The camera's overall performance is very good. It starts up and is ready to take a picture in a little over two seconds, and in single-shot JPEG mode it takes approximately two seconds per shot, or three in Raw mode. However Samsung has applied its usual annoying shutter control logic, whereby if you press the shutter button too quickly while the camera is starting up or processing the previous shot, it fails to register and you have to press it again. In continuous shooting mode it can manage approximately 1.5 frames a second, although raw shooting is not possible in continuous mode.
The autofocus system is also very fast and accurate, focusing in a fraction of a second at all focal lengths and most lighting conditions. Low light focusing is especially good, and the EX1 has a good bright AF assist lamp with a range of several metres.
The overall image quality is certainly very good. The faster shutter speeds made available by the f/1.8 lens mean reduced camera shake and motion blur, and the narrow depth of field it provides is great for creative shots. The lens quality is as superb as its prestigious name would suggest, providing pin-sharp results from corner to corner, with virtually no barrel distortion or chromatic aberration even at the 24mm-equivalent wide end. The level of detail recorded is as good as anything in its class, as is dynamic range and colour depth.
The only slight stumble is the EX1's noise control at higher ISO settings. Comparing shots at 400 and 800 ISO directly with the Panasonic LX5, while the results are far from disappointing it's clear that Samsung still has some work to do in this area.
The crucial question is whether or not the Samsung EX1 is a viable alternative to the Canon G12 or Panasonic LX5, and I would say that for the vast majority of users the answer is a qualified yes. It offers similar performance, build quality and handling, almost the same level of versatility and creative control, and under most circumstances the image quality is also comparable. Its more expensive rivals do offer better image quality at higher ISO settings, but that is their only real advantage.
The Samsung EX1 is an outstanding camera by any standard, offering superior performance, build quality and handling, a high level of creative control and a good range of useful features. Under most circumstances its image quality is also superb, comparing well to its more expensive rivals. For a top-shelf compact it is surprisingly good value for money.