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In Part 1 of Digital Camera Trends @ PMA 2007, the shift from megapixels to high-ISO was discussed, showing that this year far more digital camera manufacturers are pushing the limits of high-ISO than megapixels. The second major trend at PMA 2007 is cameras competing in terms of optical zoom.

Zoom has always been a big selling point for digital cameras – second only to megapixels. For several years manufacturers exaggerated their numbers by counting digital as well as optical zoom. Luckily, those days are mostly behind us and most users now understand that it is only optical zoom that counts.

Its been a few years that the top ultra-zoom cameras use 12X optical zoom lenses, usually equivalent to 35mm to 420mm. This year both Sony and Olympus challenged this by introducing digital cameras with 15X and 18X optical zoom, respectively. Not only are these the longest zooms ever, they also start wider than most long zooms. Both the Sony Cybershot DSC-H7 and Sony Cybershot DSC-H9 have 31-465mm lenses. The Olympus SP-550UZ has a 28-504mm lens, thus providing a true wide-angle to super-telephoto lens. Last year, the only wide-angle ultra-zoom lens (28-300mm) was on the Fuji Finepix S6000fd and the Fuji Finepix S9000.

Despite optical zoom finally increasing after reaching 12X several years ago, the competition is not about zoom power this time. It is about zoom-density: packing the most optical zoom into the smallest digital camera. Until this year, in the ultra-compact category most cameras had 3X to 4X optical zoom and in the compact category most had 4X to 6X zoom. Most, but not all. Just over one year ago, Panasonic announced the compact Lumix DMC-TZ1 with its innovative folded-and-extending optics 10X optical zoom lens in a body 1.6″ thick.

At PMA 2007, the zoom-density battle was intensified. Casio announced the Hi-Zoom EX-V7 with a 7X optical zoom (38-266mm equivalent) packed into a 1″ thick body. Per thickness, that is denser than the Panasonic TZ1. Even denser than the Casio EX-V7 is the Olympus FE-240 which packs a 5X optical zoom (38-190mm equivalent) lens in a body 0.6″ thick. They also introduced the Olympus Stylus 780 with a 5X optical zoom (36-180mm equivalent) in a 0.9″ thick weather-proof body. Olympus engineers must have worked really hard to realize all those new lenses. Sony showed the Cybershot DSC-T100 with a 5X zoom in a 7/8″ thick body. Although that is quite dense for a zoom, it does not beat the Olympus FE-240 for zoom-density.

There were also several new wide-angle lenses, particularly among small digital cameras. Last year there were the Canon Powershot SD800 IS and the Olympus FE-200, both with wide-angle lenses starting at 28mm. This year Panasonic added the Lumix DMC-FX30 with a 3.6X optical zoom starting at 28mm in a 0.87″ thick body. They also introduced the Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 which has a highly versatile 28-280mm equivalent 10X optical zoom lens in a 1.47″ thick body. Based on its size and zoom range alone, the TZ3 is certain to become a very popular digital camera.

For more insights on Digital Camera Trends @ PMA 2007, stay tuned for part 3…

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