The Camera With the Mostest, the Samsung Pro815, Part 1

Samsung’s first digital camera really aimed at serious photographers packs a lot into the package and shows that Samsung is a company to watch, yet again.

Two things signal Samsung’s seriousness about the photography market. One is the recent announcement of the partnership of Samsung with Pentax to develop digital SLRs. This givens Samsung access to an SLR lens and accessory line, third party lenses and accessories and Pentax experience whilst Pentax benefit from the significant momentum Samsung is building in so many market segments and their excellent electronics and manufacturing capabilities. The second sign is the Pro815 itself.

The long end of the zoom range is capable of all sorts of uses.

When I first opened the box on the Pro815, I must say my first reaction was ‘Oh no’.  The massive lens that goes from 28mm to a huge 420mm focal length (35mm equivalent) was coupled to a body that had an electronic viewfinder stuck on the side like an afterthought and a huge LCD screen. In this case, first appearances are deceptive. The positioning of the viewfinder allows you to get in close without your noise being pressed up against and smearing the LCD. The large LCD works well too in practice.

The Pro815 combines an 8Mpixel sensor with a 15x zoom lens (28-420mm), pop up flash and the largest color LCD around into an SLR-like body. It fits the hand well and there are lots of individual control buttons so that you rarely need to access the menu system, which also works well. The tripod socket is thankfully well placed on the lens center axis and just in front of the body. This is important because with a lens that goes all the way out to 420mm (or roughly 8x magnification over ‘normal’) you’ll need a tripod at times since there is no image stabilization system. The electronic viewfinder is good and the huge color LCD great. The lens has a manual zoom ring, which can be a bit stiffer than I would like, but this is likely to loosen up with use. A ring behind this provides a separate manual focus ring when in manual mode. And a further ring, behind this, is used to dial in exposure compensation. Another great feature is that the live display can be put on the top plate LCD, giving you effectively a waist level finder. This is not only excellent for low level shooting but can be more convenient in other shooting situations too.

RAW mode uses DNG format and offers the best image quality

The lens is great. Having a wide maximum aperture that varies from f2.2 to 4.6 as you zoom, it is sharp, with good contrast and covers the most useful range of focal lengths. Across the focal length range the lens shows remarkable correction for all the usual aberrations. The sensors produces quite low noise images at ISO 50 and 100, with noticeable noise at ISO200 and very noticeable noise at ISO400. No higher speeds are available. Autofocus is a bit slow at times, especially in lower light and with the lens zoomed to the longer focal lengths. Shutter lag is quite noticeable, being quite a problem for capturing the ‘right’ moment.

So what is the resulting image quality like? Well the sensor is capable of returning excellent images, as can be seen when shooting in RAW mode, which thankfully is the DNG format, so there should not be issues for people working with older versions of Photoshop. Sadly the camera over processes both JPEG and TIFF images, with oversharpening which just emphasizes the noise and adds artifacts. So to get the most out of this camera you really need to use RAW mode. In RAW mode the images are slightly soft but readily sharpened in Photoshop’s Camera RAW or with the Unsharp mask later.

So what is the verdict? Well there is so much to like about the Pro815. The lens is great and covers a basically perfect range for most normal photography, RAW quality is good, the feature set is extensive (like an intervalvometer) , good control placement and choice, use of DNG, etc. It is really only let down by a few characteristics, like the over processing in JPEG and TIFF, stiff zoom ring, no image stabilization system and long shutter lag. This camera is a warning sign for the more established camera companies, like Canon, Nikon and Minolta that a new player is in town. Partnered with Pentax, Samsung can be formidable. As to the Pro815, it is a very effective camera that can serve many photographers’ needs. It is probably not ideal for sport and some other purposes. Sitting at around the same price as the real digital SLRs, it wins on coming with a lot more lens than you get in the basic package with a dSLR but then misses out of the generally good shutter lag, etc. Only you can make that decision. I know one thing, I can’t wait to see the first product out of the Samsung/Pentax partnership.

Part 2 shows the lens range

Part 3 shows the noise levels

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