Hands on: Samsung NX Mini

When we first saw the leaked photos of Samsung NX Mini, we failed to grasp just how small it is. We thought it’d be a similar size as other NX models, mainly because of the NX moniker, but just thinner. So imagine our surprise when we got a production sample in our hands, because it looks and feels like one of Samsung’s compact point-and-shoot pocket models. In fact, it’s even smaller than the WB350F we recently reviewed, minus the lens. We had a chance to try one out during a recent press briefing in New York City. Note that the cameras we played with were engineering samples, so our comments here could (and will) change once we get a review unit in, so these words aren’t final.

What’s nice about the NX-M mount is that you can use larger NX lenses via an adapter.

You can click here to find out more about the camera, but here are the main details. The NX Mini uses a 1-inch, 20.5-megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor. It’s a far bigger sensor than those commonly used in pocket cams, but in the world of mirrorless, compact system cameras (CSC), it’s smaller than APS-C and Micro Four Thirds sensors (more in line with Nikon’s CX sensors used in its Nikon 1 CSCs). It has a burst mode of 6 frames per second, ISO range of 160 to 12,800, video capture at 30 fps, and a 3-inch touchscreen LCD that flips up to 180-degrees for selfies. It can take 645 shots before a battery recharge. And, being that this is 2014, the NX Mini is designed for wireless connectivity, with Wi-Fi and NFC built in. These specs may not sound impressive for a CSC, but remember, we are talking about a camera that can slip inside your pocket. Technically Panasonic’s Lumix GM1 and the Pentax Q-series are smaller but thicker, but the slimness of the NX Mini makes it seem even smaller. 

Besides the size, the star attraction is the new NX-M mount. To accommodate the size of the camera, Samsung had to create a new lens-mount system. You swap out lenses like any camera (ILC) hangeable lens system, and it’s fairly easy. But the lenses are so small and light that you can easily toss them into your pocket; keep the 9 mm lens attached and the camera is as easy to pocket as a point-and-shoot.

The 9-27 mm lens does protrude out quite a bit, but Samsung has a small stylish carrying case that can hold then lenses when you don’t need them. What’s nice about the NX-M mount is that you can use other, larger lenses from Samsung’s NX series, via an optional lens adapter. We could attach a variety of lenses, with a big plus being that all the functions, like autofocusing and i-Function (quick access to camera settings), are available. This is great for enthusiasts who like more lenses, as NX-M series will only start out with three glass options.

Holding and using the camera will be familiar to anyone who’s used a point-and-shoot. Unlike more advanced CSCs, there aren’t a whole lot of buttons. All your settings adjustments will require navigating through onscreen menus, and with a redesigned user interface, we found it easy to use.

In terms of handling the camera, you’ll either love it or hate it. If you prefer a camera with a nice grip, you are not going to enjoy it, especially if you’re using the NX Mini with a large lens. We didn’t have an issue using the camera with the NX-M lenses, but the setup can be a bit unwieldy with NX lenses. There’s no viewfinder, which is unfortunately because the LCD isn’t terribly bright and may make framing your shots somewhat difficult – not a big issue if you’re used to compact point-and-shoots. The LCD we used also seemed unresponsive, but these cameras were engineering samples. There’s a connector at the top of the camera for an external flash, but Samsung did not mention if there would be an optional electronic viewfinder.

We like the simplicity of the design, and the available color options.

Some may find the look of the camera a bit bland, but we don’t mind it. We like the simplicity of the design, and the buttons are large enough for our big thumbs to press on. The target customers for the NX Mini will most likely appreciate the color options (black, white, brown, mint green, and pink). Samsung had the white, pink, and mint green versions available, and while all were nice, we found ourselves liking the mint green a lot. Construction wise, the camera feels very solid – even the tilting LCD – thanks to the magnesium alloy.

As for performance and image quality, we will have to wait for a production unit. We weren’t allowed to examine any photos taken, and we didn’t get to use the wireless connectivity. What we can say is that the contrast-detection autofocus system was fast, locking onto things without any delay. If we had to make a prediction about image quality, based on our experience with Samsung cameras, we’ll say that, for the most part, it’ll be very good. Compared to the WB350F, which has a smaller sensor, we found the images to be good, especially at “normal” sizes, but not as smooth when blown up. With a larger 1-inch sensor, we think the image quality will be much improved. Although we really like images shot with NX cameras with large APS-C sensors, we will have to wait and see how well the NX Mini stacks up against those.

Which leads us to this: For the intended customer – teens, in particular – the image quality will be more than enough. This is not to say these customers don’t value image quality, but they may not be as demanding as enthusiast photographers. The NX Mini offers the flexibility of various lenses, but, compared to the majority of CSCs, it’s true to the word “compact” in its name; if CSCs aren’t compact enough for buyers, it’s not going to get any smaller than this.

As research has shown, CSCs aren’t selling very well in the U.S., so the NX Mini could be the CSC catalyst that will appeal to customers who want convenience and connectivity. Then again, with the Pentax Q and Panasonic GM1 on the market, it doesn’t seem like they have had any major effect on sales. Enthusiasts may be more drawn to the regular NX-series, but the NX Mini could be that fun secondary compact – if image quality is as good as we hope, and they aren’t turned off by the point-and-shoot nature of the NX Mini.

While we can see ourselves taking this camera on trips or to a club, or using it for street photography, the problem is, is it that much better than carrying a point-and-shoot or a smartphone? Samsung obviously sees itself filling this niche between those simpler cameras and regular CSCs and dslrs. Is it gimmicky like the Galaxy S4 Zoom? There’s no guarantee that the NX Mini will sell like hotcakes, but we can see Samsung further developing the NX-M mount and using it on the next Galaxy Camera or a S5 Zoom (we’re speculating here, don’t get overexcited), turning these devices into simple, easy-to-use ILCs.

The pricing, $449 (with 9 mm lens) and $549 (9-27 mm lens), is reasonable; higher-end point-and-shoots used to cost this much. It definitely puts Nikon’s new V3 into a tough position. Spec-wise, the V3 may be stronger, but nearly triple the price, and results may not be that much better. As both these cameras are super new, it’s too early to decide if we can accurately compare the two, but the NX Mini and V3 are gunning for the same customer. Stay tuned for our full review.

Highs

  • Super compact design
  • Small interchangeable lenses
  • Compatible with larger NX lenses
  • Fast autofocusing
  • Easy to use
  • Wi-Fi and NFC

Lows

  • Form-factor may not appeal to all
  • Enthusiasts might find it too simple
  • Specs aren’t as strong as other CSCs
  • Limited NX-M lenses at launch
  • LCD not very bright, no EVF
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