It’s an axiom of photography that a camera is only as good as its lens. You may have the world’s highest resolution sensor, the fastest auto-focus, perfect metering and flawless noise control, but without a decent lens it’s all for nothing. That’s not to say that you can’t have a terrible camera with a good lens (although it’s rare), it’s just that you can’t have a good camera with a bad lens.
Samsung is clearly aware of this. The lenses on its better cameras bear the name of the renowned German optics company Schneider Kreuznach, and I’ve found them to be among the best lenses on any digital cameras. Sometimes when a modern product bears a prestigious and historic German name, it is simply because a large Japanese company has bought the right to use that brand name on its own products, or even owns a large interest in the German company. However, as far as I’m aware, Samsung’s lenses are actually made by Schneider Kreuznach (Jos. Schneider Optische Werke GmbH) in Germany. The same brand is also used by Kodak on many of its higher-end cameras.
There is a prime example of Schneider Kreuznach’s finest product on this, the Samsung NV7 OPS. It is a high-spec 7.2-megapixel camera launched at the same time as the gorgeous NV10 which I reviewed last September. It shares many design similarities with the NV10, although there are also many differences. One large and obvious difference is the NV7’s big 7x zoom Schneider Kreuznach Varioplan lens. It has a focal length equivalent to 38 - 270mm, which is a useful range, but even more useful is its maximum aperture of f/2.8 – f/4.0, which is particularly fast for a digital compact. This gives the advantage of faster shutter speeds especially at longer focal lengths. For comparison, the 6x zoom lens on the Canon A710IS, a camera with a broadly similar specification, has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 – f/4.8.
In fact there aren’t many other cameras with which to directly compare the NV7 apart from the A710IS. As well as its 7.2-megapixel sensor and 7x zoom lens it also features an all-metal body, a full range of manual exposure options, CCD-shift image stabilisation, a pop-up flash and a big 2.5-in 230k LCD monitor screen. It’s an impressive camera from any point of view, but it doesn’t come cheap. Although one retailer has had it listed at under £165, its retail price is more usually around £210-£220. By comparison the Canon A710IS is around £178, and the Ricoh Caplio R6 is about £185.