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DCRP Review: Samsung Digimax GX-1S
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: June 19, 2006
Last Updated: January 18, 2008
The Digimax GX-1S ($650) along with its twin, the GX-1L ($540), marks Korean electronics giant Samsung's entry into the digital SLR world. The GX-1S wasn't actually created by Samsung -- it's the now-discontinued Pentax *ist DS2 with a Samsung label on it. Same goes for the GX-1L, which is the same as the *ist DL.
The GX-1S reviewed here features a 6.1 Megapixel CCD, Pentax K-AF lens mount, a large 2.5" LCD display, and the kind of performance, control, and expandability that you'd expect from a digital SLR. The GX-1L is very similar, with the only differences being the type of viewfinder and the number of focus points.
There are many choices in the entry-level D-SLR arena. How does the GX-1S perform? Find out in our review!
What's in the Box?
Unlike most D-SLRs there's only one "kit" available for the GX-1S, and it includes a lens. Here's what's inside the box:
As is the case with all D-SLRs, Samsung does not include a memory card with the GX-1S, so you'll have to factor that into the total purchase price. The camera uses Secure Digital (SD) cards, and I'd suggest a 512MB card as a good place to start. High speed cards are always a good idea with D-SLRs.
Samsung includes a pretty standard 18 - 55 lens with the GX-1S. This lens has a field-of-view equivalent to 27 - 82.5 mm on the camera. The same lens is sold under different names by Pentax and Samsung: Pentax puts their name on it, while Samsung puts the Schneider-Kreuznach label on it, which should tell why I'm always skeptical about the famous German names on digital camera lenses these days. Anyhow, the GX-1S works both of the Samsung lenses on the market (the kit lens plus a 50-200 mm model) and most modern Pentax lenses as well.
The GX-1S is one of a select few D-SLRs that uses AA batteries. In fact, it uses four of them, and Samsung puts alkaline batteries in the box with the camera. Those won't last forever, so do yourself a favor and get a set or two of NiMH rechargeables (2300 mAh or higher) plus a fast charger. The camera can also use (non-rechargeable) CR-V3 lithium batteries.
Since most manufacturers don't publish battery life statistics about their D-SLRs, so it's hard to compare the GX-1S with other cameras in this department. It looks like the GX-1S can take 500 shots per charge with 50% flash use when using 2500 mAh batteries, which seems pretty good to me.
There's no battery grip available for either of Samsung's D-SLRs as far as I can tell.
Being a D-SLR, there are plenty of accessories available for the GX-1S. As I already mentioned, you can use lenses from Pentax and Samsung, and the former has a pretty good selection available. Next up are flashes: you can use Samsung's flash (SEF-36PZF, price unknown) plus several models from Pentax (the AF220TZ and AF500FTZ are mentioned in the manual). Pentax also sells a few accessories that let you use an off-camera flash. Other options here include an AC adapter (model # ASC-61), wired remote control (SSR-D1), wireless remote (SRC-D1), and a camera case (SCP-D1). If you can't find the AC adapter or wireless remote, the Pentax equivalent models are K-AC10 and Remote Control F.
Samsung includes their Digimax Reader software with the GX-1S. While not the most attractive or powerful software on the market, it gets the job done. Digimax Master is for Windows only -- there is no Mac software included with the camera.
The main screen of DM has the usual thumbnail view, and from this screen you can rotate, print, and e-mail photos. As you'd expect these days, the thumbnail size can be adjusted.
Double-clicking on an image opens the edit window. If you're editing a JPEG you'll find all kinds of tools on the left side of the screen, including an "auto enhance" option. As you can probably tell, there are also tools available for putting type (or drawings) on top of a photo.
If you're viewing a RAW image then you'll have different tools. Digimax Master lets you edit white balance, exposure (including tone curves), and sharpness. There's also a tool for reducing color noise. If you want more powerful RAW editing tools then you can use Adobe Photoshop with the latest Camera Raw plug-in.
What's the big deal about RAW anyway, you ask? RAW images contain unprocessed image data from the camera, which must be converted on your computer into more common formats like JPEG. Since the image data is untouched, you can edit the properties mentioned above (and others using other software) without reducing the quality of the image. So if you screwed up the white balance, RAW gives you a second chance.
The manual included with GX-1S is more or less identical to what comes with the Pentax *ist DS2. It's fairly complete in terms of details, though it's not the most user friendly guide that I've seen.
Look and Feel
The Digimax GX-1S is a compact D-SLR with a plastic shell covering a sturdy metal frame. The camera is well put together, feeling quite solid in the hand, and not "cheap" at all (like the Rebel XT). The GX-1S has a large right hand grip, and it's easy to hold. Samsung/Pentax didn't go overboard with buttons, so the camera is very easy to pick up and use.
Here's a look at how the GX-1S compares to the competition in terms of size and weight:
The GX-1S is the smallest D-SLR on the market -- and almost the lightest as well. I don't think I'd want it any lighter, as it would feel too "plasticky" like the Rebel XT.
Okay, it's time to tour the GX-1S now, starting with the front of the camera.
Here's the front of the GX-1S without a lens attached. The
camera supports all Pentax K-AF mount lenses on the market (even the ancient ones), plus whatever
models Samsung comes out with. As I mentioned earlier, there's a 1.5X focal
length conversion ratio on this camera.
[Paragraph updated 6/19/06]
To the lower-left of the lens mount is the lens release button. Moving toward the grip now we find self-timer lamp and remote control receiver.
Directly above the lens mount is the pop-up flash, which is released electronically. This flash has a guide number of 15.6 at ISO 200, and Pentax says the flash does its best work at 0.7 - 4.0 meters.
The flash is also used as the AF-assist lamp when light levels are low. Normally this results in a flash photo being taken as well, but you can close the flash after focus is locked to avoid that.
On the back of the GX-1S you'll find a large 2.5" LCD display. Samsung didn't skimp on the LCD: it has 210,000 pixels. Do note that the LCD is only used for reviewing photos and navigating menus -- you cannot compose photos on it. If you want a camera that does that then you should be looking at the Olympus EVOLT E-330.
Directly above the LCD is the optical viewfinder, one of two features on the camera that differentiates it from the GX-1L. The GX-1S has a pentaprism viewfinder that displays 95% of the frame, while the GX-1L uses a pentamirror design which shows 96%. The viewfinder here is large and bright. Under the field-of-view is a line of shooting information, which includes aperture, shutter speed, flash status, selected scene mode, and shots remaining. A diopter slider on the top of the viewfinder adjusts the focus.
To the left of the viewfinder is the release button for the pop-up flash. On the opposite side is the command dial, which is used for choosing manual settings in record mode, and for the playback zoom when you're reviewing your pictures. Next up is the AE-Lock button, which doubles as the Image Protect button in playback mode.
This screen is shown when you press the Info button while taking pictures
Moving to the left of the LCD now, we find these four buttons:
Jumping to the right side of the LCD we find the four-way controller (used for menu navigation) and the Function button.
Pressing the Function button opens the -- drumroll please -- function menu, which has these options:
I have some explaining to do before we move on. In continuous shooting mode, the GX-1S took about ten JPEGs in a row at 2.7 frames/second before slowing down. In RAW mode the camera fired off five photos at 2.4 frames/second before it took a quick break to empty the buffer a bit. Other D-SLRs such as the Canon Rebel XT and Nikon D50 can take more shots per burst.
When you use the bracketing feature the camera will take three shots in a row, each with a different exposure. You can select the interval between shots as well as the order of shooting in the record menu, which I'll describe later in the review.
The manual white balance feature lets you use a white or gray card to ensure accurate colors even under the most unusual light. There's no way to set the color temperature on the GX-1S, nor can you "fine-tune" the WB.
The last item of note on the back of the camera is the release for the door over the memory card slot.
There's more to see on the top of the GX-1S. On the left side is the mode dial, which has quite a few options, including:
As you can see, the GX-1S has both automatic and manual exposure controls. There's something for everybody!
The hot shoe can be found to the right of the mode dial. The hot shoe supports Samsung and Pentax external flashes, and it should work with third party brands as well. Do note that Samsung recommends using their own flash: it supports P-TTL metering, and it can be used wirelessly as well. The GX-1S can sync as fast as 1/180 sec with an external flash.
Continuing to the right, we find the LCD info display, which displays virtually any setting you can think of. Unfortunately there's no backlight for the screen, so it's nearly impossible to see in low light.
Above the info display is the exposure compensation button, which is also used to adjust the aperture in the manual and bulb modes. The exposure compensation range is the usual -2EV to +2EV, with your choice of intervals (1/2 or 1/3 EV).
Above that is the shutter release button, which has the power switch wrapped around it. If you move the power switch past on (to that shutter icon), this will activate the depth-of-field preview.
On this side of the camera we find the auto/manual focus switch plus the I/O ports. The I/O ports, which are protected by a plastic cover of average quality, include:
The GX-1S supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard.
On the other side of the camera is the SD memory card slot, which is protected by a plastic door.
On the bottom of the GX-1S is a metal tripod mount plus the battery compartment. As you can see, the camera uses four AA batteries, and it supports two CR-V3 batteries as well. The lockable plastic door over the battery compartment feels a bit flimsy.
Using the Samsung Digimax GX-1S
It takes less than one second for the GX-1S to "warm up" before you can start taking pictures.
As always, autofocus speeds on a D-SLR depend mostly on what lens you're using. That said, I wasn't terribly thrilled with the focus speeds on the GX-1S. If the subject is easy to focus on, then the camera was fairly quick, and comparable to other SLRs in its class. But, if the camera has to "hunt" for focus, which it does more than I'd like, things can slow down considerably. While low light focusing was accurate (especially when the AF-assist flash is used), it was quite slow for a D-SLR.
Shutter lag wasn't a problem on the GX-1S, even at the slower shutter speeds were it sometimes occurs.
Shot-to-shot speeds are snappy, as you'd expect. You can keep shooting until the buffer fills up, which occurs after five RAW or twelve (give or take) JPEGs.
After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to trash the shot you just took.
Now here's a look at the image size and quality options on the GX-1S:
As I mentioned back in the software section of the review, the GX-1S supports the RAW image format. RAW images are taken alone -- not along with a JPEG like on some D-SLRs.
Images are named using the following convention: SG1S####.JPG, where # = 0001 - 9999. The camera maintains the file numbering even if you switch memory cards.
Okay, let's talk about menus now.
The GX-1S has a pretty standard menu system. It's divided into four tabs: record, playback, setup, and custom. Some of the names of menu items are really confusing: "Swtch dst msr pt" isn't terribly intuitive. Anyhow, here is what you'll find in each of those:
Hopefully everything I listed up there makes sense. If not, there's always the manual, those some of the descriptions there left much to be desired.
Okay, let's move on to our test photos now. With the exception of the night shot, all of the photos were taken with the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. The night shot was taken with the Samsung F4-5.6 50 - 200 mm lens.
The GX-1S did a pretty nice job with our macro test subject. The colors are nice and saturated, and the subject has the "smooth" look that you'd expect on a digital SLR. The camera's custom white balance feature handled my quartz studio lamps without any problem.
The minimum focus distance will depend on the lens you can use. While Samsung doesn't make (and I use that term loosely) any macro lenses, Pentax does.
The night shot looks pretty clean, though I'm not a huge fan of the reddish cast that you can see. The camera took in plenty of light, which shouldn't be too surprising, as you have full manual control over shutter speed. As was the case with the macro shot, there image is nice and smooth. Noise is non-existent here, and purple fringing was not a problem.
I have two high ISO tests in this review. The first one uses the same night scene you see above. Here goes:
The ISO 400 shots doesn't look too much different than the ISO 200 one. At ISO 800 the image starts to look grainy, but details are still intact, and you should be able to get a midsize print out of that shot. At ISO 1600 details start to disappear, and things look grim at ISO 3200.
There's fairly mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the 18 - 55 mm kit lens. What jumps out the most here though is vignetting, or dark corners. The fact that this showed up in real world photos as well tells you that the kits lens is not the greatest. Corner blurriness wasn't a problem, thankfully.
Redeye wasn't much of a problem on the GX-1S, as you can see.
Now it's time for our second ISO test. This one is taken in the studio, and is comparable between cameras. While the crops give you a quick idea about the noise levels at each ISO setting, viewing the full size images is always a good idea.
Things look very clean through ISO 400. There's a bit more noise at ISO 800, but you should have no problems making an 8 x 10 inch print. Noise/grain levels start to pick up at ISO 1600, and your output size will drop as a result. The GX-1S isn't as smooth as the Canons at ISO 1600, but looks a bit better than the Nikon D50 and Olympus E-500. ISO 3200 is grainier still, as you'd expect.
One thing that stood out in this test was just how saturated the colors were. By changing the Image Tone option from "bright" (the default setting) to "natural" you can tone things down a bit (pun intended). I also found that shooting in RAW mode did the same thing, though the images were softer too. If you want to see a converted RAW image taken at ISO 200, click here.
[Paragraph updated 6/19/06]
Overall, the Digimax GX-1S' photo quality was excellent, and what you'd expect from a D-SLR. Photos were well exposed, colors were very saturated (again, shooting in RAW reduces this), and subjects have a very clean, smooth look to them. Images are a bit sharper than on some D-SLRs, probably to keep the average consumer happy. Noise levels were low through ISO 400 and reasonable at ISO 800. Purple fringing wasn't a problem, at least with the two lenses I used.
As always, I encourage you to take a look at our photo gallery to judge the GX-1S' photo quality with your own eyes. Printing the photos there (or any of the ones above) is probably a good idea as well.
No digital SLRs have movie modes at this time.
The GX-1S has a very basic playback mode. You've got slideshows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, image protection, and "zoom and scroll". This last feature, also known as playback zoom, lets you enlarge a photo by up to 12X, and then move around in the enlarged area. This comes in handy when you're trying to verify proper focus of a photo.
The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
While you can't resize or crop photos on the camera, you can rotate them. A digital filter feature lets you turn a picture into black and white or sepia, add a soft filter, or make things slimmer (seriously).
By default the camera doesn't tell you much about your photos in playback mode. You can turn on an option in the menu that will "flash" the overexposed areas of the picture, if you'd like. Press the Info button and a histogram will be shown, and pressing it again gets the very detailed screen shown above right.
The GX-1S moves through photos instantly.
How Does it Compare?
While it doesn't break any new ground, the Samsung Digimax GX-1S (and by extension, the Pentax *ist DS2) is a solid, inexpensive digital SLR that gets the job done. It's well built, easy to use, and a faster performer (in most respects). With a street price of $650 with an 18 - 55 mm lens, the GX-1S is a pretty good deal. If you want to save some dough, the very similar GX-1L (with only the viewfinder and number of focusing points being different) sells for just $540.
While the GX-1S is the smallest D-SLR on the market, it doesn't feel too small, like the Canon Rebel XT. Build quality is very good, not feeling cheap at all (again, like the Rebel XT). The large right hand grip makes the camera easy to hold, and the important controls are right where you'd expect them. The GX-1S supports Pentax K-AF lenses (Samsung has put their name on a few of them), which isn't surprising, as this camera is the *ist DS2. The camera has a large, high resolution LCD display plus an LCD info display on top of the camera. Unfortunately, this latter LCD lacks a backlight, making it impossible to see in low light. The optical viewfinder is large and bright, and it shows 95% of the frame. Being a digital SLR, all kinds of add-ons are available, and you can use accessories from both Pentax and Samsung. The GX-1S also gets points for being one of the few D-SLRs that uses AA batteries.
The GX-1S has a mix of automatic and manual features. If you just want to point and shoot then you can choose from an auto mode or several scene modes. If you want manual controls (and if you're looking at a D-SLR then you probably do) then you'll find those here too. There are full manual exposure controls, including a bulb mode. There's a custom white balance feature, though you can't set the color temperature manually, nor is their a way to fine-tune a selected WB setting. If you're really hardcore then you'll the numerous custom functions available on the GX-1S. Naturally, the camera supports the RAW image format (but not RAW + JPEG), and the included software (Windows only) lets you tweak many image properties with ease.
Camera performance was good in most areas. The GX-1S starts up in under a second, there's no noticeable shutter lag, and you can shoot as fast as you can compose. The only (slight) disappointment in this department was in terms of autofocus performance: the GX-1S is slower than most of the competition, especially in low light. While the continuous shooting mode is fine for most purposes, it's worth pointing out that other similarly priced cameras can take longer bursts of photos. On a brighter note, the GX-1S supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard for fast data transfer to your PC.
Photo quality was very good, which is what you'd expect from a digital SLR. The GX-1S took well exposed photos with VERY saturated colors (changing the Image Tone option or shooting in RAW mode reduces this), low noise, and minimal purple fringing. As the ISO sensitivity goes up, so does the "grain" in your photos. While not quite as clean as Canon's D-SLRs at high ISOs, the GX-1S compares well with other entry-level D-SLRs. I did notice some vignetting with the kit lens, which was disappointing.
I pretty much mentioned all the negatives about the GX-1S in the preceding paragraphs. The only remaining item is that none of the bundled software works with the Mac. Mac users can use iPhoto or Photoshop for working with the camera, with the latter supporting the RAW images produced by the GX-1S.
If you're looking for your first digital SLR then the Samsung Digimax GX-1S is worth a look. It's inexpensive, well built, and it performs well in most respects. It's also a good choice if you have some Pentax lenses already, since they'll most likely work just fine on the GX-1S. Naturally, if you've got a lot of Canon or Nikon lenses already then I can't see jumping ship for the GX-1S, but if you're new to D-SLRs, check this one out.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other entry-level D-SLRs worth considering include the Canon Digital Rebel XT, Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D (I suppose), Nikon D50 and D70s, Olympus EVOLT E-330 and E-500, Pentax *ist DL / Samsung Digimax GX-1L (slightly different than the GX-1S, and cheaper too), and the Sony Alpha DSLR-A100.
As always, I strongly recommend trying the Digimax GX-1S and its competitors before you drop the big bucks on a digital SLR!
[Conclusion updated 6/21/06]
Photo GallerySee how the photos turned out in our gallery!
Want another opinion?
Read another review at CNET.com.
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation or technical support.
To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.
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