Is the Samsung NX1 the camera that will change the company's fortunes?

Samsung NX1 with 50-150mm f/2.8
Samsung gets serious with the NX1

Most companies a have an internal motto or slogan that aims to keep the core values of the organisation 'front of mind' for its employees. Camera companies are no different, and use the same motivational tactics as those in other industries. Nikon's motto is ‘Our Aspirations — Meeting needs. Exceeding expectations.’ Canon uses the encouraging philosophy 'Living and working together for the common good' – or ‘Kyosei’ in Japanese. Pentax owner Ricoh suggests the people who build its cameras should aim to ‘Love your neighbour, love your country, love your work', while Panasonic has its Seven Principles and a rallying passage that begins ‘If you set a challenging goal for yourself and make constant efforts to achieve it, you will surely develop and grow.’

Samsung’s company slogan is ‘Inspire the World, Create the Future’, which its TV and mobile phone businesses have done rather well to fulfil. I’m not sure if the camera division has its own internal mantra. If it does, I suspect it might be ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ I make that assumption purely by observing the number of times the company has tried to break into the compact system camera market - without having a great deal of success. Remarkably, the launch of the NX1 marks the company’s 16th attempt in just four and a half years.

Failure against the odds

If Samsung’s lack of success isn’t down to not trying enough times, it isn’t down to having under-specified cameras either. Should you be able to find enough people with sufficient interest in Samsung cameras to have formed an opinion, a quick canvas might reveal that they all agree the NX models have never achieved the recognition that they justly deserve.

Announcing it would achieve the No.1 position in the interchangeable lens camera market even at the 2010 launch of the first NX body, the NX10, the company’s stated ambitions have consistently been at notable odds to the reality of its accomplishments. With the help of buy-a-camera-get-a-Galaxy-tablet-free promotions Samsung has on occasions managed to get to the top of the leader board for short periods (usually around festive seasons). But when asked to sell purely on merit, and the confidence of the photographically inclined population, the brand takes a very slender slither of the market-share pie.

All the right bits, in the right places

When we study the specification of Samsung’s NX cameras it is hard to understand why they haven’t taken off. Critically, the combined pixel count and sensor size of all NX products have been beyond that offered by other compact system brands, and often beyond lower-end D-SLRs as well. The company has developed the same dual body shapes as more well-received brands – with the D-SLR style classic prism-esque double digit models, and the flat-topped triple-digit compact form-factor that started with the NX100.

There have been high-spec lenses since the beginning too, with wide aperture primes – including an 85mm f/1.4 - and specialist lenses for 3D, 1:1 macro, as well as the usual collection of variable aperture zooms. There are decent flash guns, accessories as well as mount adapters, microphones and even rather nice ever-ready cases (although it has to be said, accessories and lenses beyond the obvious are not very easy to find.) We’ve also had a decent implantation of the Android system in the Galaxy NX - with its massive touch-screen housed on the back of an interchangeable lens camera. It offers on-site editing of its 20-million-pixel images, and instant distribution through easy-to-use Wi-Fi and 3G connections. But still, the cameras don’t sell.

God help them if this doesn’t work

The new NX1 might, just might, be a camera that changes things for Samsung. The extra-resolution sensor with 28.2 million pixels, in a backlit configuration for better light sensitivity, combined with 4K video recording may well be enough to catch the attention of photographers with something that they might more obviously want – not to mention a class-leading ability to shoot full resolution still images at a rate of 15 frames per second. A new wide-area AF system that mixes contrast- and phase-detection is extremely promising too, as previous systems sometimes displayed a similar level of focus adhesion as a small excited dog on a highly polished floor.

Samsung’s problems in the past have been less about the cameras it has offered and more about the confidence of the camera-buying market. The firm simply lacked credibility as a photographic force, and we all need something we can trust and something quite compelling to part us from our cash. The lure of 4K and all those pixels might be enough for enthusiasts to stop and take notice, and for videographers to look to the NX system for the first time. Whether the NX1 is compact enough for D-SLR users to see a difference between what they have and what they could have is another question, but certainly this is by far the most convincing NX model Samsung has turned out. I wonder if all that trying will finally pay off.