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Volume 79

Cameras with features and then some

Published (Volume 79, No. 9)

Credit: MATT COOK/The Pacer

On the left is the Kodak P850 turned off. On the right is the same camera turned on with the optical zoom lens extended. Optical zoom lenses physically move to enlarge the image.

Credit: MATT COOK/The Pacer

A superzoom digital camera is one in which the focal length is around 4x to 12x. The focal length specification is the only true defining factor for what makes up the superzoom group of cameras. Superzooms are frequently found in prosumer style cameras, those cameras that fall somewhere in between what a professional and what a consumer would use for photography. These often mimic SLR camera bodies, but have fixed lens (whereas SLRs have removable lenses.) With the increasing of producing good technology on a smaller and smaller scale, some superzooms can be housed in compact body styles.

Kodak Easy Share Z710

Of all the Kodak Easy Share Z models, the new Z710 is the most ideal camera for a superzoom in the Z lineup. The Z710 features 10x optical zoom and 5x optical zoom, a total of 50x zoom factor for around $299.95. (Visit pacer.utm.edu/3359.htm for a review of last week’s discussion on the different types of zoom.) In addition to the large zoom factor, the Z710 sports 7.1 megapixels, enough to handle the digital zoom’s cropping effect with some clarity. Some of the other Kodak Z series cameras offer 30x to 50x total zoom factor (optical multiplied by digital) but have only 4 or 5 megapixels, which could result in fuzzy or pixilated photos if too much digital zoom is used.

The 710 is more of a consumer camera with its simple design but does have the ability to shoot in manual modes where the user controls ISO, aperture and shutter settings. The Z710 is limited to shooting JPEG files, saving the RAW file type (discussed in brief below) for its bigger siblings in the Kodak Easy Share P lineup.

Kodak Easy Share P850

The Kodak Easy Share P850 is similar to the Z710 in that it is a high powered zoom for just under $300. The P850 is a prosumer camera designed to perform in a variety of settings. It has 12x optical zoom and 3.3x digital zoom for a total of just under 40x total zoom factor; both cameras have Schneider-Kreuznach lens. The big difference, other than the 10x more zoom factor in the Z710 is that the P850 has only 5.1 megapixels, which makes sense given its smaller digital zoom. The P850 has both manual settings and predefined scene modes and is capable of capturing in both JPEG and RAW formats.

RAW formats contain the pixel information that is captured by a camera’s sensor without formulating an RGB image based on the white balance, contrast and saturation settings of the camera (which is how a JPEG is formed.) This allows more experienced photographers to define those settings his or herself in a computer program before they can be printed, manipulated with a bitmap editor or displayed online. This may not seem appealing to a point and shoot user, but for a professional or semi-professional photographer, the benefits are outstanding.

The P850 has many other professional features including a hot shoe adapter for adding a stronger flash, a time lapse burst mode that will take a picture at regular intervals of 10 seconds to 24 hours, 25 selectable auto focus zones and much more.

Canon PowerShot S3 IS

The Canon S3 IS (image stabilization) is a six megapixel, 12x optical zoom camera with about the same features as the above Kodak cameras (manual and defined scene modes, wide variety of ISO speeds, etc.) Some of the distinguishing features of the S3 are its swivel LCD screen (which is a bit small at two inches) and the ability to shoot a picture at the same time it is capturing video. It can also shoot two frames a second for up to 15 seconds and the camera as a whole has very minimal shutter lag. The biggest down sides of the PowerShot S3 IS are the price: $400-500 (about $100 more than comparable cameras) and the lack of a RAW file format.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 is a top of the line camera from a lesser known photography company that competes with the big name products such as those above. The FZ7 has a 12x optical and a 4x digital zoom, and an extended optical zoom mode that causes slight distortion but provides up to 16.5x optical zoom. Its six megapixels are plenty adequate to support its total zoom factor of 48x. The boot-up time is a little sluggish but the recycle time (time the camera requires between shots to process the image) is excellent at 1.6 seconds. The LCD is on the weak side: although it is 2.5 inches, it solarizes in bright light and is difficult to see detail in low light. The pricing is a big plus, ranging from $250 to 300 on most online stores.