The NX1 is Samsung's first prosumer mirrorless camera, designed to compete with high-end mirrorless offerings from Olympus, Fujifilm, Sony, and Panasonic. With 15fps burst shooting and a very robust autofocus system, it's also destined to compete with the new Canon 7D Mark II and a host of other sports-oriented pro DSLRs.
But a camera like that is nothing without the lenses to go with it, and Samsung's pro lens cupboard is pretty bare. There's the 16-50mm f/2.8 S, which was unveiled in 2013; and the 50-150mm f/2.8 S, released in January. But what about on the supertelephoto end? Well, Samsung recently showed off a "technology demonstration" of a new 300mm f/2.8 S with internal stabilization, ED glass, and a number of pro-oriented focusing features.
And we had a chance to check it out ourselves.
Design & Handling
Ready for action, ready for work
The look of Samsung's new 300mm f/2.8 lens is pretty similar to other 300mm f/2.8 lenses we've seen from Canon, Nikon, Sigma, and Sony. Basically, it's big, has a hefty tripod collar (aka a handle), a large focusing ring, lots of switches on the lens itself, and internal stabilization.
The design seems to most closely resemble the Sony 300mm f/2.8G G SSM II. It's white with a large ribbed ring for focusing, and it has a giant hood—essential on any pro telephoto. It has several focus recall buttons positioned around the lens, closer to the end of the barrel. Toward the camera is a focus scale, a cluster of controls including an i-Function button. There's also a very telling vanity plate proudly displaying a "Made in Korea" badge along with the name of the lens.
Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to take actually handle the lens, so we can't speak much to its weight. What we can say is that the entire lens feels like a pro-grade product. The barrel feels like it'll be quite durable; the focus speed is lightning quick on the NX1; and the rings and switches all have fantastic response and tuning. This is a lens that's ready to do more than just sit on a camera and look pretty.
The pieces are here for a pro-level lens.
Again, we're working with something of an incomplete blueprint here because this lens design may or may not be finalized. What we can say is that the prototype has at least one ED element for dispelling optical aberrations. It has internal stabilization, which comes in three (as yet unexplained) flavors. There's also a customizable i-Function button, a hallmark of all Samsung NX lenses.
The most interesting features here all involve autofocus, though. As mentioned, the focus is lightning quick with very little hunting, even in thick crowds. You can set a custom focus limitation for precisely these kinds of situations, telling the camera to only try and focus within a specific range. This is done via the camera, and the user interface is relatively painless.
There are also four focus recall buttons around the end of the lens. This is a feature that's also present on the Sony, Nikon, and Canon 300mm f/2.8 lenses, letting you pre-determine a focus point and quickly force the lens to that spot whenever you want. It can be useful in some circumstances, especially if you're shooting static wildlife or a sporting event like baseball, where you routinely need to return to a stationary target.
For a lot of pro photographers, the most important feature with this lens is going to be its weight. Again, without the ability to take it off the camera we can't even hazard a guess. What we can say is that the Canon, Sony, and Sigma versions all come in just over five pounds. The Nikon version is heftier at over six pounds, so we expect Samsung to come in somewhere within that territory.
A firm signal of intent from Samsung
In our opinion, this is a fully featured lens from Samsung. The focus is quick, accurate, and the images looked fantastic (from what we can tell). We deal in all manner of cameras and gear, and when a company is nervous about the functionality of a work-in-progress they carefully guard it. And Samsung has exhibited the 300mm f/2.8 numerous times since its unveiling at last year's Photokina.
That alone would be a signal of confidence from Samsung, even if this were just some 50mm f/1.4 lens. But the 300mm f/2.8 is way more than that. It's a statement that Samsung wants to seriously attract professional photographers to the NX system. It wants to compete with Canon, Sony, Sigma, and Nikon's pro-level gear. As for cost, these lenses retail between $3,400 and $7,400, so your guess on the final asking price is as good as ours.
We don't know when we'll see Samsung's 300mm f/2.8 S out in the wild, but we're sure it won't be too long. After all, this looks like one of the best lenses Samsung has ever produced, and we're sure the company is eager to position its brand among the top players in the lens business.