March 12, 2007 Now that we seemingly have more than enough megapixels, the digital camera manufacturers appear to have started a magnification war, with Olympus exhibiting its 18x optical zoom SP-550 UZ (Ultra Zoom) at this week’s PMA show and Sony showing its 15x optical zoom, Cyber-shot H7 and the H9 models. Indeed, down at the ultracompact end of the range, Casio crammed a 7X zoom into its Exilim EX-V7 – that’s a 7X optical zoom inside a camera just one inch thick. Extrapolate those figures back to the days of 35mm SLR photography and you’ll have cause to ponder just how far things might go in the longer term. For the miniscule Exilim, that’s the equivalent of a 35mm-266mm zoom lens in 35mm terms, and several different anti-shake technologies are employed, including a mechanical CCD-shift image stabiliser. It’s the Olympus SP-550 UZ that blows us away though – its focal length spans an amazing 28mm-504mm (in 35mm terms) and it employs double protection against camera shake with Dual Image Stabilization, combining high ISO values with a CCD-based mechanical image stabiliser, where a built-in gyro sensor detects camera movement and adjusts the CCD accordingly. On top of that, the 7.1 megapixel SP-550 UZ offers the highest burst rate (15 frames per second) of any compact digital camera., shoots 640x480 video at 30fps and hits the streets this month at US$500.
The SP-550Z takes over as the biggest zoom on the market, usurping the 15X zoom of the Samsung PRO815 which has been the undisputed leader for 12 months. What will be particularly interesting will be Samsung’s response – the company hates coming second in any kind of contest and whether it’s mobile phone dimensions, big screen TV sizes or zoom dimensions, if it can be beaten, Samsung will be almost certainly in the process of doing that right now.