The fastest growing category, super-zoom digicams with a 10x or longer zoom
(and electronic viewfinder) are particularly popular among families with children
who participate in sports events. Olympus is now the leader in focal length,
with a 28-504mm f/2.8-5.4 ED/aspherical 18x zoom, available in the 7MP SP-550
UZ ($499, list) with a 2.5" LCD. An Image Stabilizer is virtually essential
with any super-zoom lens and Olympus provides one, using a CCD-shift device.
Digital Image Stabilization is also available, for ISO boost in low light to
"freeze" action subjects. Although the framing rate is only 1.2
fps in the largest/finest JPEG capture mode, faster rates are available in other
JPEG options. This is an unusually full-featured camera designed for maximum
versatility, although Continuous tracking AF is not available. Add the optional
adapter and the Olympus SP-550 UZ will also accept filters or a wide angle and
telephoto lens converter.
Sony is competing aggressively in the super-zoom category, with two additional
models, the Cyber-shot DSC-H7 and DSC-H9 ($399 and $479, list) with Carl Zeiss
31-465mm zoom and Super SteadyShot Optical Image Stabilizer. These cameras are
very well equipped for serious photography, with numerous features, including
Face Detection AF/AE, Continuous tracking focus, and a 2.2 fps Burst mode in
large/fine JPEG capture. They're nearly identical but the H7 features
a 2.5" LCD while the H9 is equipped with a tilting 3" screen.
A closely guarded secret during PMA 2007, I managed to scoop some information
about the new Canon 8MP PowerShot S5 IS ($499, list) with SLR style shooting
modes, a full set of overrides, and compatibility with an optional filter adapter
as well as wide and telephoto converters. It's similar to the earlier
(6MP) S3 IS model, with a fast (f/2.7-3.5) 36-432mm high-grade zoom, Optical
Image Stabilizer, fast Ultrasonic focus motor, Continuous AF, and a 2 fps Drive
mode. However, the S5 IS gains several new benefits that will make it even more
desirable. That includes higher resolution, the superior DIGIC III processor,
larger 2.5" vari-angle LCD, Canon's improved Face Detection AF/AE
system plus a hot shoe for an accessory EX-series flash unit.
Remarkably compact, the 7MP Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 ($349, list) features a
3" LCD, a Leica 28-280mm zoom, Optical Stabilizer, and Intelligent ISO
with motion detection. Unlike other super-zoom cameras, this one fits nicely
into a shirt pocket or a medium-sized purse for great portability; as a bonus,
it also allows for true wide angle photography. During preliminary testing,
I found the DMC-TZ3 to be quite versatile for a family-oriented camera as well
as very fast in terms of Continuous AF, Intelligent ISO activation, and its
3 fps Drive mode in large/fine JPEG capture.
Larger because of its ultra-wide aperture Leica 36-432mm f/2.8-3 lens, the
7MP Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ8 is a serious enthusiast's camera. It includes
the amenities and the speed available with the smaller DMC-TZ3, but gains some
SLR-type modes and overrides. Panasonic also markets an optional adapter that
allows for using filters as well as wide and telephoto lens converters (but
not an external flash unit).
The only General Imaging digicam with a true (Optical) Image Stabilizer, the
GE X1 is not as affordable as the other GE models ($399, list). This 8MP camera
with a 36-426mm zoom, 2.5" LCD, and 1.8 fps (large/fine JPEG) Burst mode,
includes all the high-tech features mentioned in my discussions of the other
Anyone on a tight budget might want to check out the most affordable new super-zoom
models such as the 7MP Fujifilm FinePix S700 ($249, street), with a 38-380mm
zoom, 2.5" LCD, "intelligent" flash, a dozen Program modes
plus basic overrides, Continuous AF, 1.4 fps Burst mode, and ISO boost "stabilization."
Or how about a 7MP camera with a 36-432mm Schneider-KREUZNACH zoom, 2.5"
LCD, and Optical Image Stabilizer for $299, list? That defines the new Kodak
EasyShare Z712 IS, with 0.8 fps Burst mode, Manual, Semiautomatic, and 16 Program
modes plus a fairly wide range of overrides. It's not the most intuitive
camera in terms of operation but the Owners Manual is useful and the price is
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