- Review Price: £349.99
You may get a strong sense of déjà vu looking at these pictures of the Samsung GX 1L . Don’t worry, it’s not a glitch in the Matrix; you really have seen it before. I reviewed it back in July, but then it was called the Pentax *ist DL2. Samsung and Pentax have a joint development deal for digital SLR technology, and have launched their own versions of several key models including this one, the GX 1S and the new GX 10, which is actually a slightly re-modelled Pentax K10D.
The 6.1-megapixel GX 1L is Samsung’s first foray into the highly competitive digital SLR market. It was announced back in February, just a few weeks after the launch of the Pentax version.
I have to admit that I’m baffled by the logic of such joint deals. The GX 1L and the *ist DL2 are identical apart from the manufacturer’s name and a few cosmetic trim details. The Samsung is sold with an 18-55mm lens bearing the Schneider-Kreuznach name, but even that appears to be virtually identical to the SMC Pentax-DA 18-55mm accompanying the DL2. Not a bad thing by any means since it’s an excellent lens, but still rather odd.
As I stated, the digital SLR market is very competitive, especially at the consumer end of the price scale, so surely these two cameras are competing with each other? The Pentax is available exclusively from Jessops for £349.99, and the Samsung is available online for exactly the same price. It’s hard to see how both companies can benefit from such an arrangement, but one has to assume that they know better than I how to run their respective businesses.
According to some reports, Samsung is planning to launch its own independently-developed digital SLR in the near future. Given the superb range of cameras it has launched recently, including the stylish and innovative NV (New Vision) range and the powerful Pro815 it certainly has the capacity to do so, so we’ll have to wait and see.
Whatever the future may hold, the fact remains that the GX 1L is an outstanding camera for anyone looking for an introduction to digital SLR photography. One massive advantage that it shares with the DL2 is compatibility with every Pentax lens ever made, including older screw-mount fittings and even medium-format lenses via adapters. Pentax has been making SLR cameras for a very long time and its optics have a reputation that is second to none, so there are thousands of top-quality lenses and other accessories in circulation in the second-hand market. There are also many third-party manufacturers that make lenses to fit the Pentax mount, so building up a good semi-pro kit won’t cost an arm and a leg, certainly an important consideration for anyone just starting out.
I awarded the *ist DL2 very high marks in my original review, and I have no reason to change my mind just because of the change in the maker’s name. The GX 1L has excellent build quality, with a tough polycarbonate body on a strong but lightweight alloy chassis. It is smaller and lighter than many other digital SLRs, but due to its relative simplicity the control layout is clean and uncluttered. It has a chunky sculpted handgrip with a textured rubber insert, making it secure and comfortable to hold, and thanks to the weight of four AA batteries inside the handgrip it feels nicely balanced.
As I stated in my review of the DL2, the feature set of the GX 1L is definitely aimed at the consumer end of the market. It has more in common with a high-end consumer compact than a full-on professional SLR. The main mode dial on the left of the top panel has the same program modes you’d expect from a compact, including portrait, landscape, macro, action and night portrait modes, and there is also a Scene mode offering a further eight menu options, including night scene, surf & snow, text, sunset, kids, candlelight, museum and pets. Like the DL2, the GX has a strange option to change the icon for the pet mode from a picture of a cat to one of a dog. It doesn’t change the settings for that mode, just the icon image. I really have no idea why (that’s coz you don’t have cats Cliff, they take offence easily – ed.).
Of course it also has a full range of manual exposure modes, with shutter speeds of 30-1/4000th of a second available. The range of metering modes is a bit limited, with only spot, centre-weighted and multi-zone, and the AF options are even more so, with only wide area and spot area, but at least contrast, saturation, sharpness and flash power can be manually adjusted.
Commonly-used adjustments such as ISO, drive mode, flash mode and white balance are found on a separate menu under the ‘Fn’ button. The only other major adjustment is exposure compensation which has its own button. There are menu options to customise a wide range of other parameters, but those are for more advanced users.
Overall performance is good, although there are many other more expensive cameras that beat it easily. It starts up in about a second, and in continuous mode it can shoot five frames in about three seconds, and after that slows to an average of about one frame a second but can shoot at this rate until the card is full. The GX uses SD cards for storage rather than the faster and more professional CompactFlash cards, but if you’re coming to it from a compact camera you’ll probably have more than a few SD cards anyway.
Not surprisingly the picture quality is identical to that of the Pentax *ist DL2, with good dynamic range, outstanding colour reproduction and very good noise control. The GX has a maximum ISO setting of 3200, and although shots at this setting are quite noisy they are useable. Shots at 1600 ISO are very good, and lower than that are pretty much noise-free. For more advanced photographers it has the crucial RAW mode, so you can really get the best out of it.
Like its identical twin the Pentax *ist DL2, the Samsung GX 1L is a well-priced entry-level DSLR that combines the ease of use of a compact with the performance and picture quality of an SLR. It may lack some more advanced features, but it has all the important ones. Experienced users may find its simplicity a little restrictive, but it is a perfect camera for the beginner who wants to learn, or for those making the switch from compact to SLR. It also gives you access to a vast range of Pentax lenses and accessories.
A range of test shots are shown over the next few pages. Here, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it in order for you to gain an appreciation of the overall quality.
1/80th sec, F8, ISO200
At the lowest ISO setting the GX 1L produces nice smooth noise-free images, as one should expect.
1/350th sec, F9.5, ISO400
At 400 ISO there is still no image noise, although there is a tiny hint of colour speckling in a few mid tones.
1/500th sec, F9.5, ISO800
At 800 ISO there is the faintest hint of noise in some mid-tone areas, but the image is still very sharp with good detail.
1/1000th sec, F11, ISO1600
At 1600 ISO there is image noise visible over most of the image, but it is well controlled and the image would be usable for most purposes.
1/1500th sec, F11, ISO3200
At 3200 ISO there is a good deal of image noise, and colour speckling is clearly visible all over the image.
A range of test shots are shown over the next few pages. Here, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it in order for you to gain an appreciation of the overall quality. The following pages consist of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure. For those with a dial-up connection, please be patient while the pages download.
My usual shot of the front of Exeter cathedral for a comparison of detail levels. I’ve got my own special spot on the front steps.
A 600-pixel crop from the above picture, showing the level of detail at 100% magnification. As you can see it is nice and sharp, with about the level of fine detail you’d expect from a 6MP camera.
This page consists of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure.
I went to Bude in North Devon to try and shoot a nice sunset over the sea, but the weather had other ideas. Despite the dull light the GX 1L has produced a nice contrasty shot with good dynamic range and plenty of detail.
Shooting into the setting sun produces a dramatic and striking shot. The exposure meter has slightly under-exposed, but if you shoot in RAW mode you can adjust this in post-processing.
This page consists of resized images so that you can evaluate the overall exposure.
In natural colour mode the Autumn leaves have a nice balanced tone and colour reproduction is very accurate.
A similar shot in Vivid mode shows greater colour saturation and heightened contrast. These settings can be manually adjusted.
Score in detail
Image Quality 8
|Camera type||Digital SLR|
|Megapixels (Megapixel)||6.1 Megapixel|
|Optical Zoom (Times)||By lensx|