Just after Kodak announced an uncharacteristic high-end camera with a fixed 24X optical zoom lens equivalent to 26-624mm, Olympus launched the SP-590 which sports a 26X optical zoom lens, equivalent to 26-676mm. The greatest thing about these two cameras is that they both start at 26mm which is rather wide. Being both advanced ultra-zooms, they feature full-manual controls and image stabilization, something quite needed when you shoot at the long end of such zoom lenses.
While I’ll say that more zoom was for years one of the most frequent user requests at Neocamera, when cameras with 18X optical zoom came out, we stopped hearing about it. At 26X optical zoom, it seems more like a race between camera makers than user requests. Just like with megapixels, zoom factors are easy to compare numbers and 26X is bigger than 24X which is bigger than 20X. Marketing being marketing, I am certain we are going to hear about this often! The main difference is that with megapixels, based on sensor size we know that diffraction is a limiting factor for increases in resolution to result in increased image details. This limiting factor does not exist for optical zoom. So, while we expect higher power zoom to be of lesser quality, physics do not tell us that it has to be that way.
At the same time as the top ultra-zooms push the limits of zoom factors, the same technology applied to small cameras is very attractive because there is still room for ultra-compact and compact digital cameras to have more useful zoom ranges. Olympus also introduced today an ultra-compact with a 10X wide-angle optical zoom, equivalent to 28-280mm. This camera, the Olympus Stylus 9000 brings a range from last year’s compact cameras to today’s ultra-compacts.