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The Samsung Pro815 is a remarkable camera for a number of reasons. First, its huge 15x zoom Schneider-Kreuznach lens is the most powerful on any non-SLR digital camera. Secondly, it also has the biggest monitor on any digital camera, with a massive 3.5in screen. Thirdly, it has the largest battery of any digital camera, with 1900mAh of charge capacity. And most remarkably of all, it’s a Samsung.
That may sound a little cruel, but until last summer most of Samsung’s digital camera output had consisted entirely of the Digimax range of compacts that, while often technically competent and always reasonably priced, have been at best uninspiring, and at worst shoddily made, poorly designed and lacking in performance.
Recently however the company seems to have taken on a new lease of life, and has launched a series of cameras very different from its previous efforts. From the ultra-slim Digimax i5 to the fully featured NV7, and a new range of Pentax-based digital SLRs, Samsung has been excelling itself, and the results have been impressive to say the least.
The Pro815 is what has become known as a “bridge camera”, a high-end digital camera with a non-interchangeable zoom lens, but offering features and image quality comparable to an SLR. It has a list price of £550, but is available for under £400 from a number of online retailers, so in price as well it compares favourably with most consumer SLRs.
It also resembles an SLR in terms of size and weight, measuring 135.5 x 87 x 78.6mm with the lens retracted, and weighing a hefty 870g without battery or card. Most of its bulk comes from that huge lens, which is equivalent to 28-420mm on a 35mm camera. With a maximum aperture of f2.2-f4.6 it is exceptionally fast, certainly faster than most equivalent SLR lenses. Schneider-Kreuznach optics have a deservedly high reputation and this lens shows why, employing technologies such as low-dispersion glass and aspherical elements to minimise chromatic aberration and distortion. It also has a mechanical manual zoom, enabling precise framing.
The body of the camera is also reminiscent of an SLR. It has a strong metal body finished in an attractive semi-matt black texture. With such a large and heavy camera handling is clearly a major issue, so the Pro815 has a large and comfortable rubberised handgrip with a sculpted thumbgrip at the back. I wouldn’t recommend trying to use the camera with one hand, but it is at least possible.