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Samsung GX-1S Digital SLR Review

Samsung GX-1S Digital SLR Review - Samsung GX-1S Digital SLR Review

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Category : Digital SLRs
Product : Samsung GX-1S
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Samsung's first foray into the digital SLR market is a direct result oftheir collaboration with Pentax. In this review Gary Wolstenholme finds out whether this camera is simply a Pentax in disguise, or a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Samsung GX-1SSpecifications
  • 6.1 megapixels
  • Pentax KAF lens mount
  • Pentaprism viewfinder wth 95% field-of-view
  • 2.5inch screen
  • 11-point autofocus system
  • Multi-segment, centre-weighted and spot metering modes
  • ISO 200-3200
  • Built in flash. Guide No 15.6(ISO200/m)
  • Powered by 4x AA batteries or 2x CR-V3 lithium batteries
  • Weight 505g without batteries and card
  • RRP £700 with 18-55mm and 50-200mm lenses
Build and handling
The GX-1S is among the smallest digital SLRs available. Despite this it has a solid, purposeful feel to it, especially when loaded with four AA batteries. A deep fingergrip, coupled with the contoured backplate, makes for a very secure hold. The camera feels very well balanced with either of the two Schneider-Kreuznach lenses that are currently available.

Display screens and viewfinder
Samsung GX-1STwo LCD screens are provided on the GX-1S - a monochrome one on top and a 2.5inch TFT LCD on the rear. The monochrome screen displays exposure information, battery life, shooting mode autofocus mode and the amount of frames you have left on your memory card. Nowhere are the ISO setting, or quality level displayed for quick reference, which is a pain. A couple of times I took the camera out and shot using too high or too low an ISO until I realised something wasn't right about the exposure times. A warning can be set as a custom function, but this is not an ideal solution.

The 2.5inch TFT LCD on the rear is bright and clear. A glossy sheet of tough acrylic material is used to protect the screen. Although this may contribute to the longevity of the screen, it can make it difficult to see in bright conditions.

The viewfinder image is provided by a glass pentaprism, which gives a slightly brighter, clearer image than cheaper pentamirrors. For an APS-C camera the viewfinder is relatively large, though it still small and a dark compared to a 35mm finder.

Menu and controls
Samsung GX-1SThe exposure mode dial is located on the top to the left of the pop-up flash. The usual array of exposure options are selectable with seven automatic scene programs, a green 'auto scene' mode and then exposure modes that provide some manual control.

Menu and playback controls are located by the left side of the LCD display screen. The camera menu contains options to control the image tone, amount of recorded pixels, compression level, colour saturation, sharpness, and contrast.

A custom functions menu is also hidden away in the depths of the menu system. This includes options such as noise reduction, exposure steps, auto ISO range, link AF point and AE metering, meter operating time, OK button functions, manual white balance measurement and the colour space used. Once you've found this menu it is a good idea to go through and have a look at the default settings, as some of them may not be to your taste.

Battery
Samsung GX-1SFour AA batteries are used to power the GX-1S, this adds a fair bit of weight to the camera. The advantage of using AA batteries is that you should never be caught short for power, as they are readily available worldwide.

I found the camera preferred alkaline cells, rather than NiMh rechargeable batteries, giving almost double the life from quality alkalines. This could work out expensive in the long run, as premium alkaline batteries are not cheap.

Another option for powering the GX-1S is with lithium CR-V3 batteries, which should give extremely long life. I didn't get chance to try any in the camera, but I would hope they'd last a lifetime as they cost approximately £10 each on the high street, and this camera takes two of them. Some rechargeable CR-V3 kits are available from the ePHOTOzine shop, which will work out much more economical in the long run.

Lens system
Around twenty different autofocus Pentax K-mount lenses are currently available ranging from exotic fisheye zoom lenses to lightweight telephoto. Third party manufacturers such as Sigma and Tamron also offer a ccomprehensive range of lenses.

As the Pentax K-mount used on this camera has remained pretty much the same over time, a large selection of lenses can also be bought second-hand, which can be great for photographers on a budget.
Samsung GX-1S

Flash system
A small pop-up flash is built into the GX-1S, which is great for providing a little fill-in outdoors, or as a last resort when light levels fall.

As the Samsung GX-1S is essentially a re-badged Pentax camera, it accepts the range of digital compatible Pentax flashguns. These include the AF 360 FGZ which has a guide no of 30(ISO 100/m) and costs about £200, and the more powerful AF 540 FGZ, which has a guide number of 54(ISO100/m) and costs over £300. For the latest prices please check the ePHOTOzine shop.
Samsung GX-1S
Samsung GX-1S
A white wall shot using the on-board flash at 18mm, adjusted in levels to illustrate flash coverage. Fall-off gradually increases towards the corners and is more prominent at the bottom of the frame, but is smooth and barely noticeable in normal circumstances.

Memory card
The GX-1S uses an SD memory card which fits into the slot on the side. The following are write speeds for various quality settings using a Sandisk Extreme III card.

Quality setting Time taken to write to card
6 megapixel RAW 4.7secs
6 megapixel Jpeg fine 2.0secs
6 megapixel Jpeg normal 1.9secs

I also timed the delay between shots for this camera in the single shot mode.

Quality setting Shot-to-shot delay
6 megapixel RAW 0.98secs
6 megapixel Jpeg fine 0.96secs
6 megapixel Jpeg normal 0.86secs

The time taken to write files to the card is about average for this level of camera, and won't cause any noticeable delays as the camera buffer does a sterling job of soaking up the information. This also means there is very little shot-to-shot difference between the three quality levels.

Shooting
An 11-point autofocus system allows for creative composition of off-centre subjects. The AF are not visible until one is elected, or the camera is focused, which I found a little disconcerting at first. When you get used to where all the points are this becomes less of a problem. Quite a wide area of the viewfinder is covered by these AF points which is great. When a point is selected, it lights up red and is clearly visible in all lighting conditions.

Samsung GX-1S
Samsung GX-1S
Samsung GX-1S
Samsung GX-1S
Exposure compensation on the GX-1S is in 0.5EV steps by default, which is a little coarse for my liking, 0.3EV steps can be selected as a custom function. The shot to the left was taken using the AE metering mode with no compensation. Although the sky is exposed perfectly, the white building and the steps in the foreground could do with being a little brighter. Applying +0.5EV compensation brightens the scene, but a little too much burning out detail in the clouds.

Image quality
All images for this review were taken at maximum resolution using the fine JPEG compression setting, and using Schneider Kreuznach 18-55mm D-Xenon lens which is bundled as standard. There are several different compression levels and resolution settings including RAW to choose from allowing you to select the setting most appropriate for your needs.
 
Samsung GX-1S
Images display punchy levels of contrast and a good level of detail.
Samsung GX-1S
Colours are strong, without becoming over-saturated.
Samsung GX-1S
The auto white-balance does a good job of correcting unwanted colour casts in most situations.

Digital noise
The following images illustrate the amount of digital noise apparent at each ISO setting.
The image to the right is the full image. The crops below are taken from where the green square is.
Samsung GX-1S
Samsung GX-1S
ISO200
Samsung GX-1S
ISO400
Samsung GX-1S
ISO800
Samsung GX-1S
ISO1600
Samsung GX-1S
ISO3200
 

Noise levels at ISO200 and ISO400 are low, as you would expect from an APS-C digital SLR of this level. Shots taken at ISO800 display a little more noise, but the images are still very usable. At ISO1600 chroma noise starts to become more prevalent, with midtone areas gaining a fairly strong pattern of multi-coloured speckles. By ISO3200 things start to get messy. The grey area of our QP card has no grey left in it, instead large flecks of red, green and blue are dominant. However if pictures taken at the ISO setting are converted to black & white, then they still display a good amount of detail and the noise levels are better controlled.

Detail comparison
Here I have compared the GX-1S to the similarly priced eight megapixel Olympus E-330. Both crops are from the full resolution image, displayed at 100%. Samsung GX-1S
Samsung GX-1S
Samsung GX-1S set at ISO200 using Schneider D-Xenon lens set at 18mm and f/16
Samsung GX-1S
Olympus E-330 set at ISO100 using the Zuiko 14-45mm lens set at 14mm and f/16

The Samsung produces a much more contrasty image than the Olympus with plenty of detail right to the edges of the frame. Although the eight megapixel image produced by the Olympus is physically larger, it does not display much more detail than that produced by the six megapixel sensor in the Samsung.

Verdict
At this budget price point, the Samsung GX-1S packs a lot of features into a compact body. I was impressed by the inclusion of an 11-area autofocus system, which works well, locking onto most subjects quickly and precisely.

I was less impressed by the level of noise produced at high ISO settings. It is certainly not class leading performance, although images taken at these settings are still very usable.

This camera may not lead the pack as far as pixel resolution is concerned, but there is more to images than that. The combination of high contrast and pleasing colour saturation produces images that not only look good, but will happily print up to 10x8inches.

In summary the positive points of the Samsung GX-1S are:
Samsung GX-1SColourful, punchy images are produced with default settings.
Samsung GX-1SThe option to use AA or rechargeable CR-V3 type batteries.
Samsung GX-1SCompact size.
Samsung GX-1S11-point AF system.

The negative points:
Samsung GX-1SNoise at high ISO settings.
Samsung GX-1SViewfinder could be larger and brighter.
Samsung GX-1SNo live ISO or quality setting information displayed

Check the latest prices for the Samsung GX-1S in the ePHOTOzine shop

Click here to see photos taken with this camera by ePHOTOzine members

Discuss this review and other digital SLRs here.

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