• Price: 468

  • Company: Samsung

  • Pros: High-quality, high-ratio zoom lens with both wide-angle and super-telephoto capabilities in the same package.

  • Cons: Uses a small, noisy 2/3-inch sensor with a maximum 400 ISO, and there’s no image-stabilizer.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

Samsung isn’t a name that immediately springs to mind when thinking of high-end digital cameras – most of their previous models have been point-&-shoots aimed at the budget-conscious. But that is about to change. Samsung’s eight-megapixel Pro815 is the first high-end compact model from the Korean consumer electronics group to challenge the dominance of the established camera makers.

Some might question the timing, as the major camera manufacturers have largely abandoned this class of camera in favour of developing budget digital SLRs instead. However, this move has created something of a vacuum, with the likes of Fuji, Kodak, Sony, and Panasonic simultaneously fielding new models with high-grade, high-zoom ratio lenses.

Samsung’s Pro815 is similarly endowed. With a 28-420mm zoom from optics specialist Schneider Kreuznach, the Pro815 currently boasts the world’s longest built-in zoom. The field of view isn’t quite as wide as that offered by Sony’s DSC-R1 or the Kodak P880, as both have 24mm wide-angle zooms. Nevertheless, anyone wanting to capture distant scenes will find the much longer reach of the Pro815 more suitable.

Macro settings at 50-100mm are highlighted in green on the lens barrel, and with a 3-70cm range, high-magnification close-ups are possible (see below). A manual focus ring uses the fly-by-wire method with the inevitable out of sync feeling, but it’s still a handy addition. In any case, the Pro815 has fast and effective auto-focus and uses a generous wide-area array with manual override. The camera is very responsive and many of the controls are intuitive but you’ll need to check the instruction book for some functions.

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<b>Reinventing the wheel</b>
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A third ring on the lens barrel, which looks just like a traditional aperture ring, is confusing. It’s used in combination with a fiddly-button on the rear, providing exposure compensation in the semi-auto exposure modes but not in the dozen or so scene presets or point-&-shoot auto mode. This is wearisome, especially as the multi-pattern metering isn’t foolproof. 
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Most of the every-day features can be chosen without using the menu, except for the quality settings. As the Pro815 offers TIF and RAW capture, this was a bind until we stumbled across a custom-button that’s used as a short cut. Other features are available too, such as saturation and image size, though only one option can be programmed from the menu at a time, limiting its versatility. 
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All the compact 8mp chips we’ve seen, including the 2/3-inch type used by the Pro815, suffer from high noise levels even at low sensitivity. From a quality point of view, using the ISO400 setting would be the last resort. Image detail is good though, easily rivalling the 9mp FinePix S9500, and the Schneider lens’ longer reach and superior optical quality is preferable to the Fujinon optic. 
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There’s little difference to the Leica lens used on the Panasonic Lumix FZ30, but you’ll have to weigh up the importance of the wider-angle of view versus the benefits derived from Panasonic’s image stabilization. The Pro815 is a decent camera, but you might get a better deal with an entry-level digital SLR. 
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