Samsung NX Mini – More than a Selfie Camera
My wife has been looking to buy an ultra-portable camera with interchangeable lenses and she wants one that comes with a standard kit zoom and is capable of a 180 degree flip up screen. Image quality is an important consideration but being portable is just as important if not more. The camera must be portable enough to be easily carried in a lady’s handbag and must obviously be light enough. There are many cameras on the market that seem to fit the description but one way or another they are either overpriced (for our budget), have a form factor that seem to be too big for our needs especially once the kit zoom is taken into size consideration, or does not come with a flip screen. Surprisingly there are really not too many cameras that we can really buy with that kind of criteria.
We can choose from those usual m43 bodies from Olympus and Panasonic and these have a relatively bigger sensor size than digital compacts using 1/2.3″ and 1/1.7″ sensors. The Panasonic GM1 and the latest GM5 are probably the smallest m43 cameras we can find. Unfortunately these do not come cheap and once these are fitted with a standard zoom lens, the form factor becomes quite substantial. They also do not have flip screens. The Samsung NX series, Sony NEX series and Fuji X series have flip screens but not all the models have screens that flip 180 degrees. They used an even bigger sensor size (being APS-C at the core) which has an advantage as far as image quality is concerned but the bodies and lenses combo are now also bigger and I would struggle to call these as ultra-portable. Those with the 1″ sensors like the Nikon 1 series are actually not that small if one looks closely. The Nikon J series have very compact bodies however…with lenses, they are not that small. The NX Mini uses an NX mini mount and has a 1″ sensor so the closest apple to orange comparison would be to compare this to the Nikon 1 series. The V series are a lot more sizeable and the J series are more compact. The J4 actually have a body that is smaller than the NX mini but it does not have a flip screen. With the exception of the J series, the Nikon 1 cameras are also pretty pricey for our budget. There are of course high end compacts like the Canon G7 series, Sony RX100 series, Ricoh GR, Fuji X30 series which all have their strengths in their own ways but many of these are also fixed lens cameras, and not all have flip screens, and most of these are also priced beyond our price range. The Pentax Q range is small indeed for a system camera but they also do not come with flip screens. Looks like we are out of luck and I guess Samsung has done enough market studies to know this.
Why? Because the Samsung NX Mini seems to be targeted at exactly the type of consumers who yearned for an ultra-portable camera with 180 degree flip screen and with a sensor size better than the usual 1/2.3″ and 1/1.7″ sensors found on small cameras. I think Samsung hits the jackpot on this one.
This blog post is not about which camera is better and if Samsung is better than Canon or whatever. Cameras produced these days are more capable than the photographers themselves. Each camera that is produced has its own strengths and weaknesses….just like different people have different strengths and weaknesses. I will highlight what we think of this little camera here so if you are in the market for a similar device, I hope this blog will give you some ideas what you are getting:
What we like about the Samsung NX Mini:
Physical Characteristics and Build Quality
The NX Mini appears to have a metal body. I am not sure if this is aluminium, magnesium, or whatever. It has a top panel which looks like brush aluminium to me. So if the body is actually not made of metal, then yes I have been fooled. The bottom line is that I personally think the NX Mini is quite well build, despite the critics from some other reviewers on the internet. Some people dislike the fake leather faux like skin but we think it is fine. We don’t find the body flexes in any way but some people says the battery door is flimsy. We think it is perfectly fine. The body is extremely compact. If you remove the standard kit zoom and put on just the body cap, the form factor is smaller than my Nokia Lumia 820 although it is thicker. Put on the kit zoom and the form factor becomes bigger. It is still pretty compact and the camera is not that much bigger than a normal digital compact. My wife finds the camera light and portable enough that she does not find it an issue putting this camera inside her handbag.
Here are some photos for a quick look.
In terms of grip, the body is thin and is just about the right size for a lady with petite hands. My wife feels that this camera is particular well suitable for her. I don’t have huge hands but I do find the camera hard to grip. The camera is very feminine sexy looking (as Samsung actually targeted ladies for this model) especially the white one which we bought. So this is a plus for ladies but for men who prefer a more macho and serious look, maybe choosing the black/silver version is better.
The kit zoom is small and compact but build quality is plastic (made to look like aluminium) so there is nothing to write home about. The mount is plastic on the lens. So is the mount piece on the camera. It looks like metal but it is actually plastic. The camera does not have a hot-shoe but there is a special socket for an external flash which comes with the package. The internal body flash is fixed to the body.
The hinge of the LCD screen is extremely sturdy. There is no flex and flipping the LCD screen upwards does not give people the impression that the thing will fall apart with repeated use. I find this is one of the most important feature of this camera. The 3″ LCD screen is capable of being flipped 180 degrees. It is a touch screen so you can use two fingers to zoom in and out of a photo during preview and as usual, touch AF is possible. Screen resolution is acceptable at 460K dots. Of course a higher resolution is always welcome but the current screen is by no means a deal breaker.
The camera uses microSD card instead of SD card. We would prefer a normal SD card instead but this is not a deal breaker. The MicroSD card slot is spring loaded so popping out MicroSD card will need to be a bit more careful to avoid losing the card in the field. The microSD card share the same compartment as the battery. The battery has a capacity of 2330mAH and Samsung says this is sufficient for shooting up to 650 shots in one charge . It certainly exceeds my expectations but I have yet to test this claim in the field. The battery is also the exact same battery as the Samsung S4 so replacement batteries should be easy to source on eBay. The camera uses the Micro USB port for photo transfer and for charging so it is possible to charge the camera with a portable battery bank. Very handy for travel. No need to lug around other charger and cables. The same USB cable for charging the camera is the same USB cable for charging a tablet and a phone….what a good idea.
The strap that comes with the camera is disappointing. We don’t like it at all so we ordered another strap from eBay instead.
Performance and Image Quality
Startup time is fast enough. No noticeable lag that bothers me. At good light, the AF is very fast. At low light, AF performance suffers a tad but is still plenty fast enough for most situations. AF is accurate in most situations. For normal use, I don’t find the AF to be an issue at all. Face detection is accurate enough and selfie shots are now extremely easy and fun. If you smile, the camera will take the shots for you. If you don’t smile, the camera will wait until you do. Try it. It is really quite fun. The touch screen is easy to use once you get the hang of it. Touch AF is useable. Setting shutter speed and aperture via the touch screen is also very useable. No complains there.
I find that the ISO performance is acceptable up to and including 1600. The smart function of the camera is pretty good for novice shooters and my wife finds this very handy for general usage. However, when the camera is in Smart mode, it is unable to shoot in RAW. RAW is only available in other modes such as Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority, etc. The JPG engine is quite good. Colours of JPG files are quite punchy.
Here is a dimly lit restaurant shot using ISO3200.
And here is the 100% crop near the centre of the photo. Not stella performance but quite doable for casual use. To get better image quality, I think ISO 1600 should really be the upper limit here.
The camera supports WIFI out of the box. No need to use EyeFi cards or anything else. The NFC feature and smart transfer is handy too. The NFC works well with my wife’s Samsung note 2 but does not work with my Lumia 820 which also have NFC built-in. The Lumia will just complain that the file is of the wrong format. I have no idea nor interest how to resolve this.
The NX Mini has an orientation sensor. I think this is a thoughtful feature. I have been shooting Pentax since the K100D and now uses the K-3. Now there is something that Pentax could learn a thing or two – user calibration of the orientation sensor! How about that.
What we don’t like
This camera does not come without flaws. Nothing does…..
The first complain we have is the preview button. Samsung in their infinite wisdom has decided that the left button on the 4-way dial should browse the photos forward and pressing the right button should browse the photos in reverse. What a strange combination. We really hated this feature and it looks like there is nothing we can do about it. This is just poor user interface design.
The second complain is that the user interface is quite confusing. Takes us quite a bit of time to figure out how to configure certain things. Samsung’s Engineer should take note. Their user interface is just horrible.
I also find that while manual focusing mode is available, there is no focus peaking. There is an enlarged photo assist mode but without focus peaking, manual focusing is not too easy although not impossible.
I am sure I can find more things I don’t like about the camera but that will be nitpicking to say the least.
Those who see this camera as a replacement for m43, APS-C and FF cameras will be extremely disappointed. The Samsung NX Mini is not the best camera by any means but for the intending purpose, I would say it hits the marks nicely. See this camera as what it is and remember, most cameras these days are more capable than the people behind the lenses. Thanks for reading 🙂