Samsung NX Mini interchangeable lens camera
It's very small and it can take good pictures, but it's not well designed
- Good image quality from a small sensor
- Hinged screen can be useful
- Poor overall design
- Exposure control is through the touchscreen
Samsung's NX Mini can take clear photos and its body is slim, but it doesn't have much going for it apart from that. Its overall design is not good, it feels cheap, and the user experience it provides isn't always enjoyable.
Price$ 599.00 (AUD)
The temptation to make interchangeable lens cameras even smaller has been too strong for Samsung to resist, so here we have the NX Mini: it has the body of a compact camera, but it doesn’t have a fixed lens. It’s an idea that, if executed correctly, could potentially provide a wonderful user experience. But with the NX Mini, the rest of the camera appears to be an afterthought beyond ‘let’s make a slim and light camera that can take different lenses’.
When you build a camera that can take interchangeable lenses, the product will inevitably end up being bulky at some point, unless you stick to using pancake-style prime lenses. Whack a zoom lens on it, such as the 9-27mm that we tested with, and you still have a camera that isn’t easy to fit in your pocket unless you’re wearing a good-sized jacket. And this makes the NX Mini a somewhat confusing product: why not just stick with a tried and true interchangeable camera since you’ll have to find some way of carrying that anyway?
Not a premium camera
From the get-go, it’s clear that the NX Mini isn’t a premium camera. It feels ‘cheap’ from its texture and finish, all the way to its button placement and battery compartment. In addition to the removable battery, this compartment is where the microSD card slot sits, as well as the micro-USB charging and data transfer interface, and the micro-HDMI port. This compartment can be very hard to open with your fingernail the first time you use it. Samsung has included a little ‘pull strap’ exactly for this reason, but even this strap can be hard to open sometimes unless you have an implement to prod it with.
The build quality and design isn’t very well thought out. Samsung hasn’t placed any dials on the body that can be used for changing the exposure settings, which is something that most of us who use interchangeable lens cameras like to be able to do easily. Instead, Samsung has implemented on-screen controls that require a mishmash of screen tapping and traditional button pressing to get the job done. It’s a missed opportunity for Samsung to have enabled either a full touchscreen-based user interface on a wider screen (Leica has embraced something similar), or an interface reliant solely on physical rings for main settings.
A lack of elegance can also be found at the top of the camera, where Samsung has placed a concealed port for an external flash (there is also a built-in flash). If you choose to use an external flash, the flap that covers the port will be held up messily behind the flash since it’s tethered to the body. It’s not a good look, and it can make it harder to attach and remove the flash since the flash has a screw that you need to tighten to keep it secured to the camera’s body.
We have issues with the shutter button as well, which Samsung has placed on the far right of the body, and inline with the thumb rest at the back. It’s an unnatural feeling position, and is especially uncomfortable if you try to take photos while holding the camera with one hand since you can’t get a proper, restful grip. To the left of the shutter are the power button and the button for accessing the camera’s wireless features. Samsung should have placed the shutter button in the position of the power button instead.
The rest of the buttons on the back are from the template of almost every other compact camera on the market. There are the directional pad buttons in the centre, and they are surrounded at the top by the menu and mode buttons, and at the bottom by the play and delete buttons. If you’re looking for access to a quick menu system, then you have to hit the Fn button at the bottom-right corner of the touchscreen. Depending on the mode you are in, this will bring up common settings that you can change.
These all seem like corners that Samsung has cut in order to keep the cost of this camera at a point where it will appeal to those of you who are in the process of considering a better camera to replace a smartphone, and yet don’t want anything bigger than a compact, but a camera that supplies better picture quality than a compact. We’d say that this is where the Samsung NX Mini fits: it can actually snap clear and vibrant pictures that are worthy of not only showing off on social networks, but also of being printed and displayed in your home.
In manual mode, it’s the Function button on the touchscreen that you need to tap in order to get to the aperture, shutter, and ISO values, which you can then scroll through to get the settings that you desire. There are a couple of things annoying about this method: the first is that it can be frustrating to get the exact values you’re after unless you are calculating in your touchscreen scrolling, and the second is that you don’t get access to a light meter or a live view of the settings changes. This means that you constantly have to go back and forth between shooting mode and settings mode, and this is far from ideal when you want to take total control of your camera.
It wasn’t as simple as having a control ring on the back to change exposure settings, and while we got used to using the manual settings after a while, we loathed using them while on the go and during bright outdoor conditions. We used manual settings at home, and then made use of the ‘auto’ and ‘smart’ modes while we were out and about. Smart mode isn’t actually ‘smart’ in that all it does is list scene modes for you to select, rather than picking the one it thinks will do the trick.
We played with the ‘rich colour’ smart mode during our tests quite a lot, as it was this mode that more accurately captured scenes compared to auto mode. The only downsides were that we had to hold the camera very steady (it’s an HDR mode and ghosting will appear if you move the camera) and there is a long wait while each shot is processed by the camera. That wait took the joy out of using that mode, and it’s in line with the rest of our thoughts about this camera: a missing ‘fun’ factor is a big deal for us.
But one thing that was more enjoyable to use was the hinged screen. It was appealing to us as a way of getting a slightly different perspective for our shots. Incidentally, the screen switches on the camera when you flip it up, and is set to ‘self shot’ mode. In order to use the camera with the 9-27mm lens, you also have to make sure that the lens is unlocked. Unfortunately, the act of unlocking the lens doesn’t switch on the camera, which we think would be a neat thing for it to do.
Image quality and Wi-Fi transfers
While it bears the ‘NX’ name, the NX Mini doesn’t use the same technology as Samsung’s more esteemed NX cameras, such as the NX 30, which has an APS-C sized (23.5x15.7mm) sensor. Instead, the NX Mini has a sensor that is sometimes commonly referred to as a 1-inch sensor. It has a size of 13.2x8.8mm, and 20 megapixels. It has the same traits as the sensor in Sony’s RX100M3, which is another small camera, but that has a fixed lens and some very different features. The NX Mini can’t just use lenses designed for the NX series of cameras, but instead needs lenses that are based on Samsung’s NX-M mount — currently this includes the 9-27mm zoom lens, and a 9mm pancake lens.
With the 9-27mm lens, we managed to capture some clear and vibrant photos, though there was a sense that the photos were perhaps a little too sharp. At the widest angle, there was some skewed lines, while in high-contrast areas there was only the slightest hint of chromatic aberration.
At high ISO values, the results were also impressive. Even up to ISO 3200, images maintained a decent clarity and were easily usable on social networks and comfortably viewable on a Full HD display. Only when we viewed the photos at their native size could we see that the image was muddier than at lower ISO levels.
We didn’t have any problems focusing, and for the most part we tapped the screen at the point that we wanted to be in focus (you can also tap to select a tracking point, or to take a photo without pressing the shutter). A circular background pattern is rendered by the lens when the focus is on the foreground image.
Basically, we don’t think the target market for this camera (which we assume to be first-time interchangeable lens users) will be disappointed by the image quality at all.
It might be cumbersome to transfer photos from the camera, though, since it uses microSD rather than a regular SD card, and since most laptops ship with a reader for the latter. You could either use a USB cable, or you could make use of the inbuilt Wi-Fi features to transfer photos to your smartphone. The latter can be done via Samsung’s Smart Camera app and the MobileLink feature in the camera. You can then upload the photos to your favourite social network or cloud storage service.
Samsung even touts the camera as being usable as a baby monitor when you install the Home Monitor app on your phone. We could connect to the camera using the Smart Camera app on our Galaxy S5 without any problems, and it worked fine for transferring photos, but we could not use the same connection procedure to get the Home Monitor app working; even when the phone was connected to the phone’s network, the app couldn’t see it.
Should you buy it?
While we’ve been harsh with this camera, it’s important to note that it’s not meant to be a premium model. At $599, it can be seen as a good compromise between a compact and a full-blown interchangeable lens camera. But the fact remains that it’s not a well-designed camera and that it can kill most of the joy that photography is meant to provide.
Furthermore, you’re stepping into a camera system that so far has only two lenses and no listing for other options. If you’re after a small camera that can take different lenses, then we’d go for something like the Sony a5000, which has a bigger sensor and better controls, but which is pricier. If maximum portability and image quality are both requirements, then look into something like Sony’s RX100M3 instead (though it’s almost double the price, but with a much better design).
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