At a Glance
Samsung Digimax Pro 815 Bridge Camera
Pro815 lives up to its name, with many controls, a huge 3.5-inch LCD, and massive 15X zoom. No image stabilization, though.
The $700 (as of August 25, 2006) Samsung Pro815 is a dream camera for serious photographers. This bulky 8-megapixel camera looks like a digital SLR and packs a multitude of features and settings for the ultimate in control over your pictures.
Unlike a digital SLR, which lets you swap out lenses, the Pro815 comes with a fixed lens and a massive 15X zoom that extends from 28mm wide-angle to 420mm telephoto (35mm camera equivalents). If you think that's big, wait till you see the enormous 3.5-inch LCD, which dominates the back of the camera; it was a pleasure to use when composing and reviewing shots. Despite the Pro815's heft (it weights 30 ounces), the shape of its rubberized handgrip makes the camera easy to hold and shoot one-handed.
Samsung has put the Pro815's viewfinder at the left edge of the camera, where it better fits the contours of your face. Compared to an optical viewfinder, the electronic viewfinder--which lets you see your subject through the lens--suffers from TV-like quality. Nevertheless, I found it useful when dealing with extreme lighting conditions and when tracking moving subjects. The color LCD on the top of the camera resembles those used on digital SLRs to display current settings. Alternatively, you can use the top LCD for composing photos, which makes it easy for you to shoot from waist level.
In our image quality tests, the Pro815 rated Very Good. At its default settings, the camera didn't fare well in the distortion and noise tests, but it achieved better scores for shots taken under normal everyday conditions. The Pro815 responded nicely in tests where we adjusted its manual settings to achieve optimum quality--confirming that this camera is best suited for advanced photographers. In informal testing, I found it easy to overexpose my shots in bright sunlight. I also noticed some sharpening artifacts, particularly halos around strongly contrasting edges. Results improved somewhat when I adjusted the exposure compensation and set the sharpness to "soft." The Pro815 comes with an external charger for its lithium ion battery. The camera reached the maximum 500 shots we test for in our measure of battery life on a single charge.
Samsung has spread a daunting number of the controls at several different locations around the camera. With a little practice, though, I found them quite usable. A four-way controller below your thumb lets you navigate the simple yet functional menus and permits you to access several shooting functions. Buttons surrounding the top LCD enable you to set other shooting functions. To the left of the main LCD are controls for the display and for the camera's 11 scene modes. The mode dial on the top right of the camera includes aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and full-manual modes, as well as three user-configurable modes. Two jog dials--one in front of the shutter release and the other above the user's right thumb--set aperture size and shutter speed in manual modes.
Autofocus settings occupy the left side of the lens barrel; these include a switch that knocks too easily among its three positions (single shot, continuous focus, and manual focus). The lens barrel contains familiar rings for operating the zoom and manual focus, but Samsung adds an unusual third ring for exposure compensation. You can even shoot in RAW mode for manually processing later. Experienced photographers will love all this configurability, but the camera takes some getting used to.
The Pro815 lacks image stabilization, but its maximum aperture of f/2.2 supports fast shutter speeds in low lighting conditions. Its high-speed mode raises the ISO sensitivity at the expense of increasing noise in your images. The camera has a built-in flash, but it it also includes a hot shoe for attaching an external flash unit. Samsung's SEF-42A flash costs $300. The company also sells a remote shutter release for $19.
A few quibbles: the camera felt a bit slow in cycling between shots. And unlike many advanced digital cameras, the Pro815 won't let you use the shutter release to interrupt the review to return to shooting. Also, you can't instantly delete shots that don't come out as desired.
But if you're a seasoned photographer looking for maximum control over your images or if you're a novice willing to learn how to use all the manual controls, the Samsung Pro815 is a great, highly configurable camera.