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Samsung EX1 Digital Camera Review

The Samsung EX1 is a top-end compact that offers Raw shooting, great build quality and a fast aperture 3x zoom. Test by Will Cheung.

|  Samsung EX1 in Digital Cameras
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ePHOTOzine verdict and ratings

SAMSUNG EX1: Click on the thumbnail for the larger image.

With a guide price of £399, the Samsung EX1 is a new entry to the ranks of top-end compact cameras. Will Cheung tries it out. 

With the boom in mirrorless DSLR system cameras like the Panasonic Lumix G2,  Samsung NX10, Olympus Pen and Sony NEX-3, you could be forgiven for thinking that the market for top-end compact cameras is on its way out. Of course, the thing about system cameras is that, ultimately, they are still on the large side compared with true compacts so there will always be an opportunity for classy compacts. These are cameras aimed at discerning users who want high quality images, controllability of camera settings and the flexibility of Raw shooting. The Canon G-series has done well by offering such features and the Samsung EX1 is targetted at that type of photographer too.

The Samsung EX1 has a guide price of £399 but dealers have already marked it down to £350. This is no reflection on the product, but rather the competitive marketplace.

SAMSUNG EX1: Features
The EX1's angular looks give it a rather industrial appearance and picking it up you immediately appreciate its solid build. It has a reassuring heft - the downside of this, of course, could be that your pockets have a shorter life than usual.

There are many key selling points so we will highlight a few of the more interesting aspects of the EX1. Its 3x zoom lens, for example. It bears the Schneider name but more importantly is its maximum aperture. Its focal length range is 5.2-15.6mm (equivalent to a 24-72mm in the 35mm world) and its maximum aperture at the wide end is f/1.8 and slows down to a still very impressive  f/2.4 at the long end.

SAMSUNG EX1 Key features: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.

The lens's fast maximum aperture is a major benefit for low light shooting.

The integral flashgun is neatly tucked away but it is weak, even for a compact.

Handling is very goog and the controls feel positive in use.

The 3in monitor is excellent and the menu system is one of the best around.

Another important feature is the camera's monitor. This is a 3in fully articulating screen but is OLED  technology rather than standard LCD. The theory of OLED screens is that you get brighter, more contrasty images that can be viewed at more oblique angles too. OLED stands for organic light-emitting diode and do not need a backlight to function. Whatever the technology, there is no denying that the image provided by the EX1 is impressive.

Being able to take control when you want to is an important consideration when it come to buying a top-end compact and the EX1 does not disappoint in this respect. There are the sort modes that you would expect to find on any DSLR - aperture-priority AE, shutter-priority and manual metering modes, for example.

Having the option of shooting Raw is important to many photographers and the EX1 has that using a propriety Samsung format. In the past, Samsung has adopted the Adobe DNG open standard but not in this camera.

SAMSUNG EX1: Handling
You have probably detected that I am keen on the EX1's feel and functionality. Key frequently used features are not buried in menus but clearly marked on the top or back-plate. One notable exception, perhaps strangely, to this is the exposure compensation feature which is set via the menu. I say strangely because even modest compacts have an exposure compensation feature quickly available. However, those sneaky camera designers at Samsung have cannily placed it for very quick use. On the camera's front fascia is a roller control that is used to change settings like shutter speeds, and gently pressing this in brings up the exposure compensation menu and settings can be quickly made by using the same control. Another press takes you out of the feature.

Extra exposure versatility is added by a one-push AEL button on the back - one push sets it and another unsets it. Taking the picture also cancels it.

Any functions that are in the menus are easy to find and I reckon the menu system is one of the clearest I have come across - helped of course by the OLED monitor. The various dials are also firmly click-stopped and much less prone to be inadvertently adjusted when quickly stuffed into a pocket or handbag.

Start-up time is pretty fast, slower than a DSLR but faster than many compacts. The same can be said about shutter lag in that there is some but it is not too bad.

Despite its wide aperture the lens is small and protrudes only a little and this stays more or less the same size when you zoom in and out. The EX1 does have a 4x digital zoom too.

SAMSUNG EX1 Handling: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.

The EX1's are positively click-stopped to help avoid accidential operation.

The roller control is used for setting various functions including exposure compensation.

The EX1's OLED monitor gives a lively bright image and the menu is impressive.

Setting popular functions is easy. Just press the Fn button on the back.

I like being able to set features like self-timer, shooting speed and bracketing via one of the top-plate dials. The bracketing feature gives three versions in exposure or white-balance - the parameters of the bracketing feature are set in the menu system. You can also bracket PSS (Photo Style Selector) so a few seconds after taking the image you can select vivid colour or monochrome or even negative and then save that version only.

SAMSUNG EX1: Performance
I aimed the EX1 at all sort of contrasty scenes and on the whole, it did really well. To be fair, some of the scenes I shot I knew no camera could handle so yes I got some unacceptable results but that was no surprise. Generally I rarely had to intervene manually and reshoot using AEL, bracketing or compensation.

SAMSUNG EX1 Exposure: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.

An awkward, contrasty scene well handled by the EX1's metering system.

Nothing wrong in the department of vibrant colours from this Samsung.

Marginally overexposed, but not by much and easily remedied with Photoshop.

The EX1's multi-zone metering system and aperture-priority did a great job.

ISO and noise performance
I am very sceptical when it comes to compacts and high ISO rating. Rarely has my scepticism been misguided, with high ISO speeds producing noisy images that are so bad that any fine detail is overwhelmed by blotchy lumps of colourful noise. Imagine my surprise then when checking out the images taken on the EX1. Of course, there is noise but it is neutral, rather then green or red, and it is flimic in its appearance. I would be happy at using the EX1 at speeds up to and including 1600. Noise was more oppressive at the top ISO 3200 rating and I was seeing blue noise on the test chart shot but the retention of fine detail was still good.

Outdoor ISO speed test: Click on the thumbnails below for larger images.

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200
The noise images were shot in Super Fine JPEG mode and no adjustments have been in Photoshop.

Test chart ISO speed test: Click on the ISO rating below for larger images.

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

Photo Style Selector
There are 12 Photo Style Selector (PSS) colour options in total and a selection of the effects are shown below here. Sketch and Defog are two options not available when the Bracket function is also used - the options that are offered are those shown below. Incidentally, the options shown below are also when shooting Raw format.

After each shot, you just have to wait a few seconds for the camera to process the thumbnails and then you use the multi-selector to pick the image that you want the camera to store. You get the chosen PSS image as well as a normal colour original which is a nice touch because you might change your mind later. Strange, really, to shoot a bracket of creative effects with options as diverse as Negative, Classic and Forest.

By the way, the Custom RGB option lets you tailor the output in the red, green and blue channels to suit your personal tastes. In the image below, I went for a pseudo colour infrared effect.

Under the Smart Filter menu, you will find Miniature, Vignetting and Fish-eye effects and they are arguably more useful.

Photo Style Selector feature: Click on the thumbnails for larger images










Custom RGB

Auto white-balance worked well in a wide variety of lighting situations and types. As you can see from the image below, AWB did well even in incandescent lighting too.

SAMSUNG EX1 White-balance test: Click on the thumbnails for larger images.

Auto white-balance in incandecent lighting.

Incandescent preset in incandescent light.

Buffer read/write times
In the JPEG modes, you can set continuous shooting and click away until the card is full at around two frames-per-second. Switch to Raw, however, and only single-shot shooting is available - set continuous shooting and the camera defaults to super fine JPEG mode.

In Raw only, the camera takes about three seconds to record an image and the camera cannot be used during that time. In Raw and Super fine JPEG quality, this slows down to about six seconds. Obviously, when you you are shooting Raw it pays to time your shots carefully otherwsie you will miss the decisive moment - or use super JPEG.

DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.

Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Samsung EX1.

SAMSUNG EX1: Verdict
I like the Samsung EX1. The camera body has a lovely tactile feel, it is rich in features including a fast aperture zoom lens and turns in fine quality pictures. It is not the quickest camera in use - especially when Raw and JPEGs are being shot in tandem - but if shooting speed is not of the essence, this is not an issue.

For the money, the EX1 is up against cameras like the Canon G11 and in my view, the Samsung offers better value.

Very fast aperture zoom lens
Positive controls

Slow to write Raws amd Super fine JPEGs


SAMSUNG EX1: Specification
Price £399, street price £349
What comes in the box Software, strap, charger, mains adaptor
Contact www.samsungcamera.co.uk
Lens details 5.2-15.6mm f/1.8-2.4
Resolution 10Mp
Sensor size 1/1.7inch (1.09cm)
Sensor type CCD
Max. Image size 3648x2736
Aspect ratio 4:3, 3:2, 16x9, 1:1
LCD monitor size 3in multi-angle AMOLED, 614,000 dots
Optical viewfinder No
Focusing system Autofocus TTL
Focusing modes Centre, multi AF, selection, tracking, face detection, smart face detection, macro, manual. AF lock (on/off selectable)
File types JPEG, Raw, MP4 for video
ISO sensitivity ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
Metering system Multi, centre-weighted, spot
Metering modes Auto, program AE, shutter-prioroty AE, manual, aperture-priority AE plus 13 subject modes including sunset, beach & snow, fireworks, dawn
White-balance AWB (including face detection WB, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent L, fluorescent H, flash, custom
Image parameters Normal, sketch, defog, soft, vivid, forest, retro, cool, calm, classic, negative, custom RGB
Exposure compensation +/-2EV in 1/3 stop steps
Shutter speed range 16-1/1600sec, Auto 11-1/1500sec
Continuous shooting Yes
Integral flash Auto, on, off, slow sync, red-eye reduction, flash exposure compensation
Image stabilisation Yes, by Dual Image Stabilization
Anti-shake mode Optical stabilisation
Movie mode 640x480 at 30/15fps
Media type SD/SDHC, 1GB unternal memory
Interface USB 2.0, HDMI mini, AV out,
Power Rechargeable SLB-11A
Size (wxdxl) 114x30x65mm
Weight (no battery) 356g

The Samsung EX1 costs £349 and will be available from Warehouse Express shortly.

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Photographs taken using the Samsung EX1

snow dropsfungi parasolautumn oakfungi parasolgolden autumnwhitbyvintage tractorvintage tractorhorse head nebulaorion nebulaWaiting For A Mouse

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Niknut Plus
10 2.8k 82 United Kingdom
Excellent well detailed review.....I want one !
Nice product! I like the swivel AMOLED screen.
It is amazing that EX1 has been awarded the European Advanced Compact Camera 2010-2011 from the European Imaging and Sound Association (EISA).
Here is the URL. link
Excellent all round. I have one and I love it. It has no weak "subject", from macro to seascapes. The electronics are very good and pretty intuitive, given that there's a lot there. But it just works so very well as a camera. Making pictures is very rewarding indeed; image quality is superb. Materials and manufacturing are clearly of the highest quality.
EX1's fast lens is amazing... with a zoom range of 24mm plus the articulated viewer, the great shots and additionally the compact size which perfectly suit me, I do believe the EX1 has won me ever!

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