- Review Date: 6/16/2014
- Bottom line: The Samsung NX Mini is a compact, Wi-Fi-connected mirrorless camera that runs circles around smartphones, but manual control is a bit of a chore.
- Pros: Excellent Wi-Fi implementation. Slim design. Tilting touch-screen display. Sharp image output. Good high ISO performance. 10fps burst capture.
- Cons: Limited physical controls. A little slow to focus in dim light. Poky startup speed. Limited lens library. External battery charger not included.
The Samsung NX Mini ($449.99 with 9mm lens) is one of the smallest mirrorless cameras on the market, and one of the more affordable. It uses the same 1-inch sensor size found in Nikon 1 mirrorless cameras and Sony's RX lineup of compact point-and-shoots, and packs 20-megapixels of resolution. When you add Wi-Fi and a tilting touch-screen display that flips all the way forward for selfies, you get a camera that's built for portability and image sharing. It's not a top-end performer like our Editors' Choice Sony Alpha 6000, but certainly holds some appeal for more casual shooters looking for pocketability, affordability, and image quality that's beyond what a compact camera or smartphone can offer.
Design and Features
The NX Mini is slim at just 2.4 by 4.3 by 0.9 inches (HWD), and 6.9 ounces without a lens. It's the slimmest mirrorless model on the market, especially when you consider just how compact the included 9mm f/3.5 (24mm equivalent) lens is, but it's not the absolute smallest. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1 (2.2 by 3.9 by 1.2 inches, 7.2 ounces) isn't as wide or as tall, and squeezes a much larger Micro Four Thirds image sensor into that frame. Like the GM1, the NX Mini incorporates an electronic shutter system that can capture exposures as short as 1/16,000-second, but it omits the mechanical shutter option that the GM1 offers.
Samsung also sells the NX Mini in a kit with a 9-27mm (24-73mm equivalent) f/3.5-5.6 OIS zoom lens and an external flash for $550. The body does have a built-in flash, but it's small and doesn't put out as much power as an external unit. The flash connects to an expansion port on the top; there's no room for a standard hot shoe. Regardless of which kit you choose, the camera can be yours in chrome with your choice of white, brown, black, pink, or mint green leatherette.
One result of the Mini's smaller sensor is the inability to create a really shallow depth of field as you can with other mirrorless cameras. Both lenses that are currently available for the system have rather narrow aperture, which compounds this. Even when focused close and shot at f/3.5, you can't get a lot of background blur with the 9mm prime. Samsung doesn't offer any in-camera blur modes to get around this, as Pentax does with its Q7
The NX Mini's slim body limits the amount of controls that Samsung can incorporate. There's no physical mode dial; instead you'll only find the shutter release, power button, and a Wi-Fi button on the top plate. The rear control houses a movie record button (integrated into the thumb rest), along with Menu, Mode, playback, and delete buttons below. At their center are four directional controls with a center OK button. Three of these are standard—Display, AF, and Drive—but the bottom position requires a little explaining. It toggles between the bottom row of on-screen shooting settings (shutter speed, aperture, exposure value compensation, and ISO). It highlights the active control in blue, allowing you to use the left and right directional buttons to adjust it. This would typically be assigned to a control dial, but the NX Mini doesn't have one.
The control system on its own is a little frustrating, especially to photographers are used to loads of button and dials, even on compact mirrorless bodies. It's almost a necessity to use the touch-screen display to supplement the buttons. You can tap the rear display to change the focus point, access the Wi-Fi menu, launch the main menu, and launch the Fn overlay. There's no physical Fn button, but it's a handy screen if you like to adjust settings. From there you have direct touch control over the shutter speed, aperture, EV compensation setting, ISO, white balance, autofocus mode and area, metering pattern, drive mode, flash output, face detection settings, and what Samsung calls the Picture Wizard, which gives you control over the colors and tone of images.
Despite the addition of touch controls, the NX Mini is going to leave serious photographers frustrated with the difficulty of adjusting settings. Even though the NX Mini is capable of Raw shooting, it's really designed with more automatic operation in mind. Samsung's approach is superior to the one that Nikon took with its 1 J3 mirrorless camera, which is scant on physical buttons, but lacks a touch screen, but a flat rear command dial like the one that Nikon put on the J3 would go a long way to improve the NX Mini's handling.
The display itself is a 3-inch LCD with a 460k-dot resolution. It's not the sharpest in its class, and doesn't quite pack the punch of the 768k-dot OLED display that Samsung uses in the NX300, but it's perfectly adequate for image framing and review. Its touch input is as good as a smartphone; you can pinch images to zoom in and check for focus or peek at a small detail, and you can swipe through photos when in playback mode.
Samsung is the class leader when it comes to in-camera Wi-Fi, and the NX Mini is no exception. It can pair with a phone or tablet via NFC or a standard Wi-Fi connection, so you can copy images and videos over using the free Samsung Smart Camera app for iOS and Android. There's also a Remote Viewfinder function, which allows you to take full control over the NX Mini via your handheld device, with full manual shooting controls available. And, when connected to a hotspot or home Wi-Fi, you can post images directly to Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, or Dropbox, or send them via email. The only real limitation to instant sharing is the lack of support for Raw images—you'll need to shoot in JPG or Raw+JPG in order to share them via Wi-Fi; in-camera Raw processing is not available. If you do opt to shoot in Raw+JPG, you may run into a minor bug—the timestamp on Raw files is five hours ahead when shooting both formats simultaneously. Oddly enough, it's correct when shooting Raw images on their own.
Performance and Conclusions
The NX Mini starts and grabs an in-focus photo in about 3 seconds, which is on the slow side. Its autofocus system is quick in bright light, locking on in 0.1-second, but it slows to about 1.1-second in dim light. It can capture a burst of up to 30 JPG images at 10 frames per second, but drops to 6fps when shooting Raw and is limited to four shots before slowing down when shooting in that format. The Panasonic GM1 is quicker to start up, doing so in 1 second; it matches the NX Mini in focus speed in bright light, and is faster (0.6-second) in dim conditions. The GM1 does lag behind in burst shooting: It can capture JPG images continuously at just 5fps, and only manages to capture eight Raw images at 4.3fps before slowing down.
I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the included 9mm f/3.5 lens. It betters the 1,800 lines per picture height that we require to call an image sharp at every tested aperture. At f/3.5 it shows 2,080 lines on the center-weighted test, with good sharpness at all but the very edges of the frame, which record just 1,150 lines. Narrowing the aperture to f/4 shows very marginal improvement, but at f/5.6 the average score (2,255 lines) and edges (1,715 lines) improve. Diffraction, which limits sharpness, sets in at f/8; the overall score drops to 2,095 lines here and edges show 1,625 lines. There's just a little bit of barrel distortion, 1.4 percent, which gives images a very slightly noticeable outward curve.
Imatest also checks photos for noise, which can add unwanted grain and detract from image quality when shooting at the high ISO settings required in dim light. When shooting in JPG, it keeps noise below 1.5 percent though ISO 6400. Close examination of images from our ISO test scene on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W
Video is recorded at 1080p30 quality in MP4 format. The footage is crisp and smooth, and the NX Mini is quick to change focus as the scene changes. My voice came over loud and clear on the soundtrack, and while there is a slight whirring noise as the lens adjusts its focus, it's not overwhelming. There's an expansion port on the top of the body, and the remainder of the ports are hidden by a flap on the side. There's a micro HDMI connector that plugs into an HDTV, a micro USB port (it also charges the battery), and a micro SD card slot. The battery is big; if you lay it down on the faceplate it takes up all of the space from the edge to the lens mount. Samsung doesn't include an external charger, so if you do opt to purchase a spare you'll have to charge it internally or buy an external charger for it.
The Samsung NX Mini is one of the smallest interchangeable lens cameras on the market, and one of the more affordable ones. It's built for sharing; Wi-Fi implementation is excellent and its small size encourages you to take it with you wherever you go. Image quality is quite good, rivaling 1-inch compacts like the pricey Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II, but serious shutterbugs will be turned off by the limited range of lenses that go hand-in-hand with a new system and a control layout that is best suited for automatic mode. The included prime lens is wide enough to fit you and a friend in a quick selfie, and if you're used to shooting with a smartphone camera you'll feel right at home with its non-zooming wide-angle field of view, but for another $100 you can opt for a kit with a zoom lens. The bigger lens cuts down on the pocket-friendly form factor, but by no means make the Mini a large camera. If you're a serious photographer and are looking for something small, but with a larger lens library, the Panasonic GM1 is your best bet—but it's $300 more expensive. The best affordable mirrorless camera that we've tested, the Sony Alpha 6000, is in another class in terms of size, but its performance is impeccable.
This review is in partnership with PCMag.com.