Back before Samsung put its name on Pentax dSLRs, the company unveiled the 8-megapixel Digimax Pro 815, a superzoom with specs that make it look extremely impressive. It has a class-topping 15X optical, 28mm-to-420mm, f/2.2-to-f/4.6 zoom lens, along with a big 3.5-inch LCD screen on its back, and another 1.4-inch color LCD on top so you can brace the camera against your chest or hip and still frame your shot. With such a big lens and a large LCD, you shouldn't be surprised to learn that the camera itself is rather sizable. At 5.4 by 3.4 by 3.1 inches (with the zoom lens fully retracted) and weighing about two pounds, the Pro 815 is bigger than--and almost as heavy as--some SLRs with kits lenses attached. Of course, those SLRs don't come with a 15X optical zoom or record VGA movie clips.
Its SLR-style design makes the Samsung Digimax Pro 815 very comfortable to hold, though you'll definitely want to use two hands when shooting with this camera. Front and back scroll wheels--tucked under the shutter and mode dial, respectively--let you control aperture and shutter settings, though a ring on the lens barrel also lets you change the aperture, much as a manual aperture ring would on some lenses. Another ring on the lens controls manual focus, while a third zooms the lens.
There are plenty of dedicated buttons for functions, such as ISO, autoexposure lock, autofocus lock, and more, though the bulky LCD screen leaves little room to include controls on the camera's back. Instead, a handful are tucked on the left rear of the lens barrel, others flank the top-panel LCD screen. While slightly unconventional, most of the important buttons are still accessible when shooting two-handed, though some, such as the AE-lock button, were slightly awkward to press. Also, the large LCD leaves little room for the electronic viewfinder, which is shoved to the far left, making it uncomfortable to use.
As you'd expect in a camera of this class, there are plenty of features, including raw and TIFF capture, full manual exposure controls, and the usual trio of multi, center, and spot metering. In addition to the camera's white-balance presets, there are two custom settings, as well as a selectable numerical Kelvin setting. But the customization doesn't stop with white balance. A custom function can be programmed to directly access the submenu of your choice, and three custom shooting modes--Samsung calls them MySet-- let you create your own shooting modes.