11.23.2020

Zeiss XZYZX1 camera. Oh Boy! Here we go again. Ghost/Zombie of the Samsung Galaxy NX....


Back in 2012 Samsung announced a camera that they assumed would take the photography world by storm and revolutionize the (then) burgeoning market for mirrorless cameras. Working with an existing (and very, very decent --- sometimes inspired) line up of interchangeable lenses they unveiled the Samsung Galaxy NX. Like the new(?) Zeiss zx1 the Samsung camera ran on a version of the Android operating system which allowed for lots of great(?) third party apps to be included. While the Zeiss camera is running Adobe's Lightroom the Galaxy NX was much more promiscuous with its selection of apps; it actually came with Candy Crush preloaded and ready to go. The Samsung also featured a huge, five inch screen on the back of the camera so you could take advantage of the camera's ability to send images via wi-fi, cell data or Bluetooth, and also to aid you in making some changes (although rudimentary on the Samsung) to the images you captured. 

I was asked by Samsung to take possession of one of the first few Galaxy NX cameras in North America, to put it through its paces, and to share the results/information I discovered about the camera with both Samsung and photographers in our vast market. As the camera's firmware progressed and the camera improved I was asked to go to the 2013 Photo Expo in New York City and demo the camera in Samsung's trade show booth. I spent two days there shooting two gorgeous models and watching my images float up to a pair of big flat screens in near real time. In this way visitors to the booth could see what could be done with the camera and its ability to stream at full resolution. 

After the Photo Expo I was also invited along with a half dozen other photographers from around the world to go to Berlin, shoot around Germany for a while with the camera (with upgraded software!) and to write honestly and without any pressure from Samsung about my experiences with the camera. I have several nice things to say about the Galaxy NX. The 85mm f1.4 lens and the 105mm macro lenses were both superb and made beautiful images. The sensor rendered beautiful flesh tones which converted nicely and easily to great black and white photographs. 

The rest of my experience with the Galaxy NX was fraught with frustration. The battery, though huge, ran down quickly because of the full operating system which was always muddling away in the background, and the huge screen that must have been as inefficient, electrically, as having a cathode ray TV set glued to the back of the camera. The Android OS took nearly 30 seconds to boot up (a similar complaint with the Zeiss cam...) which meant that a fast response to a beautiful scene/event was well nigh impossible. And the camera, with even firmware 1.0 loaded tended to shut down and re-boot often. Again, because of the Android OS. But when it worked the camera could make very, very good images. 

I'm guessing that Samsung sold about 1200 of these cameras world-wide and I'd further conjecture that the mass market rejection of the product was at least partially responsible for Samsung's decision, about a year and a half later, to completely exit the consumer camera market. A stunning move since the NX1 camera that followed the Galaxy NX was a great product about which ardent fans still rave.... But a wise decision when one looked at their small market share and the rapid and radical decline of the entire camera market.

All of which brings me to the Zeiss product. The ZX1 (or is it the XZ1? Can't keep that straight...). I simply don't get it at all. According to early reports the Zeiss development team went back in time to 1988 and acquired a focusing module from an early AF camera. It's reported to be dodgy, at best, and is set up to measure focus only at one center point. There are no recent decade goodies like face detect AF or even reasonable focus tracking. Just one dead center AF sensor with the response of a sedated box turtle. And, again from early reports, the "hit" rate in single AF is embarrassingly low. Painfully low.  Especially for a $6000 camera, released in 2020.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. What is the Zeiss ZX1? Like the Samsung Galaxy NX it's a camera that's running Android OS. It's built into the Zeiss cam in order for Zeiss offer a truncated version of Adobe's Lightroom photo editing software in the camera. As I understand it you can run the camera without paying a monthly fee to Adobe to use the embedded software but you'll only be able to generate Jpegs. Yes, if you want to shoot raw and export the resulting files you'll need to subscribe to a third party software vendor. Even I'm shocked at the thought. And I subscribe to all kinds of Adobe work-ware.  

The camera features a big rear screen, a la the Samsung Galaxy NX, as well. Perhaps Zeiss will offer a Bluetooth keyboard for an additional $1200 and you will actually be able to write e-mails with it and send them via your AOL account. Or post images to MySpace.

The camera has a new design aesthetic which I call: "Weird camera design for the sake of just wanting your camera to look different and modern in a 1960's jet age style." Given the spare exterior interface and lack of settable buttons I believe that Zeiss was following the playbook from Leica in trying to make menus and settings as minimalistic as possible but I think they stumbled over their own feet by trying to include ponderous and ungainly operating system software which adds many layers of near useless complexity to the system. 

The camera is small enough and it does look pretty. To like this camera you have to be a fan of 35mm focal length lenses because this one is built onto the camera body and non-removable. While I know many are fans of the 35mm focal length I'm not one of them and the fixed lens on this camera, like the fixed 28mm on the Leica Q2, puts both cameras into the dreaded "deal-killer" category for me, right off the bat. 

But let's move on and explore a few more "features" of the Zeiss camera. You might be pleased to find that you don't need to buy memory cards for this camera. It's got a built in 500 GB hard drive to fill up. And, I suppose, at the time the camera lingered at the design stages that seemed like a lot of memory, and much cheaper to acquire than standalone SD cards or, God forbid, CF Express cards. But what it really means is that you'll need to drag your computer around with you to offload images as you fill up the card. You also end up with "all your eggs in one basket." If you go on a "once in a lifetime" trip with this camera and fill up that drive and then you have a massive drive failure your trip will probably remain forever undocumented. There's certainly no mechanism for in-camera back up with this one.... But hey, instead of being out, seeing the sites and sampling the night life at your vacation destinations you can ignore your spouse and remain hunched over your camera, editing the day's images and then exporting them to some imagined audience as you watch sports on TV. Sad. 

The camera ticks a few popular boxes but it never rises to "best of class" in any regard. The sensor is big and  full frame but a bunch of camera companies offer bigger, newer, better full frame sensors. I'm sure the lens is technically great but good luck taking that tight, non-distorting portrait photograph of your favorite super model with the system. Or, coming at it from the other direction, maybe you'll have to spend the rest of your free time stitching together frames to make one decent super-wide shot.

In short, I think Zeiss learned very little through observation of the Samsung Galaxy NX fiasco. The one thing they seem to have learned is that they might need to sell far fewer of these to make the same amount of money since the Zeiss camera is priced at least three times higher than the Samsung product was (and that one came down in price at an exhilarating pace...). 

Do you want a good, handy camera with a fixed 35mm equivalent focal length to carry around? Have you heard about the Fuji X-100-V? It's pretty great if you're looking for nice usability and built in formalist boundaries. And HEY! you can buy four of them for the price of one Zeiss. Yeah, you'll have to supply your own memory cards but.....

Am I being overly harsh about this one? Maybe. I guess you could make an argument that the Zeiss camera would make good male jewelry. If you didn't have to depend on it exclusively for photography it might make a nice symbol of financial success to wear around one's neck. And it may take really nice snapshots (as long as it can nail focus on a non-moving object) if you work at it. 

If I'm going to do some post processing to a photograph I really prefer doing it on a 27 inch, 5K Retina screen. If I'm going out to take some photographic "art" I really prefer and assortment of focal lengths that can be better matched to various subjects I might come across. If I want to play the Android version of Candy Crush I'm betting I still have an NX Galaxy laying around somewhere. In short I am considering this camera to be a cruel joke, and a poke in the eye to other camera designers who are more serious about providing useful solutions to people who are passionate about picture taking. 

If you are sitting at Zeiss H.Q. and reading this you are welcome to send along a copy and try to prove me wrong but if I were you I wouldn't risk it. Not given my track record of new camera involvement. You might end up deciding to exit the entire market altogether. And that would be kinda sad. You guys do make good lenses! 

This particular idea of camera "design" must be some Zombie virus that infects otherwise rational camera engineers on some cyclical time frame....


 The End.

9 comments:

Frank Field said...

Kirk - A fresh, honest review. We would expect no less from you. Seems to me that the whole fresh, clean design ethic pioneered by Apple, has been taken as an end in and of itself by several companies out there, Zeiss among them. When design takes precedence over function, rather than integrating function with a high degree of usability, something is terribly wrong. Stay healthy! Frank

SW Rick said...

If this puppy sells more than 500 bodies, it should be 2020's Camera of the Year (it's been that kind of a year). :)

Rick

JohnW said...

This beast ranks up there with Hasselblad's insanely ridiculous blinging of Sony cameras so they could charge a pile more money for them. Leica does an equally silly thing with Panasonic cameras sans bling. I expected better of Zeiss.

crsantin said...

Nice looking camera. It's going to go over like Led Zeppelin, not the band, more like the Hindenburg type of Zeppelin.

Paul Glover said...

Oh thank God. For a moment I thought it was April 1st and we had another 9 !^$^%$!@ months of this ^#$^##% year to endure all over again. But my temperamental digital assistant assures me it is indeed November 23rd so not quite so bad. (It’s only going to *feel* like 9 months...)

I’m sure someone, somewhere, was thinking “hey, let’s use Android because we can just develop a camera app and not worry about all that annoying file-handling/camera operating system nonsense”. But it is a horrible idea. I have a very nice “entry level” portable music player which uses Android as a base. It’s great except for when some OS process goes nuts and chews through the battery life. Or when it locks up entirely and needs a hard reset. Or when it takes 2 minutes to power up and 1 minute to power down. Tolerable in a music player, but not in a camera. You need a lightweight and real-time OS for that, and Android is neither.

Unknown said...

AOL and MySpace, tiny hard drives, message boards, monochrome monitors, 64Kb ram.
Ah the good ol' days. But they did have really nice IBM clicky keyboards.
And Android cameras. Is there a connection somewhere?

J Williams said...

Obviously born out of a dream someone in the marketing department had. Sometimes companies actually let stuff like this out into the real world. Always works out badly.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Agreed X 2

Steve Renwick said...

I thought you were joking about the price.

Whatever drugs these guys are on, I want some.