Point & Shoot

The Samsung ECX1 – The bargain “Dad Cam” of Yore

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…

_DSC9889

“Dad” cam

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… …

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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.

The lens

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.

Snaps with a Samsung

Snaps with a Samsung

But back off the zoom just a touch and results are perfectly fine.

Snaps with a Samsung

Snaps with a Samsung

Snaps with a Samsung

Snaps with a Samsung

Snaps with a Samsung

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!

Snaps with a Samsung

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.

Snaps with a Samsung
“Come as fast as you can toward me, Connie”

Snaps with a Samsung
“Ooo look at that bird… Oh wait… I can’t zoom in that much…”

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.

Snaps with a Samsung

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!

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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!)


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22 Comments

  • Reply
    Blinx
    June 23, 2016 at 9:50 am

    Nice review, Hamish. The trouble with Dad cams is you need to be an expert to understand what they are trying to do, like playing chess with a robot. By the time you’ve worked out a theoretical sweet spot between the rapidly shrinking telephoto f-stop and the limited ASA, you’d be better served by sticking it on manual and letting film latitude do its stuff.

    Dadcams were made for people who believed photography was a deeply mysterious thing, and could prove it to their pals by the number of dials, modes and readouts necessary to capture the shot. Most spent their entire existence on full auto, and the other modes were a branch of magic and not to be messed with. The off putting thing for a C21st user is the size of the damn things, about the same as a small SLR. Intuitive, they ain’t!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      June 23, 2016 at 10:02 am

      I know, there is such a bizarre irony in it all from our perspective isn’t there.
      I actually took out a large rant about capitalism and the needlessness of function it has generated in cameras like these, and so many since…
      Counter to this review, I am now working on a post about the comparatively incredibly elegant Agfa 1035 – a german designed wonder, that works perfectly through its complete lack of needless shite 🙂

  • Reply
    Blinx
    June 23, 2016 at 12:51 pm

    The massive technological redundancy of cameras like the ECX-1 was a result of an over-saturated marketplace desperate for a unique selling point. Porsche’s name was on everything from watches to luggage, and ultimately became meaningless as a standard of design quality. Exposure modes grew like weeds, impossible combinations in search of unlikely photographic scenarios, but offered the illusion of “modernity”.

    I was shooting a plain prism Nikon F at the time, not even a light meter to call its own, and thought the photographic world had gone mad. I’m more sympathetic to auto focus compact cameras now, but the Samsung is too clever by half as a point and shoot.

  • Reply
    Alan Duncan
    June 23, 2016 at 5:16 pm

    Nice review and ta for the post over at http://www.austerityphoto.com. I’ve used the slightly lower end Samsung 105 XL and was resonably impressed – it certainly matched many of the mid range Japanese Zoom compacts of the era. Like your ECX1 had more menu options than you needed including “Fuzzy” ! and the styling was slightly more normalish although mines came in champagne colour and still a bit brick like (is is on paper much like my beloved ’92 Pentax Espio AF Zoom & isn’t behind it much shotwise but is that bit bulkier). Like you though finding a manual has proved nigh on impossible

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      June 23, 2016 at 9:36 pm

      I was looking at the Pentax Espio AF Zoom – I’ve asked you a question on your review of it

  • Reply
    rollbahn
    June 24, 2016 at 4:24 am

    That is one VERY ugly camera but I’m amazed how good the photos are leaving out the zoom shots. Just shows what bargains you can get if you look around. Think I’ll still keep my Mju II though for my compact camera needs 🙂

    BTW Hamish – how’s the Noritsu going? Colours look great on these shots so you must have it all figured out. Would love to see some screenshots of how it all works as there is almost nothing online about it.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      June 24, 2016 at 9:02 am

      I am waiting on software to get it working – so still using AG… its time will come

  • Reply
    Douglas
    June 24, 2016 at 7:54 pm

    You had me at defrost mode haha I think you’re just developing a penchant for ugly cameras!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      June 25, 2016 at 4:00 pm

      I like, coz no one else does – someones gotta back the underdog 😉

  • Reply
    jeremy north
    June 26, 2016 at 5:37 pm

    Great read Hamish, I love the “Dad Cam” description.

    This camera is so ugly!

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      June 26, 2016 at 6:05 pm

      Thanks Jeremy – int it just

  • Reply
    Sophie
    July 2, 2016 at 11:18 am

    Nice review. I have the Samsung AF zoom 1050, seems to have been released in 1990 or 1991, all the same features but far less ugly, the body of the camera has the look of a modern digital bridge camera and is black. I got it for eight quid off eBay but there are untested ones going for three or four quid at times. Its bad points, it has a poor battery life (and uses two cr123 batteries, not cheap), and weighs 500g.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      July 2, 2016 at 7:20 pm

      Does it have all the modes? (fuzzy, snap, interval timer, etc etc)

      • Reply
        Sophie
        October 17, 2016 at 8:04 pm

        Sorry late reply but indeed it does, except for the panorama option.

  • Reply
    TheRook
    August 16, 2016 at 3:29 am

    I agree, the ecx1 is a comfortable and fun camera to use. What I especially like about this camera is that it allows one to make exposure compensation adjustments. A feature relatively few automatic point and shoot cameras of that era offer. Of course the user needs to know a little about exposure and how to interpret a scene to actually take advantage of such feature. Used wisely, compensation will minimize over- and underexposed subjects in difficult lighting situations.

  • Reply
    Geoff
    September 21, 2016 at 12:56 am

    I picked up a Samsung ECX1 at an auction today. It came withe two Nikons, an FE that weighs a ton, with a 50mm 1.8 lens plus UV filter and an EM with the same lens, a Nikon SB-E flash and a Philips PDA 111 flash, all for $45.00 Canadian or about 26 Pounds The Samsung now really has me interested. Battery compartment is fine and everything else looks OK, Have to buy a couple of batteries. There was a roll of film included too (exp. 2000) Will have to show the results of this ultimate P&S

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 21, 2016 at 8:44 pm

      Thats some good camera buying! The FE is an awesome camera, and the EM though limited is one of the smallest SLRs built (I used to collect Nikons). Have fun with all that gear!

      • Reply
        Geoff
        September 24, 2016 at 12:36 pm

        The two Nikons are “parts or repair” I think, both are missing rewind bits, a common problem, the two Nikon lenses look just fine.
        Put a Poundland 200 colour film in the Samsung though. It auto loaded with the screen showing that it was OK. Very quiet film advance, I was worried it wasn’t working as it was so quiet. So I may report on results later, but this Samsung may be a keeper P&S.

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          September 24, 2016 at 7:34 pm

          I’d be interested to hear how you get on!!

  • Reply
    Geoff
    October 4, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    The very expired roll (Walmart) that came with all the other stuff was stored in an oven instead of a fridge, almost blank. Poundland roll looks great. Got to post some samples.

    • Reply
      Geoff
      November 10, 2016 at 3:45 am

      Much nicer results with Poundland’s fresh film Vista 200.
      Where can I post a sample or two?

      • Reply
        Hamish Gill
        November 11, 2016 at 10:06 pm

        Link to flickr …? or similar? or do me a follow up guest post after a couple more rolls?

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