Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
- 15X zoom, huge screen, rugged design
- Poor image quality, sits badly in the hand, lower than average battery life
The Pro815 is a good first attempt by Samsung, but it is missing a few things that would allow it to compete with the big guns. The most practical feature is the 15X zoom, and if that is important to you then this may be a consideration
Price$ 1,299.00 (AUD)
The Pro815 is the long awaited advanced digital camera from Samsung. We can think of no word more suitable to describe it than gargantuan as Samsung has managed to grab several digital camera size records with a single model. Unfortunately, despite appearing to have a lot going for it, the Pro815 falls down in several areas
The most obvious feature of the camera is most definitely the screen. Upon opening the box, we could do nothing but wander round the office with our mouth open, gaping and showing off the enormous 3.5" LCD to anyone who would stop and look. Just recently, Sony captured the title of 'largest camera LCD' with the DSC-N1's 3" behemoth, but the Pro815 makes it look like a baby in comparison. We cannot possible convey how gigantic this screen is in mere words. Try to imagine an average digital camera screen, and then imagine 4 of them tiled together and you might get some idea.
Originally we thought this model was an SLR. It has an SLR design, and was definitely marketed in that direction, but upon firing it up we discovered that the screen is used as a viewfinder, as well as for menu navigation and image review, which SLRs never do. The screen is not just big either, the quality is excellent. Everything looks crisp and clear, and it does an admirable job of acting as a viewfinder.
The build quality is outstanding. It is one of the most rugged models we've handled in a while, capable of taking bangs and bumps without so much as a stutter. Unfortunately the gigantic lens and front heavy body felt extremely awkward to hold as The Pro815 is not evenly balanced, and is awkward to grip properly. We found it strained our hands after a few minutes of continuous use, and even the comfortable, rubber surfaced grip could not rectify this.
This is far from the most appealing design we've ever seen. The body looks much like any SLR design, entirely cased in black with a jutting right-side grip. It is the lens that really does the damage, shooting out a massive ten centimetres when fully extended, and making the whole camera look extremely disproportionate. This is the other area that Samsung are really pushing with this model; it incorporates a massive 15X zoom. We loved the extra zooming power, but felt that the lens was really almost too big to justify it, and with no ability to interchange lenses it was definitely one of the weaker points of the camera.
The lens isn't the only area where size and quantity prevail, perhaps to the detriment of practicality; the Pro815 has a mass of buttons. Almost everything can be controlled via a direct button, rather than having to navigate through the menu, which many would consider a good thing, but factoring in how many functions this camera has and it adds up to a lot of space. We can't possibly go into detail regarding the 24 various knobs, switches, wheels and buttons that litter the Pro815's chassis, but suffice to say, many are squished into hard to reach places. The most notable of these are the four buttons on the left-hand side of the lens, which deal with focus and control the flash. They are completely covered by the first and second fingers during a regular camera grip, and are exceptionally difficult to reach under normal circumstances. The viewfinder is also placed awkwardly, crammed into the top left corner, next to the screen, rather than in the middle as convention would dictate. All in all, we felt everything was overly cramped, and could have benefited from some simplifying changes.
Picture quality felt a little rushed as well. One thing that has been consistent across the Samsung line of cameras has been the very obvious purple fringing that accompanies most of our outdoors shots. We were almost certain that the Pro815 would break the cycle, but we were let down yet again. All of our outdoors shots were plagued with fringing; if anything it was a little worse than some of the cheaper models. It often extended a millimetre or two outwards from the edges of tree branches, and was noticeable even in small prints.
Image noise was another factor that disappointed us. Overall the images were extremely sharp, with defined, clear edges, but in some low and medium light situations, image noise became a definite factor. It blurred and crackled the edges of blue and green ports on our motherboard test shot, and speckled the black background noticeably (although not as much).
Thankfully colours were well represented. The automatic settings did generate slightly warm shots, with reds and yellows oversaturated, but it was not nearly as bad as other recent models. Under other lighting conditions we found colours to be more accurate, without the underexposure that seems to plague the competition, although blue did have a tendency to be slightly pale. Overall colour was definitely the strong point of the Pro815, although even then there were noticeable problems.
Another strong point of this model was the feature set. It offers full SLR functionality, with aperture, shutter speed and program priority modes along with a full manual mode. Shutter speed unfortunately only goes up to 15 seconds, but extends right the way to 1/4000th of a second, and aperture goes from f/2.2 to f/8. We were disappointed that ISO only extended to 800 (we would have liked at least 1600, if not 3200 as well), but there were enough colour, white balance, scene and exposure settings to satisfy us. The continuous shot modes were particularly robust, including an ultra-quick mode that takes up to 10 shots a second for 3 seconds. This is complemented with two progressively slower modes, as well as various bracketing options. We loved the ability to take 30 photos in such quick succession. The manual focus was a little disappointing however, offering nothing in the way of a focus ring but instead utilising a clunky vertical metre; bad form to mess with something people are so used to.
The battery life unfortunately suffers from the large screen design. The 3.5" LCD draws a massive amount of power, meaning we only managed 370 shots or so before the battery died on us. Not a particularly impressive result, but that's the price you pay for originality.
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