On paper, the Samsung ECX-1 is similar to almost all 35mm point and shoot film cameras. It has a versatile, if slow, zoom lens covering most common focal lengths, a built-in flash, some “creative modes” to spice up the marketing material, and a compact design. Oh, wait, scratch that last one.
Samsung must have missed the memo, eschewing the compact design of classic contemporaries like the Contax T2, Yashica T4, and original Olympus Mju. You may think I’m being unfair, putting the ECX-1 and its 38-140mm lens against prime-wielding flagship point and shoots, but search the CP archives and you’ll find a catalog of zoom-equipped alternatives that aren’t half the size of a personal pizza. No, seriously, check out that archive.
Before I get to mocking the ECX-1’s design too severely, I should mention that it was designed by F.A. Porsche and won a few design awards when it debuted in 1994. There’s clearly a motif of concentric circles going on, and some effort is taken to ensure the simplicity and continuity of the lines. Which is cool, and would definitely impress the other dads when taking photos of your daughter’s soccer games in the mid-’90s.
Less care was taken, however, when considering how the camera fits in human hands. I don’t have particularly large hands, but I constantly found myself having to “claw” the camera’s bottom with my pinky finger to stabilize it because the grip just isn’t big enough to offer substantive control. It’s the ultimate irony, building a needlessly-large camera and then making the grip too small to use.
Directly in the center of the camera sits the massive lens. And you may be thinking that since the lens is so large compared to other point and shoots that perhaps it has an advantage in aperture speed. A good thought. I applaud you for it. You’re wrong though. While the lens starts at a passable f/3.5 at 38mm, by the time we reach 140mm the lens’ maximum aperture is a crippling f/10.5. F/10.5!! That’s almost into the realm where we sharpness drops due to diffraction.
For reference, the Olympus Mju Zoom 140 has a similar 38-140mm lens with apertures ranging from f/4 at 38mm to f/11 at 140mm. The kicker is that the Stylus Epic weighs nearly half what the ECX-1 does and it’s significantly smaller. The viewfinders are even about the same size. Call me uncultured, but I just don’t understand this camera from a practical standpoint.
All of this could be excused, though, if the camera handled perfectly and the photos were wonderful, right? We can excuse the size if it’s better to have the Samsung ECX-1 than two Pentax IQ Zooms or six more rolls of film, right? Alright, maybe that’s unfair, but I think it’s totally fair to expect more to justify the size and weight of the Samsung ECX-1. So does it deliver?
In short, no. In long, it’s ambitious and quirky, and overall just okay. Once you find a satisfying way to hold the camera, it’s pretty much a normal point and shoot experience. Normal flash modes, some creative controls, and not-bad-but-not-good autofocus. It’s a bit loud, but overall responsive and fine.
One thing the ECX-1 does have is a collection of unique automatic modes. This is not the first similarity the camera has to the Konica AiBORG, with its 19 creative, if stupid, scene modes packed into an even more egregiously-large and bulbous chassis. The Samsung’s zoom-based scene modes, among other things, make it like an AiBORG Lite. These modes, including interval shooting, double exposures, portrait zoom, and, my personal favorites, “fuzzy zoom,” allow the photographer some control over how the automatic camera adjusts settings and framing.
Yes, I said framing. Some of the modes, including fuzzy zoom, will actually change the framing of the shot if the camera doesn’t have enough light or thinks your photo is bad. Seriously, the portrait zoom mode will attempt to zoom to cover your subject’s shoulders and head. It’s very Big Brother, framing a shot at the wide end and having the camera say “no, you silly rube, that’s not how you do a portrait! I’m going to zoom in.” Like it’s my mom who simply won’t have me ruining the family vacation photos again!
Alright, alright, I’m done. Let’s just talk about the photos. I spoiled the Samsung ECX-1 with Kodak Portra 160 in hopes that the overbearing AI inside of it would reward me with good photos. And I got good photos. The harsh light excused the ECX-1’s slow apertures and the results were pleasant.
I suppose the best compliment I could give the Samsung ECX-1 is that I didn’t think about it too much as I was snapping photos of my friends. I even found myself using the macro mode quite a bit after consulting the manual to find the minimum focus distance. It handled the low-ISO film admirably, although the results were a bit soft, especially at the far ends of the zoom. That’s to be expected of any zoom-equipped point and shoot, though.
That just about sums up the ECX-1. It’s not egregious, no matter how dramatic I was earlier. It’s a big, ugly thing, but the worst part is that it doesn’t gain anything for it. It doesn’t have a better lens, more modes, faster functioning, or better handling than smaller point and shoots. It’s decidedly average at best, and uncomfortable at worst.
I waited until after I had played with and shot the Samsung before I looked up its worth, convincing myself it was either very expensive or completely worthless. Turns out it’s the latter; it costs almost nothing, which I can understand. There are so many other cameras that can do the same things as the Samsung ECX-1, and also give you room to fit a few Nutri-Grain bars in your bag for a snack. Porsche-designed or not, I’m pretty sure I’d rather have snacks.
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