8.28.2013

Why, with the right body, Samsung may be a strong and stealthy competitor in the mirrorless space.

Samsung 85mm 1.4 on the NX 300 Body.

Full disclosure: I have received a Samsung NX 300 camera with a kit lens and a 30mm f2.0 lens from Samsung to shoot and test, indefinitely. I am also getting the new Samsung Galaxy NX camera and kit lens in the next few days to evaluate. Samsung has also invited me to Berlin for the IFA show and will be my hosts there.  I'll be shooting and testing the camera in Berlin and posting images and observations about the camera, its new technologies and its more standard camera handling characteristics.  The policy of VSL is to be totally transparent about relationships with camera makers, their public relations agencies and everyone else. You should know what the relationship between a writer and a manufacturer is before you read a blog about a product! While I would never write anything untruthful or knowingly slanted about a product I might also never have had the product show up on my radar without being approached by the maker. 

I really like the Sony Nex system but could any manufacturer have been slower about introducing the lenses that enthusiasts and pros really, really want? I'm a portrait photographer and I've been waiting for a 60, 70 or 85mm fast lens in that system since I bought my first Nex-7.  The 50mm just isn't long enough and the zooms just aren't fast enough. The situation is better in the Olympus and Panasonic camp with the 75mm f1.8 and the fast zooms are finally starting to arrive. But I'd prefer fast glass and a great APS-C sized sensor.

I've be faithful to my Sony DSLT system precisely because I really, really like long, fast lenses. I like the look and feel of the 85mm 1.4 and the 100 macro. I'm partial to the look of the 135mm 1.8 on a full frame sensor. I like the look of the 70-200mm G lens.  I figured I'd just keep two Sony systems going at once and play with their strengths as needed. 

Then I got a Samsung NX300. It's got a great sensor but I'm not totally happy with the idea of no EVF. Recently, Samsung offered to send me a Galaxy NX Android to shoot and test. It all sounded great but I must have sounded a bit churlish when I called back and asked/suggested that they would be smart to send me some more interesting lenses to shoot with beyond the kit lens. They took me seriously and sent me a few. All of them are good. But two of them, for my work, are stunning and exactly what I'd been wishing for in lenses for an APS-C mirrorless camera system. The two lenses that leapt out at me are the 85mm 1.4 and the 60mm Macro f2.0. 

I haven't had time to shoot with the 60mm yet but I've shot some tests with the 85mm and find it to be very sharp, wide open, and a really good performer. I can hardly wait to bolt it onto the front of the new camera with its EVF. The 85mm is big and bulky but there's not a lot you can do to transform the laws of physics. If you want a fast lens you'll need a lot of glass and a big front element. This lens has both.

This lens is a prime example of why Samsung may succeed in the mirrorless market. They are actually providing the stuff shooters want: good glass.  They've introduced a 16mm 2.4 that blows the doors off the Sony 16mm. They have a killer 30mm f2. The kit zoom is, in my opinion, the best of the breed. They make a 45mm 1.8 that's been well reviewed. Then there's the very fast 60mm f2.0 macro I alluded to above. Along with this stout 85mm 1.4. There's a really useful (but huge) 18-200mm 3.5-5.6 lens that seems designed expressly for making videos and then there is the usual complement of consumer style zoom lenses. In other words Samsung is creating good glass that should help drive a professional and enthusiast market with the eye candy they want and at better price points than their close competitors. But they've still got stuff at less expensive price points for more casual shooters.

In my opinion Samsung has the opposite problem, today, of that which Sony has had for the last two years: Sony made a great camera body (the Nex 7) and followed up with another great and less expensive body at a good price point (the Nex 6). But where they stumbled was in the lens category. The 16mm sucked on the 7 and the kit lens had it's share of issues on the high density sensor. While the 50mm 1.8 lens is very good there was nothing in the longer/faster category. One Zeiss 24mm doesn't make a system...especially for a portrait guy.

Samsung has the lenses I want and at prices that I can justify but they need to make a few changes to the range of camera bodies. While I realize I don't represent the entire market demographic for cameras I'm pretty adamant that they need to incorporate eye level viewfinders in every camera aimed at pros and people who love to shoot outdoor images. As a compromise I am A-okay with add on finders. The newest body, the Galaxy NX Android has an EVF and I can hardly wait to test it. But they need a compact shooter's body, like the NX 300 but with the ability to use an EVF if they are to compete head to head in the space with the EP-5 from Olympus and whatever the next iteration of the Nex-7 is.

I am a bit frustrated with the NX 300. It's got a great sensor, a great body, fast focusing and a bevy of nice features but it would be an absolute no brainer if it had a matched 2.44 megapixel EVF you could put into the hot shoe. That, and a microphone input.

If the bigger Android camera makes images as well as the NX300, and the EVF is well implemented, it will be the next leg of the stool for serious photographers looking at the system. Now let's hope they push the EVF's further down the food chain. Oh, and also a microphone input. Add the ability to do professional sound and you'd have a great video production camera. Especially with the giant screen on the back. But the readily available, good fast lenses are Samsung's secret marketing weapon. Once they get the camera body range sorted the marketplace will get a lot more interesting....