The Samsung ECX1 is a camera I’d been watching come and go on eBay for quite I while. The temptation had peaked just after I had bought and enjoyed the the results from a Konica AiBORG. The problem with the Konica is that whilst the results were good, shooting it was akin to playing with a poorly designed child’s toy. The experience was bad, but it made me wonder if there might be a similar camera out there, with a similarly good lens, but that didn’t seem to have been designed by a 14 year old boy.
The Samsung was already on my radar, but the Konica moved it up a few notches on the priority list. At least for a little while I was watching them closely on eBay, though I never won one. My interest wained, and with time I came to the conclusion I do with many of this type of camera – I’ll buy one if I find one in a charity or pawn shop. Unlike most cameras I come to that conclusion about, I did actually find one in a pawn shop in town – in good condition too!
I wrote a little preamble to this post for Alan over on Canny Cameras. Alan asked me if I’d like to contribute to his site, and since it’s about very cheap cameras, I thought that’s what I’d write about. This camera only cost me £2.99. But as I talk about in my post, the thing that I find amazing about these particular sorts of cheap cameras is that they were far from cheap in their day. This Samsung would have cost a few 100 quid back in 1994 when Samsung released it. But now, thanks to its somewhat over the top functions list, large size, and zoom lens, it just doesn’t appeal to the modern film photographer. For me, it’s that lack of appeal makes it appealing to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some sort of contrarian (much), I just like a bargain, and cameras like these with their lack of common appeal are very cheap. But, because they were very expensive in their day, pound for pound, you get a lot of camera… Even if the camera you get wasn’t quite originally designed with you in mind…
There is a good reason this sort of camera isn’t widely popular these days. Quite simply, it was designed to appeal to a marketplace that just doesn’t exist in film photography today. Unlike the Konica AiBORG which was, as mentioned, clearly designed for a child the Samsung ECX1 was seemingly designed for what we used to call when I worked in camera retail, the “Dad”.
The photographer buys a camera that fits whatever x,y or z purpose. The “Dad” on the other hand, wants to buy a camera that does what appears to him to be everything. He wants a “zoom” lens so he can take photos of his kids playing football, but he also wants a wide angle for the landscapes on holiday. He doesn’t want to skimp on quality, but doesn’t have the knowhow to use an SLR, or even the desire to learn – something he will freely admit. So what does he do? Well, he buys ‘What Camera’ of course – because that will make him an expert!
Eventually, he reads an article in a particularly dog eared (largely from swotting flies) edition that’s been knocking around the house for a few months. The lead story is (something like) “Power Zooms – the all-in-one answer to your photography needs”. It (probably) talks about zoom lenses and long lists of specifications that must surely be comparable to those found on high end SLRs – after all, why else would they include them??
Front and centre is (likely) the new ECX1 from Samsung, it’s won awards, What Camera (probably) say it’s great. It’s perfect, his heart is set, he goes into a camera shop and talks in a voice that’s slightly too loud about how he’s done his research and he knows what he wants. “Put it on the MasterCard!” He says also in a slightly too loud voice. A purchase is made.
The photography industry has for a long time now generated gear for this sector of the market – when I was in retail, the cameras were the same as this one, they just had bigger zoom lenses and tiny digital sensors, but broadly speaking they were the same deal. These days phone cameras have made things a little different (“I’ve got all the camera I need right here in on my iPhone 6s Plus!!”), but the market still exists. If you want to spot a “Dad cam” just look out for “Dad mode” (or “Intelligent auto” as it’s usually called) on the control dial.
Today’s “Dads” are just as sucked in by all the bells and whistles as they were 20 odd years ago. But of course they wouldn’t dream of buying a 20 year old camera. To appeal to the “Dad”, it needs to be the latest and greatest digital.
Combine this with the fact that the modern (probably trendy) film photographer wouldn’t touch something like this Samsung, and the fact that it’s not even cool to the lomo crowd, and eventually you end up with a Samsung ECX1 sat on a shelf in a pawn shop with a £2.99 price tag, waiting for some niche interest weirdo like me to come along…
The Samsung ECX1 review
This camera is pretty much auto everything. There is very little in the way of manual control, though there is pretty much every other mode you can think of. These include a variety of flash settings, two auto focus modes, a (basically useless) manual focus mode, a snap focus mode, fuzzy zoom mode, portrait mode, something called “step” mode, continuous mode, multiple exposure mode, an interval timer, bulb mode, a bunch of self timers, a landscape mode, a defrost mode, a spin cycle and a special attachment for vacuuming cobwebs out of the corners of your ceiling… …
Many of these modes will appeal to the unsuspecting “Dad”, but fuzzy zoom is possibly the most “Dad” mode of them all. If you’re at the telephoto end of the lens, and if combination of film speed and the slow aperture makes for a slow shutter speed, it’s
fuzzy zoom to the rescue. By activating this mode, at the point of half press the lens will zoom out to the point that the lenses aperture is able to open wide enough to use a shutter speed that won’t result in a photo blurred by camera shake. The mind boggles – I can’t even begin to put into words how I feel about this sort of technology – I don’t need to though, it’s just not designed for me.
This might sound like an awful lot of negativity and cynicism to be blasting in the direction of this poor 22 year old Samsung camera? Well, on face value, I’m not the sort you might expect to be in the market for a camera like this. I might be a Dad, but I’m not a “Dad”; my other camera is a Leica don’t-ya-know?! Well, this might be the case, but it doesn’t mean I’m incapable of seeing what something like this can bring to me as a Dad, or indeed me as a photographer.
For a start, the lens is pretty good – and it’s zoom range is novel when your used to the small selection of focal lengths I usually carry around with me (one). It’s a little soft at the long end, as is almost always the case with cameras like these.
But back off the zoom just a touch and results are perfectly fine.
At the wide end its a 38mm f/3.8. This is well within very useful territory for most types of day to day shooting. And actually, short of the results looking a little flat compared to what I’m used to, the lens quality is actually quite admirable!
For the size of the camera, it would have been nice if the lens was a little faster than f/10.5 at the long end mind.
That said, as a usually steadfast single focal length photographer, sometimes it’s easy to forget that this sort of lens allows a bit more freedom to take shots you might not usually take.
Joking aside, having not used such a zoom lens in a little while, I did find myself zooming in on things just for the fun of it. For the first time in as long as I can remember I just relied on the viewfinder to frame. I’d spot something of interest, and rather than imagining the frame in my head first as I do with my rangefinders, I’d just zoom right in on the potential area for a frame, and see if I could find a photo worth taking.
Of course, “worth taking” is subjective, and perhaps in hindsight some of the above perhaps weren’t as worth taking as they seemed at the time – but I enjoyed the slightly simplistic approach to the photographic process.
Features “Dad” didn’t use
Like every other “Dad” who ever bought one of these cameras, I didn’t use any single one of the fancy features. This is of course the ultimate irony of these cameras. The type of people who would have bought more of them than anyone else, would have had their mind partly made up by extensive feature sets that they would ultimately never use. Very few “Dads” would have had even the remotest idea what to do with a double exposure mode, but it was there because it added another line to the long spec sheet.
Features you might use
But of course, their lack of use doesn’t detract from the creative possibilities they bring to the table for us today. Interval timers and double exposure modes do make for occasional creative fun. Then of course there is the snap mode which is great for quick point & poke hyper focal snaps. These sorts of modes wouldn’t ever triggered a spark of imagination in the “Dad”, but they might in the creative snapper… At least if said creative snapper can bear to be seen with the thing.
Handling & usability
Let’s face it, it’s not the most attractive of cameras, but, additionally to the lens quality and all these features, its handling is actually really quite good. The AiBORG was a haptic nightmare. By comparison, this camera handles really well. The viewfinder is a little on the small side, and is quite hard to find the eye, but all the buttons actually feel like they are in the right place – especially the shutter button. Yes the camera as a whole is a little on the large side, but it doesn’t feel any bigger than any of the rangefinder cameras I usually carry… Though it is of course a little bit bigger than the average P&S!
To conclude – a bargain
Ultimately I know bargain when I see one. And these cameras, are without any doubt an absolute bargain these days. Just to reiterate, I paid £2.99 for mine! £2.99! That, as far as I can gather is 1/100th of its original retail price! This isn’t £2.99 for something that used to be cheap, this is £2.99 for something that used to be a relatively premium product. Something that was bought by men with strong right wrists (from all the fly swotting!), and shiny gold credit cards! These men might have been buying themselves a lot of superfluous features they would never use, but their loss is – in my opinion – our gain today.
Of course, in reality I’m not going to sell my Leica M-A and Zeiss ZM Sonnar now I’ve found this bargain of the century. Far from it. In fact, I’ll probably sell this camera before I use it again. But if your on a tight budget, or you just want something fun to shoot, some gimmicky features to play with, but you ultimately want to end up with quality decent photos – you can’t go wrong with the £2.99 you’ll likely spend on the Samsung ECX1! (It’s certainly a nicer camera than the Konica AiBORG!)