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30x Zoom Comes by March –Moore’s Law Strikes Digital Cameras

By next month two major camera makers plan to sell point and shoot digital cameras under $500 with 30x optical zoom.  These cameras by Olympus and Fujifilm mean that the average animal watcher can have the power of about an 800mm lens. To get that kind of power in an SLR lens, you’d pay around $7.000 – $10,000, and have to schlep around a 10-pound, 18-inch piece of delicate equipment.

These new products mean Moore’s Law, which said computing power doubles every two years, may now apply to optical zoom. 30x is nearly double the then-groundbreaking 18x Panasonic Lumix I got a couple years ago to take wildlife photos. A few years ago the New York Times applied the law to mega-pixels. If it works with optical zoom, we may be looking forward to a 100x zoom by 2012.

I haven’t tried either of the cameras yet, but here’s what we know:

The Olympus SP-800UZ offers 14 mega-pixels and the 35 mm equivalent of 28 – 840mm for $350.

The Fujifilm HS10 has 10 mega-pixels and the 35mm equivalent of a 24-720mm zoom range for $500.

How do two cameras both with 30x zoom have a difference in 15% difference in zoom?  The Fujifilm is a 24mm lens, which is smaller and can pull back further so you can get a much wider angle. So if you want the versatility, go for the Fujifilm. If you’re a zoom junkie, the Olympus is for you. (Also in the mix is Kodak’s Easyshare Z981, 26x (26-676mm), 14 MP, $330 due out in April and the Nikon Coolpix P100, 26x (26-678mm), 10 MP, $400 coming in March).

Olympus has done away with the tiny viewfinder window, which will be a real blow for my mom. I haven’t used one in years, however, and wondered why they still bothered to include them. Olympus also has a pet auto-focus tracking mode that should work well with any kind of animal, too. CNET says Fujifilm has a similar feature but not on the HS10. After years of enduring lots of irrelevant come-ons about digital zoom and megapixels, it’s fun to see camera makers going after the animal watching market.

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