12.17.2014

Saying goodbye to a system. Wishing its creators the best of luck.


I was pleased when Charles asked me if I'd like to participate in Samsung's Imagelogger program. The program aimed to put new Samsung cameras in the hands of bloggers and photographers of every stripe and to provide them with a venue to show off images (and videos) made with the cameras. I worked in the program from Spring of 2013 right up until October of this year. I was given the opportunity to shoot a very quirky but very brave and innovative product, the Samsung Galaxy NX, in Berlin for nearly 10 days and I was asked to present work and shoot with the product at the 2013 Photo Expo East show in the Samsung area along with brilliant photographer, Nick Kelsh. 

While I didn't always agree with some of the Samsung camera designers when it came to feature sets I was always very happy with two aspects of every system they gave me to work with: 1. The sensors had great color and tonality and made beautiful portraits. And, 2. A number of their lenses are absolutely competitive with the best from their competitors. In fact, I fell in love with the 60mm Macro and the 85mm 1.4 lenses. They are both lenses designed for photographers. 

But with every camera I had a bit of (non)-buyer's remorse. While the NX 300 was very well designed and, in combination with its kit lens, a reliable and accurate camera I could never understand why they didn't include an EVF. Even if the EVF had to be an accessory in a port like those on the Olympus Pen cameras. Having to shoot solely by composing with the LCD on the back of the camera moved me to almost permanently graft a loupe on the back to I could see the image and not look like a hipster doing the "dirty baby diaper" hold. When the NX300's tenure in the program came to an end it went promptly to a nephew who needed a good camera and still has the eagle eyes of youth. 

The very next camera I got was the Samsung Galaxy NX. It was (is) an interesting product and one aimed at just about anyone but a professional photographer. It is based around a big rear screen and hosts a full on Android operating system and the operating system was, without a doubt, its Achille's Tendon. Its John Edward's Haircut


Every full on operating system, like Android, is powerful and capable of running many different kinds of apps in addition to the camera control app that a pro would consider to be the mission critical app. But the very nature of having a big system like that means it requires lots of time to start up and load. Like 25 or 30 seconds. The implied benefit of the camera was its connectedness which for me was also its main flaw. All the wireless nets and additional apps were memory hogs and a drain on the dynamic system. This led to freezes and periods of enforced non-engagement. Over time Samsung made great strides in fixing many of the issues and that's great for new buyers but for cranky pros once a camera lets you down in a shooting situation you never really trust it again. 

I wish that camera had come with perfect firmware and a headphone jack. It could have been a remarkable video camera. The big screen on the back would easily have made a fine monitor and the almost vestigial (because of color issues and low resolution) EVF would have helped in high ambient light situations.  I think a photographer who grew up with a cellphone in his crib would have loved the camera as the interface was all touchable and swipe-able. Everything about the user interface was screen centric and therein lies the curse for a person who has used a wide range of cameras for many years = a prejudice for the immediacy and binary nature of physical buttons. 

What else did I like besides the giant screen? You have to go right back to the stuff they got right, the sensor and the lenses. Mighty fine features. And to be fair other photographers love this camera for workshops and demos because they can upload big, delicious files in real time to enabled HD monitors and have an interactive workshop situation that's fast and seamless. Linking via wi-fi or cellular data or blue tooth. Amazing for something like the shooting demos we did in NYC. (And you'd better have your shooting chops together when you are shooting live in front of dozens or hundreds of picky spectators....).


I've never been a shrinking violet so I talked to the company about what I liked and what I didn't and that led them to send along the next camera in the timeline, the NX30.  That camera had a lot of promise but for me it failed to deliver in the early months. The firmware that shipped in 1.0 was a bit buggy and, most perplexing, slow. Once the final version of the firmware got delivered the camera was a good shooting tool. The eye sensor that switches between EVF and LCD was still too sensitive and flaky but the general operation of the camera was competent and actually quite fun to use. 

I used the camera with the 85mm 1.4 lens for a number of professional, paid assignments and everyone from the client right down to me was very happy with the results. I'm not sure the camera ever got traction in the market and part of that was probably down to the early firmware (when will manufacturers learn that the first opinions of early adopters make or break products?) and the fact that the value proposition versus price point was a little out of whack. The camera should have been introduced at a lower price point to take into consideration their newcomer status. Trust and value is earned. So is market share.

My interest in shooting with the products waned a bit as other cameras from other makers offered a combination of performance and features that were a better fit for my needs. But take that with a grain of subjective filtering salt; I'm a luddite when it comes to accepting and using some of the new sharing technologies and to be fair the interconnectivity of the Samsung cameras is one of their strongest suits. 

By this time I'd amassed a little collection of lenses and the bodies were piling up. Along with Olympus, Panasonic and Nikon gear. As each Samsung camera neared the end of its promotional tenure I sent them off to various friends and family. The NX30 went to a hard working and generous brother in law, along with a couple lenses I thought he'd get good use from. He's already using the camera to produce video and from what I've seen the old saw of,  "It's not the camera it's the videographer" is quite true. The camera is capable of great imaging in more capable hands than mine...


Then I was sent a couple of cameras that really make no sense to me at all while being perfect for lots of other people in other market segments. The NX Mini shown above is a one inch sensor, interchangeable lens system that fits into the proverbial jean's pocket and certainly into all but the most microscopic purses, and it does a really good job of making photographs, especially selfies. It came with the ultimate selfie lens, the 9mm (24mm equivalent on a full frame camera) and a screen that flips up over the top of the camera so you can compose yourself. Wink at the camera and it will shoot a burst. Who doesn't need that? Well, me for one. Especially in white. I took the camera out and shot with it and it's a great performer, on par with the image quality from the Nikon 1 series cameras, and I've kept it around. Why? because it's a great loaner camera for friends who need something small and light for a trip somewhere. Go selfies! And of course it comes complete with ample interconnectivity options. 


The mini was followed by another white camera which came complete with a white strap and a white flash. I am amazed that Samsung didn't follow through and finish the system off with a white lens cap. Inside this camera body is an improved version of the sensor that was in the NX 300. It's a great sensor and the camera came packaged with a white lens (which I initially disparaged) that is one of the best kit lenses I've ever shot with.  The camera, while capable of shooting great images was once again a handling catastrophe for me simply because it once again depended entirely on rear screen viewing and composition. The screen did flip up into selfie mode but once again, I am hardly the target market for selfie creations. 

After playing around with it and testing it the camera went to a swimmer friend of mine who just retired from work, survived a couple serious bouts of cancer and needed a new camera to do art with. I still feel guilty because I kept the white lens (high performance!) and switched out an 18-55mm lens (very good) onto the white camera.

I have found good homes for all of these cameras for one profound reason; I couldn't commit to the time the program would have required if I had accepted the new, NX1 camera and the premier zoom lenses. Also, while I wanted to believe that Samsung has gotten everything just right in this camera I didn't relish having to bring along two camera systems to every shooting experience until I got to the point where I totally trusted the new product. It would have been too much information and too many concurrent menus to handle for my admittedly limited bandwidth. Something had to give. 

Will I have regrets when the NX1 turns out to be the best APS-C camera system on the planet? Or the best mirror less system on the planet? (could happen).  Probably not. I'm happy being unfettered and unobligated at this point. If the NX1 is the promised camera (the Neo of photography gear) I can always sell off other gear and inflict more damage on some poor unsuspecting credit card. But for now I am happy to mess around with multiple systems unencumbered by the guilt of any obligation to shoot with one over the other.

The folks at Samsung are incredibly nice to work with and I can sense them zeroing in, camera model by camera model, to the sweet spot of the whole market. The processors in the NX1 are at least a generation and maybe two generations ahead of their competitors. The video, once the software support is in place, should be amazing. I'm just a bit tired of being too close to the cutting edge. 

I know some of you think that my office must just be a warehouse for gear but I wanted to write this to let you know that inventory moves along. Some things are given away to good homes and to people who care a lot less about state of the art than in just getting stuff done. Most go to good homes that are brand agnostic. Some gear gets sold back into the used markets (goodbye everything I ever bought from Canon) and some stuff gets stored for continuing and future use (hello Sony R1s).

I know one VSL reader in France will be happy to read this. She never approved of my camera promiscuity.

A reminder: The Lisbon Portfolio, my action/adventure story of intrepid photographer, Henry White, is currently on sale for the meager and insubstantial sum of $3.99. It will be available at that price as a Kindle book on Amazon until the beginning of 2015. Get your copy before they run out. When you get to the book's page you'll see that you can also get a printed copy (not on sale). It's your choice...




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6 comments:

Roy Maidment said...

Hello Kirk,
It looks like you don't miss your Canon gear. Any particular reason?
Great article - as usual.
Best regards
RoyM

Kirk Tuck said...

The Canon stuff was fine. I liked the big cameras like the 1Dsmk2 but everything felt kind of multi-generational. A lens from this period a flash from that period weird mixes of body styles.
I used to shoot with film Canons back when they introduced the first EOS-1 but the lenses over the years had so many different design styles. And it was hard to adapt them to other stuff. Nikon is almost universally adaptable to other cameras. At least the older Ais lenses are.

jlemile salvignol said...

So there are at least two Frenchies who agree with your wise decision...

Anonymous said...

C'est vrai.

Rufus said...

The NX1 is fantastic.

It is better than my D7100 by a good margin. Better sensor, better AF, great EVF, lovely, lovely files for both stills and video.

It is like a GH4, but somehow "more" in every respect. APSC is the sweet spot IMO and this is the best APSC out there.

And I can use Nikon lenses on it with an adaptor. The EVF is very nice and MF is easy.

Early days, but I think its my favourite camera now.

Samsung pulled out all the stops with this one. It shows.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Rufus, Yeah, I knew they'd get it just right about five minutes after I bailed. Ah well. Everyone will catch up next year.