Compact with zoom room

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 February, 2006, 12:00am

One of the biggest limitations of compact digital cameras is their optical zoom lens.

The ability to zoom into an object with a lens - instead of digitally - requires a complex lens array that shifts and distorts the way a scene is presented to the camera's sensor.

An optical zoom is like a magnifying glass - it uses a concave surface to make objects bigger. In order to achieve a magnifying effect on a camera, many lenses are needed.

Thus any optical zoom more powerful than 3X is usually too big, long and cumbersome for a compact camera.

However, Panasonic has come up with a clever way to squeeze a big zoom onto a little body.

The Lumix DMC-TZ1 (TZ likely short for 'telephoto zoom') offers a 10X optical zoom on a body that is only slightly larger than today's mid-range digital cameras.

Panasonic says it uses a combination of so-called folded optics technology - used in ultraslim models today that zoom without protruding outward - and a conventional retractable lens to get a longer zoom.

The company claims that the DMC-TZ1 is the most compact ultrazoom camera on the market.

Like all Panasonic Lumix cameras, the TZ1 is equipped with the company's Mega O.I.S (optical image stabiliser) system, which compensates for camera shake. This feature should be especially handy when using the big zoom, since any tiny movement of the camera translates into a big deviation in the image.

The TZ1 comes with a host of auto scene selections, including a high sensitivity mode that will set the camera's ISO to 1600.

The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive to light the camera is, hence the less time it will take to capture an image - with less chance of camera shake.

The TZ1 also supports video, allowing the capture VGA video with sound.

Best of all, you can even use the big zoom lens for recording video, opening up options for a wide range of shots.

The TZ1 will be released next month, priced at about $2,700.

PROS: big zoom in a relatively small package; video with zoom

CONS: premium price for the big zoom