Review: Samsung Digimax Pro815

200605bc_pro815 By Joe Farace

Out of the box

At first glance, the Samsung Digimax Pro815 looks exactly like what is: a fixed lens, EVF (electronic view finder) SLR. Picking it up, you’ll see that it's a solid piece with excellent build quality. At 3.5 inches, the Pro815 features the largest LCD currently available on a digital camera. When you're shooting portraits, the large screen makes it easy for a subject to see how they look and is better and faster than any Polaroid test print you’ve used in the past. You can show it to a subject and ask “how do you like your hair?” and the screen is big enough for them to know the answer.

The 3.5-inch LCD uses Samsung’s Transmissive with Micro Reflective technology, but as far as I could tell presents all of the same advantages and disadvantages of any other preview screen. The screen lets you see a histogram for checking exposure, and you can superimpose a “rule of thirds” grid for composition that might be helpful for keeping horizon lines straight.

Because of lack of crispness, I didn’t like using the EVF, preferring the big screen for composition, but the camera has a top-mounted 1.44-inch-wide color LCD that displays a preview in real time. Yup, it’s a waist level finder. The top LCD can also display shooting data, but some of us older shooters might need glasses to read the text. To power all of these power-draining screens, Samsung includes a proprietary lithium battery that’s capable of providing enough power for up to 500 shots per charge.

Caption: Most people think panoramic images need to be horizontal but vertical panos cam make a statement too, such as this image made at Blake’s Small Car Salvage in Erie, Colorado. Image shot in programmed mode at 1/800 second at f/8.0, ISO 200. Photo © Joe Farace

The big screen displays an intuitive interface, making it easy to easily navigate menus. That’s a good thing because most of the camera’s buttons feature a black-on-black color motif that, while stylish, is difficult to read. Bright, snappy menus provide lots of choices, including a variety of exposure modes, such as Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual, as well as ISO settings from 50 to 800 and five flash settings. The Pro815 allows bracketed shooting for exposure, focus and white balance and offers seven pre-set white balance settings, including Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent L, Fluorescent H, Tungsten, Custom 1 and Custom 2. The camera has various focusing modes, including AF Lock, Continuous AF and Select Area AF modes, plus the ability to switch to manual focusing by simply turning the lens’ manual focus ring.

Caption: This is what Springtime in the Rockies, really looks like. This snowy image was captured in Program mode at 1/640 second at f/7.1, ISO 50. Blue in the snowy shadows was removed with PictoColor iCorrect EditLab Pro, an indispensable Photoshop-compatible color correction plug-in. Photo © Joe Farace

Lens and image quality

The Pro815 offers the world’s longest optical zoom at 15X. What's more, it’s a Schneider f/2.2- 4.6 28-420mm (equivalent) that when combined with the mostly useless 4X digital zoom creates a 60x zoom, in case you’re more interested in numbers than photography. The Schneider lens has four low-dispersion glass elements to minimize chromatic aberration that can occur when both wide-angle and telephoto are supported at the same time. In addition, the lens employs two aspherical elements to correct spherical aberration and lateral colors across the zoom range. There are three rings on the lens: zoom, manual focusing and (what else?) exposure compensation.


Caption: The camera features six effect modes, including Normal, Black and White, Sepia, and (color) Negative. This image was photographed in the camera's direct black-and-white mode using an exposure of 1/800 second at f/8.0, ISO 200, at the camera’s widest angle (28mm) setting.
Photo © Joe Farace

The Digimax Pro815 offers a High Speed mode, which ensures steady shooting even at the long end of the lens focal length. When this mode is selected, the camera automatically increases the sensitivity up to max ISO 800, depending on the exposure and focal length. It ain’t image stabilization, but it works as long as you have lots of light. These higher ISO images can be noisy, especially if even slightly underexposed, but conversely creates film-like files at ISO 50.

200605bc_pro815test 200605bc_pro815tiapink

Caption: Noise can be subjective. As Señor Wences might have said: “Is noisy for you, is not noisy for me.” The photograph of the 1953 Packard Clipper was made at ISO 50 at the equivalent of 420mm. The second was made indoors using the built-in flash at ISO 400. Download these sample files (car and silo, tia in pink)to see for yourself: The portrait was shot at f/8, while the car was shot wide open at f/2.2. Then check the difference in noise between the two files, especially if low-light use is important to your particular usage. Photos © Joe Farace

Exposure settings include Scene modes for Night, Portrait, Children, Landscape, Close-up, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Fireworks, Beach & Snow, Single and Text. In Text mode, the camera automatically compensates for distortion that occurs when photographing flat objects. Using the bundled Digimax Reader text recognition software, you can extract the text from images made in Text mode and save them as editable documents.


Caption: The Digimax Pro 815 lets you shoot in three aspect ratios: Large (3,264x2,448), 3:2 (3,264x2,176), and HD TV’s 16: 9 (3,264x1,840). Unlike other cameras that achieve full resolution in 16:9 mode, the Pro 815 crops the full-size image to produce the other formats. This is something you could always accomplish later using an image editing program, but I found it convenient to capture 16:9 images in-camera. Image captured at 1/30 second at f/2.2, at the camera’s widest angle setting in 16:9 mode.
Photo © Joe Farace

The camera is equipped with a pop-up flash that works well as fill and includes a ± 2EV flash compensation feature. The flash has multiple flash modes, including Auto, Auto and Red Eye, Slow Sync and Red Eye, Fill, and Off. Need more power, but not too much? The optional SEF-42A flash has only Guide No. 42, but at least you can tilt the flash head for bounce.


Caption: I asked Tia to wear a white nightgown for this portrait made eight months into her pregnancy, but she brought one that was pale blue, so I suggested we try some black and white shots. Viola! A white nightgown. This uncropped image was made in the 3:2 aspect ratio directly in black and white. The image was captured in Shutter Priority mode at 1/40 second at f/8, ISO 400. The built-in flash was used as fill. Photo © Joe Farace

Speed, responsiveness

The Digimax Pro815’s startup and shot-to-shot speeds have been reduced to 1.0 second and 1.3 seconds respectively, and a shutter release lag of.05 seconds isn't bad. The Pro815 uses a passive AF sensor, focusing at less than one second, even at the long end of the zoom. With a combination mechanical and electronic shutter, shooters can capture images at up to 1/4,000 of a second at 2.5 frames per second or high-speed continuous shooting allowing you to shoot up to 10 one-megapixel images per second. Images can be captured and stored in RAW, TIFF, and JPEG formats, but shooting RAW can be slow. I clocked RAW file writing times varying from 12-15 seconds to fast Lexar CompactFlash cards. If you’re in a hurry, you’ll want to shoot JPEG.


Caption: The Digimax Pro815 is one of the few digicams that capture RAW files using Adobe’s DNG (Digital Negative) format. You can use the bundled software to open the files, or if you already have Adobe Photoshop, you can use the program’s built-in capability to handle DNG files. Photo © Joe Farace

In the real world

The Digimax’s 3.5-inch screen lets you to see 25 thumbnails at a time. Images captured by the Pro815 are transferred through a built-in USB 2.0 connection and the camera can be connected to an external monitor for playback. The Pro815 also offers PictBridge technology, allowing users to connect the camera directly to a printer. A related feature that comes in handy is the ability to edit, crop and resize images in the camera before transmitting them to a printer. The Pro815 is bundled with a reversible lens hood, an adapter for filter mounting, and a lens cap.

Do you need a camera like Samsung’s Digimax Pro815? If you’re in a hurry and can work with JPEG files and extreme low-light capabilities are not important, the camera might be just what you need. If you're not in a hurry and can work with low ISO speeds, the results can be stunning, and the top-quality Schneider optics means no time is lost switching lenses or dust spotting later.

SPECS: Samsung Digimax Pro815

Image Sensor: CCD
Effective Pixels: Approx. 8.0 Mega-pixel
Lens: Schneider Varioplan Zoom 28-420 mm (equivalent) f/2.2-4.6
Focusing Range:

  • Normal: 19 inches - infinity,
  • Macro: 3.9 – 28 inches
  • Super Macro: 1.18 – 28 inches

Digital Zoom: 4X
Viewfinder: .44-inch color LCD Electronic Viewfinder
Preview screen: 3.5-inch color LCD
Top (waist level): 1.44-inch LCD, selectable for status or preview
AF: 9 points
Shutter Type: mechanical and electronic shutter
Shutter Speeds: 2 - 1/4,000th sec. (Manual mode: 15 - 1/4,000 sec.)
Exposure Control: Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority or Manual Exposure
Metering: Multi, Center-weighted, Spot
ISO: Auto, 50, 100, 200, 400
High Speed Mode: Up to max ISO 400 automatically
Scene Modes: Night, Portrait, Children, Landscape, Close-up, Text, Sunset, Dawn, Backlight, Fireworks, Beach &; Snow
Flash Modes: Auto, Auto and Red-eye reduction, Fill-in, Slow sync, Slow sync and Red-eye reduction, Flash off
Flash compensation: ±2EV (1/3EV steps)
Recycle Time: Approx. 5 sec.
Effects: Normal, B&W, Sepia, Negative
White Balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Fluorescent_H, Fluorescent_L, Tungsten, Custom 1,Custom 2, Color temperature adjust
Bracketing: Exposure, Focusing, White Balance (3 or 5 frames)
Video Clip: AVI (MJPEG) with stereo audio (recording time is memory capacity dependent - 640x480 and 25fps up to 30 sec.)
Storage Media: CompactFlash Type I or II (Up to 4GB guaranteed)
File Format: RAW (DNG), TIFF, JPEG (DCF), EXIF 2.2, DPOF 1.1, PictBridge 1.0
Image Size: L - 3264x2448, 3:2 - 3264x2176, 16: 9 - 3264x1840
Interface: USB 2.0
Audio: Stereo
Video output: NTSC, PAL
Power Source: Rechargeable 7.4V Li-ion battery (SLB-1974)
Size: 5.3 x 3.4 x3.1 inches
Weight: 1.9 lbs
Price: $799.95


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