Pros: F/1.8 lens; easy to use menu system; great screen; great depth of field
Cons: Noisy images; some softness in bright areas; some lens distortion at wide angles, shutter speed not fast enough
The Samsung EX1 is a compact camera that caters to the needs of professionals and enthusiast photographers, yet it's not expensive.
For £399, you get most of the manual features that can be found on a competent digital SLR camera, although the EX1's lens is fixed and it doesn't have a built-in optical viewfinder. It's a 10-megapixel camera with a 24-72mm, 3x zoom lens. It's very simple to use but its image quality can sometimes leave you frustrated.
The sensor in the EX1 isn't a big one; it's a 1/1.7in CCD sensor, which, for example, is about eight times smaller than the APS-C sized sensor that can be found in Samsung's interchangeable lens camera, the NX10. Understandably, it doesn't perform too well in low-light situations, if you bump up the ISO speed — even to ISO 200 — noise and softness can become annoyingly visible. But it does depend on how large you view the images: if you view them at their full size, the noise and softness will be more evident than it will be in an image scaled to fit a screen.
At ISO 100, the images look quite crisp, but still have some grain. Images start to lose their definition above ISO 400, especially when viewed at their full size.
You don't always have to use a high ISO speed in low-light situations though, as the EX1's lens has a big aperture size of f/1.8. This aperture can be used when you aren't zoomed in, and it closes to f/2.4 when the lens is fully zoomed in. The big aperture, combined and the good built-in image stabilisation technology, which allows you to take relatively blur-free photos at slow shutter speeds, lets you get away with using ISO 100 for most low-light situations.
This hand-held shot was taken indoors using a shutter speed of 1/30sec. You can see that the definition is very good.
The noise can become an issue at night if you use a high ISO, so it's best to leave the ISO at 100 or drop it to 80. You can get some very clear shots when you use a tripod and a mid-range aperture value. However, the slowest shutter speed you can use is 16 seconds, and there is no bulb mode. This can make it tricky to set up the exposure for lightning or long light trails.
The EX1 is competent at night photography, but you have to keep the ISO speed down to avoid getting excessive noise. This shot was taken with a shutter speed of 1/2sec and an ISO speed of 80 in aperture priority mode. We didn't use a tripod; instead we rested the camera on a stable surface while holding onto it. The end result is satisfyingly clear.
The other issue is that the aperture can only be closed to f/6.7 and the fastest shutter you can use is 1/1500. This shutter speed limit can make it difficult to shoot in bright conditions, especially if you want to use a large aperture value in order to get plenty of depth of field. And as small as the EX1 is, it's capable of producing plenty of depth of field and nice, blurred backgrounds, especially in macro mode where you can get approximately 4cm away from your subject.