or chromatic distortion using the 9mm lens.
7. Full version of Lightroom 5.0 and Class 10 16GB micro sd card inside the package.
8. A minimum shutter speed can specified so that the camera will not select a slower shutter speed which can blur your shots. But this setting doesn't apply to all shooting modes.
9. Touch focus and continuous focus works well in video mode also. The speaker playback volume is decent. Videos can be trimmed while playing back.
10. In camera HDR is useful and produces photos with good dynamic range but the option is not available in all modes.
1. No dust reduction features. Not much of concern to me as I am not going to change lens often. But someone who plans to do that, should keep this in mind.
2. Relatively lower resolution screen (matters if you are going to edit photos in camera mostly). The resolution is not bad, it’s just lower by today’s high res mobile screen standards. But as it is, it is sharp enough to compose and view photos.
3. Relatively poor ergonomics. There is room for resting your fingers but that is all there about ergonomics. The shutter button is flush with top plate. Using it for longer time at stretch can cause some discomfort. Also the small size of camera means your fingers have to be bent more, especially the index finger. Sometime after buying this, I happened to come across Nikon 1 J1. It has more external controls but ergonomics were awful in comparison. On that scale NX mini is much better handler despite lack of hand grip due to ample room to hold the body.
4. Auto White balance sometimes tends to lean towards cooler shades (blue). And under artificial lights, especially at night parties, white balance tends to shift unpredictably. Shooting in RAW is better under such situations. It is not a bug with this camera but expensive ones too might get confused under such harsh and varying lighting.
5. Kit lens is not good for macro shots, anything closer than 10 cm can't be focused and captured with it.
6. Rear LCD viewfinder catches finger prints easily. I prefer to use an anti glare screen guard, so that is fine with me.
7. Battery compartment door feels thin and flimsy. Surely they might have quality tested it but compared to rest of the camera this feels fragile and cheap. Even a slide and open door type which is seen on point and shoots could have been a better choice. The battery locking latch slides solidly into camera body. But the outer flip open door doesn't look like it will last long.
8. The supplied Adobe Lightroom software though it comes with key, doesn't recognize this camera raw files. One has to download a 1GB update for it. Too bad and meaningless to supply a software that is of no good use out of the box.
9. This is for advanced photographers: while all advanced options are present in the camera, they require considerable digging into menus. Being a conservative person I am, still I feel it a bit inconvenient. But when convenience of carrying a small, capable, quality camera is my priority I can live with this tradeoff. On a brighter note, the menu system is organized well and it feels much less cluttered than that in other mirror-less cameras.
This is a perfect choice if you are looking for portable, high quality camera that can take great shots under any conditions. There are a number of portable cameras in and around this price, but none comes close to the form factor nor offer the same level of features and quality at this price. For a beginner, a 9 mm prime might look too limiting, if that’s the case, go for 9-27mm version which is priced slightly higher. However, if you are already into photography, you will definitely appreciate the portability and quality of this 9mm prime kit. You can always buy the zoom later if you find a compelling need for it.
Amazon shipping service is great, ordered it late into evening and got it by next day afternoon, that’s less than 24 hrs without any premium. Packing was good but no bubble wrap was done. The model I got was manufactured in July 2014 and came with latest 1.005 firmware installed. It didn’t need an update. Inbox accessories were a 16GB class 10 Samsung micro sd card, wall charger, USB data cable, a CD with camera software, a DVD with Lightroom 5.0 (full version). The camera body and lens came separately. So, if you are a beginner go through the manual once to carefully attach the lens to body. Sensor is not protected by any mirror, so pay attention to attaching/detaching the lens in a clean environment. The box itself looks like that of a small p&s package. That is how good things can come in small packages.
Lack of OIS is not of much concern thanks to the wide angle lens and good high iso performance of the sensor. Indoor videos come out a lot better than what can be shot even on expensive cameras. While shooting a video autofocus works continously and I can even use touch focus to force the focus lock on a specific object. The Video start switch is very conviniently placed beside thumb rest which allows on handed shooting of videos. Video shooting commences immediately with the button press. Shooting can be stopped with shutter button or the video start button. The weight of camera is also a plus to hold comfortably for longer durations (maximum single clip time is 30mins). While shooting normally, one can flip up the screen 180 to shoot selfie videos, the video automatically changes orientation, display and focus adjusts themselves. Colors in videos shot at high iso are rendered accurately.
I am loving the 9mm prime for many things, portability, superb wide angle optics to name a few. Earlier 50mm f1.8 used to be the workhorse on my DSLR. Compared to that only thing I miss is the shallow DOF but instead the 24mm effective focal length is pure bliss. I no longer need to hope around to find a good angle in tight spaces. But for protraits I have to get a little uncomfortably close to the subject. But the results are nevertheless sharp and good.
Compared to NX mini, Samsung NX300 screen flips up only 90 degrees (but has downward tilt too). So, framing a selfie can be trickier on that (but NX300 is not anyway the camera for amatuers and social media lovers). Sony NEX 5R is another good option if one can live with a little bulkier lens and resistive touch screen (not certainly intended for regular touch use), it has flip up screen (180 up and some 30 downwards? ). However Samsung menu system is much more organized and fluid than Sony, which tilts usability towards Samsung. If I didn't have an APS-C DSLR to start with I would have gone with Samsung NX300 eyes closed. However, NX mini can hold its ground even among bigger and tougher rivals and can go places where other mirrorless or bigger DSLRs cannot squeeze in.
The camera performs well beyond expectations. Images are super sharp and HDRs created from them are awesome.
Just check this HDR created from this camera: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dteja/15257653155/ . It was shot under bright noon sun from a low angle.
However, the support software supplied is disappointing. No, Adobe Lightroom is fine. I am talking about the Samsung PC backup solution which is supposed to backup photos from camera to PC over wifi. I am running it on windows 7 pro version and it keeps on crashing the OS. I had multiple blue screen dumps because of the Samsung PC backup software and am done with it. I now use either USB connection or take the card out every time to upload photos to PC. I hope the Samsung team releases an update to fix issues with their software.
Coming back to camera, snapping out doors under bright sun is getting uncomfortable as the screen (the only viewfinder) appears washed out even with an anti glare layer over it. Most of the times I had to take a blind shot. But amazingly the wide viewing angle and sharp lens nevertheless produced superb shots.
Samsung has released a latest firmware update for this model (v 1.006). It is only a minor update, I didn't try it yet. Its a good thing that Samsung is working continously to improve their products, good commitment.
Update: 6 Nov 2014
As some other reviewers have commented, manual focus is not easy on this model. One has to dig into menus to activate manual focus and then use navigation buttons to slide the distance scale. So, it is like a feature given for just the feature sake. But if all you want is to focus on a particular object in frame use touch focus feature. Manual focus is needed only when you want lock focus to a certain distance and then take quick snaps (like the case of horizontal panning, running child etc).
Photos from the camera are usable upto ISO6400. So, people who find this cam restrictive in low light should raise the iso limit in auto iso option inside menu. Remember that either kit lens is only f3.5 max which is not low light capable. however, you can safely raise ISO to 3200 or go beyond that till 6400 if you are not doing very big prints. I have taken snaps even on dark nights and autofocus is very decent if not better than many entry level dslrs. This is a small form factor interchangeable lens camera. So, unlike fixed lens Sony RX100, max aperture is typical like anyother kit offering. If you want better low capability try to acquire the 17mm f1.8 lens for this model.
TIP: If you want to take an overhead photo, tilt the screen 90 degree up and then hold the camera upside down above your head. Display is re oriented in correct way to show upright image. Image shot in this manner is auto rotated while reviewing.
TIP2: As someone already pointed out, the distributor should have considered giving a small camera pouch rather than laptop backpack with this camera, ridiculous marketing.
But this cam is so small that you can just slip it in your jeans pocket, doesn't need a pouch practically. Still if you prefer one, most of the generic camera bags that cost about Rs 150-200 in market will get the job done.