Samsung NX Mini Digital Camera Review
Samsung throws its hat into the 1-inch sensor ring.
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Samsung might not be a company that springs to mind when you think about digital photography, but its tenacity in the space is admirable. We've been fans of its NX system, which includes some surprising lenses and very nice cameras, like the NX30. While most enthusiasts are clutching to their Nikons and Canons, Samsung hasn't let that stop them from cultivating a catalog of attractively priced, compact offerings that have sold very well.
The last thing we imagined Samsung doing was creating a second, even smaller system. Well, Samsung did exactly that when it announced the NX Mini (MSRP $449.00).
This is the first camera in a brand new lens system based around a 1-inch sensor, the same size as Nikon's 1-series and noteworthy point-and-shoots like the Sony RX100 and the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000. With three tiny lenses in tow, this miniature Samsung combines adorable proportions with retro panache. When mated to its itty-bitty 9mm lens, this camera gives users a big field of view perfect for the selfie generation.
Design & Handling
Cute as a button
When we first laid eyes on the NX Mini, we were struck with how neat it looked. Instead of the plasticky, modern design of the NX2000, the NX Mini closely apes the stylish NX300's kinda-sorta retro style. We think it looks fantastic, and even though our review unit was the white variant, the unique brown and mint green colors are standouts in a sea of monochrome cameras.
The 9mm lens included with the least expensive version of the NX Mini is an adorable little lens. Potential buyers should know, though, that no matter how hard you look through the box, you won't find a lens cap. Instead, the lens was designed to resist scratches all by itself. We felt more than unnerved putting a mirrorless camera into our bags without a lens cap. As far as we can tell, the little 9mm wasn't any worse for wear after carrying it for a few days without protection.
The camera's thin body is impressive to look at, but it's understandably compromised ergonomically. While it's fine for quick snaps, it's awfully difficult to hold on to for more than a few minutes at a time. The buttons on the back of the camera are understandably small, but nevertheless difficult to press sometimes. We also found fault with the shape and size of both the power and Direct Link buttons. Both controls are located next to each other, and are the same shape and diameter. On more than one occasion, we accidentally shut off the camera when trying to access WiFi, and vice versa.
We were a little annoyed that you can only use MicroSD cards in the Mini. We love MicroSD sometimes, but it's awfully fiddly to pop into and out of a camera. Like other Samsung Smart Cameras, the littlest NX charges via Micro USB. That means that many people won't need to pack a separate charger, since most smartphone chargers will do the same job. You win some, you lose some.
Unfortunately, even though the camera feels pretty well built, the rear LCD is a real weak point. We found the screen very difficult to see in bright sunlight. Furthermore, the plastic screen cover collects and hangs onto fingerprints like nobody's business, making it even harder to use. A simple hinge mechanism lets you shoot from hip level, and of course it pivots 180 degrees to face frontwards for the all-important selfies. As a selfie camera, the NX Mini does a great job, turning on if you flip the screen out, making it ready for action whenever.
A lot of features in a little camera
One thing the NX Mini doesn't suffer from is a lack of features. Samsung threw in many of its best tricks. Since it shares its DNA with other NX offerings, Samsung has done an admirable job at bolstering this little guy's spec sheet with some really premium additions.
Of course, WiFi is built-in and it works pretty well. The only recommendation we have is that if you're sharing a lot of photos to the internet as you take them, you should switch into a lower resolution mode. The NX Mini's 20-megapixel sensor has plenty of resolution, which also makes files a little big for quick transfer to your phone. We found that the 10-megapixel mode was more than good enough for web posting. Otherwise, that little status bar will take a lot longer to move each photo to your smartphone, and you can't shoot again until it's done.
One selling point that Samsung continues to underscore is the inclusion of Adobe Lightroom. Normally, you'd have to shell out over a hundred bucks to get this, but it comes for free with every NX Mini. Since the large-sensored Mini can shoot RAW, this is an excellent way to get your feet wet when it comes to developing your own digital pictures.
All things considered, the NX Mini's video features are underwhelming. Even though Samsung's other system cameras offer plenty to video shooters, this tiny addition to the lineup didn't score nearly as high as other 1-inch cameras like Sony's RX100 cameras. Overall, if you need a compact camera to shoot decent video, an RX is a way better choice.
The only crowd that this li'l guy won't please are the demanding enthusiasts. The simplified controls and very limited system both contribute to this feeling more like a point-and-shoot than a full interchangeable lens camera. The entire experience isn't nearly as deep or a full of potential as the Panasonic Lumix GM1. That said, the GM1 can't do selfies like the NX Mini can and for people looking at this camera, that's a big deal.
Before you buy the Samsung NX Mini, take a look at these other interchangeable lens cameras.
This half-pint ain't half bad.
We came away mostly impressed with the NX Mini's still photography skills. For such a small camera, it managed to take some very impressive shots. It's certainly a massive upgrade if you've just been using your smartphone for most of your photography. It basically kept up with bigger, heavier cameras like Canon's EOS Rebel T5 and the Nikon D3300 in many important regards. The down side is that we found the NX to be a little temperamental in the labs, giving us inconsistent exposure and noise figures in some cases. Even though it was a tad mercurial, we still learned to appreciate it in the real world.
The biggest disappointment came in the form of the NX Mini's video performance. Video was of middling quality, with mediocre low light performance. Even though full 1080p HD is an option, you'll be limited to 30 fps. We were really hoping for a bit more from Samsung, since its other NX cameras were perfectly respectable performers in this regard. The NX Mini failed to keep up with the Sony RX100 II, which remains a much better choice for those who want great HD video from a small camera.
Moreover, continuous shooting was only yielded results of 10 shots at around 6 fps. After that, the buffer filled and your frame rate will slow greatly. Compare that to many of the Nikon 1 cameras, which have unbelievably fast burst shooting capabilities. If you want the fastest burst shooting you can get in a tiny camera, start looking at Nikon's system.
Perfect for new-school social photographers
While we would hesitate to recommend this camera to hardcore photography buffs, we had a blast shooting with it. Perhaps it's because we prefer a nice prime lens to a lackluster zoom, but the combination of the NX Mini with the 9mm f/3.5 pancake made it into a great package that we didn't mind carrying all day.
No matter how you cut it, this camera gives the Nikon 1 a run for its money. The NX Mini is significantly trimmer than Nikon's older and similarly-priced 1 J3, which also needs a cludgy external module if you want to use WiFi. It's a clear shot across the bow of the slow-to-evolve Nikon 1 series, which started strong only to languish for far too long. A Sony RX100 would be a better comparison, if only those cameras weren't fixed-lens point-and-shoots.
Like we mentioned previously, the enthusiast choice is hands-down the Panasonic Lumix GM1, a fantastic camera in an impossibly small body. It's about $250 more, but it has a bigger sensor and you also get a wide array of lens choices thanks to its Micro Four Thirds mount. But, the NX is quite a bit cheaper and, you get Lightroom thrown in for free. Most of the arguments we can make go along these lines. If you have around $400 to spend on a small interchangeable lens camera, the NX Mini is sure to please.
We will quickly admit that the NX Mini's lens catalog is sparse, but we feel that its big sensor and nice feature set mean that you don't necessarily have to wait for new lenses for this to be an attractive purchase. It's too bad that other miniature mirrorless cameras couldn't reach this price/feature sweet spot sooner (ahem, we're looking at you, Pentax Q). Out of the gate, it hits all the right notes, blending features and design with good performance at a price that won't make you cringe.