Mirrorless cameras can be much slimmer than DLSRs, but that does little good if the lenses that attach to them are still massive.
Samsung has taken a step to reconcile the difference with the announcement today (Dec. 31) of its collapsible 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 Power Zoom ED OIS. (Lens names aren't very catchy.) It shrinks to about one-half the size of Samsung's standard lens with the same specs. Tom's Guide got a chance to go hands on with this lens as well as a new top-of-the-line, ruggedized zoom model, the 16-50mm F2.0-2.8 S. Samsung hasn't yet said what these lenses will cost or when they will go on sale.
If you have one of the many compact superzoom cameras, a retracting 3X zoom lens might not sound like a big deal. But in the world of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, where the lens mechanisms are a lot bigger, any success in compressing them is welcome.
The new lens isn't Samsung's first collapsible model: The company already sells a 20-50mm model for $250 that collapses to about 1.6 inches (39.8 mm). But in addition to offering a somewhat longer zoom range and compressing a bit ore, Samsung's new 3X zoom collapsible model incudes optical image stabilization, which provides a huge benefit when low light requires you to shoot at slow shutter speeds.
The new lens shrinks to just 1.2 inches (31 mm) long when the camera is off, making the whole camera easier to carry or store. By comparison, the 18-55mm F3.5 - 5.6 NX OIS lens that comes bundled with higher-end Samsung cameras like the NX300 and (possibly) the new NX30 offers the same specs but measures about 2.6 inches (65mm) long. The collapsible lens is also lighter: at 4 ounces (111g), it's about half as much as the regular lens. Furthermore, a Samsung representatitve told up that the collapsible lens should provide "much superior imaging performance" compared to the standard 18-55mm lens, which is already quite good. (We couldn't formally test the new lens because it was not a final, shipping model.)
The big question is, what will it cost? Presuamably more than the standard 18-55mm model, which lists for $250. (Real-world prices are often lower.) But Samsung hasn't said yet.
Perhaps it's partly psychological, but in our hands, the new lens made everything seem considerably slimmer, even the relatively bulky NX30 mirrorless camera that Samsung also announced today.
While this slim lens is a first for Samsung, it isn't for the camera industry. Olympus, for example, has long been making collapsible lenses for its so-called micro four-thirds mirrorless cameras, such as the M.Zuiko 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II R lens, priced at $300. But the Samsung lens compresses farther, despite it being even harder to retract a lens on a camera with Samsung's SLR-size APS-C image sensor versus the smaller "four-thirds" sensor that Olympus uses.
In addition, the collapsible Samsung 16-50mm F3.5 - 5.6 OIS has an electronic zoom motor, giving you the choice to zoom by manually twisting the lens barrel or by pushing a button on the camera. The latter allows complete remote control of the camera using Samsung's new Remote Viewfinder Pro Android and iOS apps, which also control key functions such as shutter and aperture.
Samsung's first high-end lens
At the other extreme from its collapsible consumer lens is the 16-50mm F2 -2.8 S ED OIS, which Samsung is calling its "first super-premium lens." In plain language, that means expensive glass to produce less distortion as well as to enable a rather large, aperture ranging from F2 to F2.8 depending on level of zoom (which photographers would call a "fast" lens). Such a large aperture allows a lens to take in a lot of light in dim conditions (welcome for Samsung cameras, which have a little trouble in low light), and it enables artfully blurred-out backgrounds, for example, in a portrait shot.
This lens is the first mirrorless camera component that Samsung is calling splashproof and dustproof. Since the lens is technically more durable than any of Samsung's cameras, the utility is less than it could be. If you get drenched or caught in a sandstorm, Samsung can't guarantee that the camera will survive, but at least the lens will.
Compared to several of Samsung's petite other lenses, the 16-55 F2-2.8 S. is a beast, weighing 22 ounces (622g). The camera is attached to it, rather than the other way around. But it was a gentle beast, with very smooth controls. Because the lens wasn't in final form at the time, we can't say for sure how well it will perform. But in spot tests it seemed to perform solidly.