More Room For Ultra-Zooms

By Greg Scoblete On Feb 21 2005 - 8:00am

Ultra-zoom digital cameras are quickly populating vendor lines at lower price points, reflecting the emergence of the market's new 800 pound gorilla — the digital SLR. In response to a raft of new consumer-priced dSLRs, camera vendors brought several compact models boasting elongated focal lengths to compel savvier photographers to stick with fixed lens cameras.

Kodak expanded its new Z-series line up, initially launched at International CES, with the introduction of the 5-megapixel Z7590. The camera offers a Schneider-Kreuznach Variogon 10x optical zoom lens and is the first in the line to feature a flash sync connection.

The camera incorporates a live histogram display, which enables users to see the exposure of their subject before taking the shot. It will ship in May 2005 for a suggested retail price of $399.95.

Panasonic has anchored the bulk of its Lumix camera offerings around ultra-zoom models featuring the company's MEGA Optical Image Stabilizer (O.I.S.) technology, which it has migrated down in price points and into smaller form factor cameras.

The stabilizer works by shifting a lens element. According to a company spokesman, this approach drains less power and takes up less space than alternative image stabilization technologies, allowing Panasonic to employ it in ever-smaller cameras.

The MEGA O.I.S. technology, available on all of Panasonic's new introductions, is available in three modes: off, mode one and mode two. Mode one allows the lens to continuously operate while the second mode stabilizes an image only when the shutter is pressed — maximizing the effect of the stabilization. Using stabilization, users can reduce the shutter speed more than three steps compared to a camera without the technology, Panasonic said.

The company will introduce two 12x optical zoom models, the 5-megapixel DMC-FZ5 and 4-megapixel DMC-FZ4, to replace the FZ3. They offer a faster autofocus (AF) than their predecessor, redesigned controls, and unlimited consecutive shooting to the capacity of the memory card.

In a limited burst mode, the FZ5 shoots at 3 frames per second (fps) at full resolution while the FZ4 fires off at 4 fps, though the speed slows in the unlimited mode. Both models offer several AF modes, including nine-point, three-point high-speed, a new one-point high-speed, one-point normal-speed and spot. In the newly incorporated one-point high-speed AF, the shutter time lag (including AF speed) has been cut by one-third from the previous FZ3.

Additional features include auto angle detection, nine scene modes with aperture and shutter priority and full manual, a battery life of 300 images according to CIPA standards, and a new scene mode help screen.

The FZ5 offers a 1.8-inch LCD and ships in April in black or silver for a suggested $499.95. The FZ4 offers a 1.5-inch LCD and also ships in April for a suggested $449.95.

In the 6x optical zoom category, the company introduced the 5-megapixel LZ2 and 4-megapixel LZ1 for a suggested $299.95 and $249.95, respectively. The cameras feature MEGA O.I.S., a 2-inch LCD, 14MB of internal memory, a 4x digital zoom and are powered by two AA batteries. The cameras also employ a new version of the company's Venus Engine processor — the Venus Engine Plus, which the company credits for a 50 percent reduction in power consumption.

Sony trotted out its 5-megapixel Cyber-shot DSC-H1 with a 12x optical zoom lens and Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization technology. The unit features a 2.5-inch LCD, 7 preset scene modes, automatic and manual exposure modes, PictBridge compatibility and 32MB of internal memory. It offers 5-area multipoint AF, an AF illuminator and an automatic macro focus in addition to an eye-level view finder and USB 2.0 high speed connectivity.

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