CNET Asia Review: Samsung EX1
By Leonard Goh, Jun 14, 2010
It's been almost two years since Panasonic announced the Lumix DMC-LX3, an advanced point-
and-shoot that pretty much dominated the compact market since. Other manufacturers tried to
develop their own version to topple the Lumix LX3 from its top spot, with Canon being the most
aggressive with its PowerShot S90 and G11. Though it appears the Lumix has held its ground
against the competition, it now faces its most intense rival yet from Samsung.
The EX1 has been touted the "LX3 killer" on the Web since the Samsung was announced in
February this year. It has all the good bits from the LX3 and G11 combined into one package,
finished with a touch of Samsung in the form of an AMOLED screen. Can this enthusiasts-grade
compact really give the LX3 a run for its money as rumored? Here's our verdict.
The EX1 has a very solid build. In fact, it feels like it's been carved out of a single piece of metal
block. Each component, from the scroll wheels to the buttons, hardly feels flimsy. Of all the point-
and-shoots we've tested in the past few years, the EX1 delivers one of the best overall build.
Here's a pictorial analysis of the various parts of the EX1.
The brushed metal texture on the front of the EX1 gives the camera a sophisticated look and an
overall uncluttered design. The large lens barrel takes up most of the front, but there is still ample
space on the rubberized grip for our hands to hold onto. The onboard flash pops up from the top
of the snapper, just like the LX3's.
The top of the Samsung camera houses controls for the shooting modes, commonly used
functions such as bracketing and shutter button which has a zoom lever around it. Having
physical controls is a plus for a pro-oriented point-and-shoot because you won't have to dive into
the menu each time you want to change an option.
Other controls are situated on the rear. There is a useful scroll wheel which doubles as a four-way
navigation pad and access to ISO, flash, and the macro and display modes. Also, there is a
dedicated video-recording button (which is useful, but we're not sure how many people will make
use of the VGA movie capture mode) and a Func key that calls up commonly changed settings.
Another noteworthy aspect of the EX1 is the front dial located on the handgrip. Like the scroll
wheel, the front dial lets you tweak settings when in manual shooting mode or to navigate menus.
Compared with the LX3, the EX1 is bigger and heavier. We attribute that to the multitude of
features the Samsung shooter has, as well as the material used to craft the camera. That said,
the EX1 is still pretty portable; it fitted nicely into our small shoulder bag and even our jeans
pocket (though it made for a tight fit).
We used the EX1 for a few weeks and found operating it a joy. Controls were within fingertips
reach, and once we got used to the menu, it was quick enough to change settings on-the-go. The
weight distribution of the camera was pretty good, too, and this made holding the snapper with
one hand an easy task. Overall, we were impressed with the EX1's design. In terms of lens
specifications, the EX1 trumps the LX3 and S90 with its bright F1.8 optics, which offers about 1
stop more in exposure. For example, instead of having to shoot at 1/15 second in low light (which
may be blur due to shaky hands), shutterbugs can shoot at 1/30 second instead and this
minimizes the chances of getting blurry shots.
As with the Canon G11, the EX1 has a swivel LCD that flips the screen inward. This is useful for
preventing scratches when you're not using the camera.
Screen-wise, the Samsung shooter uses a 3-inch, 920k-dot resolution AMOLED. The hi-res
display is great for checking focus manually. However, we doubt the color accuracy of the screen.
When we reviewed pictures on the AMOLED, tones and hues look great with plenty of saturation
and contrast. But when we viewed the same images on our color-calibrated PC monitor, they
looked duller and tones lacked punch. If the EX1 were a consumer-level point-and-shoot, we
probably wouldn't have bothered much with the color accuracy of the screen. But since this is a
pro-oriented camera, we figured that professionals would want to see the most accurate shades
and contrast so they can make changes on the spot if necessary.
In terms of customizing buttons functions, the EX1 doesn't offer a lot. In manual exposure mode,
the front dial adjusts only shutter speed and the scroll wheel controls shutter speed. This also
applies even when you're shooting in shutter/aperture priority modes. We wished Samsung
allowed users to customize the functions.
The EX1 employs a 1/1.7-inch image sensor, which is slightly smaller than the LX3's 1/1.63-inch
one. In the latter part of this review, we'll see if this impacts the picture quality.
The EX1 took slightly over 1 second to start up, but needed about 3 seconds more to initialize the
camera. Shutter lag measured a zippy 0.1 second. Time-to-first-shot, though, was disappointing
at 5 seconds.
Focusing was generally fast, but we noticed the EX1 struggled a bit with closeup shots, though it
surprisingly handled low-light situations pretty well in our tests.
Exposure-wise, the Samsung shooter tended to overexpose highlights under bright sunlight, so
we recommend that users underexpose shots by about -1/3 stop or shoot in RAW where possible
to have more control over the post-editing process. When we shot indoors, the exposure was
correct and we didn't have to make any adjustments.
A question that's been bugging shutterbugs since the EX1 was announced is: Can Samsung
deliver a camera that takes pictures as good as the LX3? The short answer is: Yes. The long
answer depends on the type of images you like. In general, the EX1's pictures appear softer than
the Panasonic camera's, but this can be easily resolved if you sharpen them in an image-editing
program such as Adobe Photoshop.
Looking at the ISO comparison picture above, you'll see that at ISO 400 and below, the EX1
churned out clean-looking shots with few traces of digital artifacts. Sure, there is noise in the
midtones and shadow regions at ISO 400, but if you don't enlarge the picture to 100 percent on
the computer screen or print at 8R size, you probably won't notice them. At ISO 800, the edges of
the subjects start to get a bit fuzzy and colored noise is more prominent. But considering the EX1
has a F1.8 lens, you probably won't need to venture to ISO 800 even for night shots. Even if you
have to, there is a RAW image option, which will probably let you clean up the digital artifacts in
the post-processing stage.
We compared the EX1's ISO 400 and 800 JPEG samples with the LX3's and noticed the Samsung
camera had a bit more noise than the Panasonic shooter at ISO 400, but that's negligible as you
have to scrutinize the images just to spot the difference. Both cameras were on par at ISO 800.
Color reproduction of the EX1 was accurate, with pleasing tones that were not overly saturated
(unlike those displayed on the AMOLED). The automatic white balance was spot on for most
situations as well, and we didn't get weird color tinges in our shots.
We were very impressed by the Samsung EX1. In terms of function and operation, this camera is
tops in the market now. The EX1 is probably the most advanced point-and-shoot on the market
today, let down only by the inaccurate color reproduction of the AMOLED screen. That to us is
quite a big deal since this camera is directed at enthusiasts and professional users. Also, the
sluggish performance didn't go down too well with us. But if you want a shooter that has a fast
lens and is capable of delivering good pictures, the EX1 is worth a serious consideration.