Operation and controls

Although it takes some mastering, the Pro815's comprehensive feature set is remarkably accessible, thanks to the twin control dials, extensive array of external controls and dual screen system. The menus are a touch laborious, so it's fortunate that you rarely actually have to use them - everything from ISO to white balance to AE compensation, exposure, flash, focus, metering and drive mode gets its own button or switch, and the inclusion of a Custom button and three 'Myset' custom modes mean the camera can be easily tailored to your own way of shooting.

Rear of camera

Obviously the rear of the camera is dominated by that huge screen, though the sheer bulk of the Pro815 means there's still plenty of room left for an extensive array of external controls.

Top of camera

The top of the camera shows clearly the 'SLR-like' styling of the Pro815. Every available square inch is put to use, with the top plate home to the second LCD, plus buttons for ISO, metering, self-timer and drive mode, plus the main mode dial, power switch and shutter release.

Display and menus

The Pro815's menu system isn't great, to be frank. It's a little slow and changing settings can be a bit laborious, but it's fairly logical and easy to use. As mentioned earlier, the saving grace is that you rarely have to actually access the menus, especially if you assign the custom button to Image Quality (just about the only commonly used feature that doesn't get its own external button).

There are five different options for how shooting information is displayed on the main (rear) LCD or electronic viewfinder. At the most basic you just get the preview image, free of any information. Pressing the display button repeatedly cycles through the options. The screen above shows the second option, with fairly comprehensive shooting info ranged around the screen. Half-press the shutter release and the camera will calculate exposure (AE) and focus (AF) indicating the AF area used and the aperture/shutter speed chosen. You'll also get a warning if camera shake is a danger.
Even if you choose to have no information displayed on the main screen, it's all available on the top LCD panel. And if you use the top screen as a viewfinder you still get all the most important shooting information down the sides of the preview image.
If you want all the information, but like to see your preview without all the clutter, choose the 'out of frame' mode - designed to mimic a professional SLR viewfinder. One more press of the display button gives you a live histogram.
Finally there's a unique 'current and last shot' comparison mode - the thumbnail at the top right is the live preview, the one on the left is the last shot taken (with full shooting information). The 2x or 4x digital zoom can be activated at the touch of a dedicated button. Bit of a waste of a button if you ask me.
Manual focusing 'by wire' (turning the nicely damped focus ring changes the focus point electronically) is actually pretty easy with that huge screen. Pressing any of the external control buttons (ISO, white balance, drive mode, flash mode, macro mode etc) brings up an on-screen 'menu' like this. Turning the rear command dial moves through the various options.
The first ring on the lens barrel (the one nearest the body) is used - in conjunction with a small (and slightly awkward) button on the rear of the grip - to 'dial in' exposure compensation values. The preview image lightens and darkens to show the effect of the change. Our only complaint was that the AE compensation button itself is a touch on the small side, and can be hard to press. In aperture priority mode the aperture value is changed using the rear command dial, and is also indicated on the top LCD.
In manual exposure mode the preview image changes to give an idea how under or over exposed you are. Once you've half-pressed the shutter the actual metered value is displayed. The scene mode uses at times incomprehensible icons, meaning it can be difficult to work out which one to use (the one shown above is 'dawn'). Not that many users of this type of camera are likely to be visiting the 'scene' position on the mode dial that often.
Pressing the 'Menu' button (in the middle of the four-way controller) brings up three tabbed menus (normally shown overlaid on the preview image). The mode menu (shown here) has 16 options covering everything from image size / quality to image parameters and advanced camera settings. It's a bit slow to navigate but you don't really need to use the menus that often, so numerous are the external controls. The second tab contains customization options for shutter sound and startup image/sound.
Finally the setup menu (accessible from both record and playback modes), which has more basic camera settings and card formatting. Like most Samsung cameras the Pro815 has three 'Myset' modes for saving your favorite settings.
In playback mode you can view full-screen images with or without this information overlay. There isn't a playback histogram option, but otherwise the information is pretty comprehensive. Pressing the magnify button allows you to 'zoom in' on saved images up to a maximum of 10.2x.
That huge screen is put to good effect in thumbnail view, where you can choose to have as few as four or as many as 25 thumbnails per page.
The playback menu offers the usual options for deleting, rotating, protecting and printing images, plus the ability to resize, add voice memos and watch slideshows. Finally images can be organized into a system of 'albums'.