Friday, September 7, 2012

Samsung EX2F Review

Samsung EX2F Review
September 2012, Carl Garrard

Samsung EX2F Review- I love me some serious compacts. My time with the EX2f's predecessor, the EX1 (TL500) although short, was pretty positive. I remember when that camera came out and how excited I was for Samsung to bring something like that to the market. At the time I had my hands full and couldn't do a review of that camera, and just never got around to doing one afterwards. But now, my slate is clean, timing is indeed everything. Lets get started...

EX2F- BH Photo's Best Price!

Samsung EX2F Review-First Impressions
EX2F- BH Photo's Best Price!

Right out of the box the EX2f doesn't disappoint. It's built like a tank, just like the EX1 was, and yet is somehow lighter and even more refined in build quality. Right away I could tell this camera, bar all its new specs, was a real successor to the EX1. The flash pops up with a snap, and goes down smooth like it's on bearings. So too does the LCD feel very high precision.

The grip is fantastic in the hand (one of my major pet peeves especially on enthusiast level compacts) and leaves very little to desire. It has a cool but dry and tacky grip that feels like it will hold its texture and shape for some time to come, in other words, it will hold up to wear quite well. The thumb rest is a dense rubber, it's not hard plastic that looks like rubber (that always bothers me when that happens). It's apparent to me right away that this camera will be easy to hold always, and especially for really odd angle shots or one handed shooting (an imperative if you are a father I find).

Kudos to Samsung for this. A camera's grip is just as important as image quality to me in that if I don't like the grip I'm not going to want to hold the camera or pick it up- period. Same for image quality, if I don't like the output I'm likely not going to want to pick it up and use it. Since so many cameras come my way this day (either from purchase or direct from manufactures) I really don't have the patience for a camera that doesn't suit my needs, nor do I have the motivation to review it.

Samsung EX2F Review- Features That Interested Me
EX2F- BH Photo's Best Price!

You can read Samsung's press release and specifications if that pleases you (will be added to this review soon), but let me get to what interested  me about this camera right from the start (and not in any particular order of preference). I'm pretty sure this list rings true for a lot of enthusiast shooters even remotely interested in this camera.

  • Worlds fastest f/1.4-f/2.7 fixed lens (in a compact) besides the new Panasonic LX7
  • Tilt and Swivel OLED Screen
  • Excellent Grip
  • Full compliment of manual controls and large prominent buttons
  • Raw files
  • Smaller size
  • Wide angle to medium telephoto (24-80mm) covers most shooting circumstances
  • High Quality Build
  • Hot shoe for accessories 
  • Latest video capability
  • Good amount of resolution in a larger than average size compact sensor  (I like smaller sensors for compacts, more on this later)
  • Great price for the package (assuming the camera reviews/tests well)

The EX2F nearly ticks off every single major desire I have for a full featured compact bar some kind of viewfinder whether optical or electronic. As far as I know, the only option for a finder will be an optical fixed one of sorts if I so desire. However, the tiltable LCD does help my frown turn upside down a bit. I'm able to steady the camera using two hands for waist level shooting which nearly negates my needs for a finder. Nearly, but not all.

On the OLED panel, I would have preferred it to be a bit recessed into the mount so that it could resist smudging or scratching a bit. It looks nice being flush with the mount, but looks don't cut it in the real world. Not a deal breaker at all, just a preference. The screen seems pretty easy to smudge so keep a microfiber cloth handy if that kind of thing bothers you (it does me, I like clean cameras when I shoot).

On the front of the camera, the ring surrounding the lens unscrews which means it should support some auxiliary lenses if Samsung make some for it, or third party makers happen to grace us with some options. I haven't had time to even look and see if any will fit currently since the camera just arrived today. I assume there is probably some adapter out there that will fit right now. I'll get right on checking that for you, if you are interested (just let me know).

Fyi- Upon further study of the camera, Samsung have a "conversion lens" selection in the menu system, so don't be surprised if they announce a wide and tele convertor for this camera soon. 

Samsung EX2F Review- What's Included
EX2F- BH Photo's Best Price!

Not much to tell here. Samsung provide the very basics to get you going. The EX2F charges via USB, but they do provide a wall mounted plug with a USB port so you don't have to use your computer. A lens cap and lanyard, software CD that includes the manual and raw converter etc., some basic literature, a battery, USB cord, and nice leatherette camera neck strap round out the rest of whats in the box. I think not having a paper manual is a big pain in the rear and should always be included with a camera purchase. I'd gladly pay the extra few cents it costs to include one in the box.

The one shiny spot is the included neck strap that doesn't use D rings, instead it used the Leica style quick release and lock style that I think is superb. I hate fiddling with neck straps for minutes on end just to remove or install one. This type makes me want to use it or bring with me. Kudos Samsung!

Samsung EX2F Review- Operation
EX2F- BH Photo's Best Price!

Start up and shut down speed is almost instantaneous, just how I like a pocket camera to be. It's also very quiet (shut off the beep in the menu) with little noise coming from the precision sounding lens mechanism. Kudos again Samsung, another pet peeve of mine I don't have to be concerned with. Although one handed power on and off will be tricky since the on/off button is located near mid camera, it's not a major issue to me and I'll get used to it.

Auto Focus speed was very impressive immediately on the wide end indoors. Telephoto AF speed slowed down just at tad at 80mm but hardly noticeable practically speaking. 

The FN or "quick menu" is superb and will speed up handling in general with this camera. Samsung were smart enough to include the ND filter on/off in this menu so that you can very quickly engage the ND filter. I've read in other reports that some were upset they had to menu dive to engage it or ISO for that matter, but all they had to do was use the FN quick menu. So far Samsung are hitting a home run for me here. 

Samsung EX2F Review- Initial Image Quality Report
EX2F- BH Photo's Best Price!

The EX2F has a new type 12.4mp BSI (back side illuminated)  1 1/7" size CMOS sensor, which purports to have better low light performance over the 1 1/7" 10mp CCD unit this camera replaces from its predecessor despite having more pixels. Personally I've always preferred the look of CCD for low ISO's (up to 400 speed), but CMOS sensors have taken a few strides of late that is turning my opinion a bit more. I was very excited to see what this sensor could do  right away.

The EX2F has some tough competition as the RX100, LX7, G1X, and P7700  are all on the market at the same time as of this writing. All are enthusiast level compacts with varying sizes and feature sets but generally speaking this is the lineup that the EX2F faces (along with Olympus's upcoming XZ2 at Photokina). The Raw image quality of the EX1 was quite good (dare some say superb to this day), but today is different times and image quality is becoming more and more of the focus of buyers. Let me just say this however.

The fast lens of the EX2F gives it an automatic one stop advantage over its best rivals in terms of light gathering ability - meaning even if they do out perform the sensor of the EX2F, you don't have to raise the ISO value as far. In fact, the EX2F is just as fast at 80mm (f/2.7) as some of the cameras above start out at on the wide end. Think about that for a moment. 

More control of depth of field and light gathering ability than its rivals- important considerations. Indeed "IQ" all starts with the lens. That being said, lets see how the lens and sensor performs at base ISO wide open. I popped in a Sandisk class 10 SDHC 32GB card and got ready for action.

First a quick teaser of what this camera is capable of at ISO 3200. Following image was converted with the included Samsung Raw converter (its Silkypix basically). So far I'm seeing low chroma noise and overall noise for a sensor of this size.

ISO 3200 converted from Samsung's Raw Converter (Silkypix)
EX2F- BH Photo's Best Price! 
This is a series of images developed in Silkypix (Samsung Raw Converter), sharpness has been backed off to zero, otherwise all other parameters were set to standard and camera settings. Lighting was low room lighting (slightly to the left of the scene) which consisted of one 60 watt standing lamp, and white balance was thus calculated manually before the test shoot. I've left sharpening up to the readers since it's a subjective preference for all of us.

ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

Base ISO Evaluation
This scene was shot with an extreme range of light to test the overall dynamic range, noise control, and fine detail the EX2F was able to retain in the raw file. Shot at ISO 80 and f/2.8. Note the lack of any CA's or vignetting etc. Corners appear very sharp despite the range differences in the foreground.


EX2F- BH Photo's Best Price! 

Color shift begins to set in at ISO 3200 but the images are definitely useable. ISO 6400 sees more of this effect, but isn't much different than ISO 3200. ISO 12,800 is only available on Jpegs, so essentially this is a pushed setting and the camera is effectively an ISO 80-6400 camera.

ISO 80-400 noise seems untouched in the raw files, then we get to ISO 800 and it appears as though the camera is touching the raw files or Silkypix has an automated NR algorithm for this ISO level and above. You see chroma increasing from ISO 80-400 slowly, then at 800 there is a big drop off of chroma noise- less than 400, so I know something is up. When Adobe Camera Raw supports these files, I'll be able to get a much better view of what is happening here. Until then, this is the best I can provide but it's obvious to me that Samsung got involved on the raw files at least with what they provide you out of the box.

That being said, the EX2F does quite well for such a small sensor. I'd not hesitate to use this camera up to ISO 1600, and since the lens goes wide open to f/1.4, there isn't much need to go higher than that unless you are in near dark conditions. There is plenty of detail left at ISO 1600 to make a nice 13x19" print. Not too long ago DSLRS couldn't even perform this well even with lower pixel counts. A very decent performance by the EX2F, and one of the best performances from a sensor this size that I've seen.

Base ISO (ISO 80) is actually excellent, albeit a small or large sensor this camera has plenty of dynamic range and detail to make a beautiful 20x30" print. Very impressive performance here.

EX2F- BH Photo's Best Price!
Optically the EX2F shows a good performance with the lens. Only showing stronger CA's in raw images at f1.4-f/2. By f/2.8 they are almost completely gone (as the above image shots shot at f/2.8). Jpeg processing in camera removes most of the CA's and distortion. Distortion in raw is pretty normal for a 24mm wide lens, nothing that can't be fixed in the automatic Jpeg processing of the EX2f, or in Photoshop etc. later on. Barrel distortion is practically nil. Sharpness is really good even wide open for a majority of the frame, with only moderate softening in the far corners. I'd not hesitate to use this lens wide open for any subjects but landscapes, in which I'd use f/2.8 and higher.

(More to follow on the roller coaster review, keep in touch!)- Carl


  1. Thanks for sharing your impressions. I need to decide either LX7 or EX2F, RX100 has an awful handling and I gave it back.

  2. Hi, can you post the aperture steps of the EX2F per several focal length?