Ultra-Zoom Cameras: The Ultimate in All-In-One Shooting Versatility

Ultra-Zoom Cameras: The Ultimate in All-In-One Shooting Versatility


Long-range or ultra-zoom compact cameras have managed to flourish and evolve even while the overall point-and-shoot category has been declining. The reason is simple; they provide unmatched, all-in-one versatility that appeals to casual shooters and enthusiasts alike.

Many of the latest models in this enticing class have everything but interchangeable lenses, and that includes Wi-Fi and Near Field Communication (NFC) connectivity, Full HD 1080p video capability, advanced autofocus (AF) and autoexposure (AE) systems, high-res LCDs, built-in multi-axis image stabilization and, in some cases, electronic viewfinders (EVFs).

On the whole, today’s ultra-zoom models are fast, responsive, satisfying to use and deliver impressive imaging performance, even at high ISOs. Many of the latest entries provide optical zoom ratios up to an astonishing 60x and rapid burst rates of 5 frames per sec to 10 fps. Performance-wise and feature-wise, these cameras give DSLRs and mirrorless compact system cameras a run for the money, and generally at very competitive prices.

Three Categories of Long-Zoom Models

While there is really no ironclad definition of a long-range or ultra-zoom camera, it’s clear that this category has evolved into three discrete segments: 1. So-called bridge cameras with wide-to-telephoto zoom lenses in the 50x to 60x range, DSLR-like form factors and features that may or may not include an articulated LCD and an eye-level electronic viewfinder. 2. Slim ultracompact models with 24x to 30x zoom ranges, possibly touch-screen LCDs and no EVF. 3. Compact high-tech models with zoom ratios of around 21x to 30x and advanced features such as Wi-Fi connectivity and accessory EVFs.

Over the past year or so, the number of models with DSLR-like form factors and 50x to 60x zoom ratios has expanded and they have become more sophisticated. On the other hand, the number of slim, compact long-range zoom models has dwindled somewhat.

Most of the cameras we’ve included provide a DSLR-like handling and shooting experience, albeit without interchangeable lenses, while the slimmer models deliver an engaging a mix of classic P&S convenience with vastly enhanced versatility.

In keeping with the trend toward longer zoom ratios, we’ve limited our list to models with zoom ratios of 24x and higher. Any of the cool, contemporary models detailed here can provide an excellent backup to an enthusiast’s DSLR, a great all-round picture taker for people on the go, or a great option for serious shooters who want to travel light while seeing the sights or vacationing.

Superzoom Camera Roundup
Nikon Coolpix P900. For extreme distance shooting with spectacular 83x optical zoom, the just-announced P900 boasts a 24–2,000mm equivalent Nikkor ED glass lens and 166x dynamic fine zoom. With unrivaled zoom power in a P&S, it offers a 16MP CMOS sensor and functions for capturing images and Full HD video from afar. Other features include: 7-fps bursts; an EVF with an eye sensor; a vari-angle, 3-inch, 921K-dot LCD; a snap-back zoom button to frame subjects when shooting super-telephoto shots; a side zoom control button positioned to combat shake; command and mode dials to adjust settings one-handed; Dual Detect Optical VR technology to achieve the highest level of shake compensation in a Coolpix (5-stops); effects; macro mode; and Nikon’s Snapbridge, for transferring files to a smartphone via Wi-Fi and NFC. A zoom microphone function helps enable clear recording from distances. Plus, built-in GPS and POI (points of interest) let users geotag and view where images were taken on a map. The P900 ships in April. $599.95. nikonusa.com

Canon PowerShot SX410 IS.
This just-announced superzoom camera in Canon’s SX-series, the SX410 IS boasts an upgraded 40x optical zoom range (24–960mm equivalent). This makes it a convenient choice for those who want to combine portability and telephoto reach into one camera. The lens is complemented by an intelligent IS image stabilization system and a 20 megapixel CCD sensor—all in a body that weighs less than 11.5 ounces and measures just 2.72 inches high and 3.35 inches deep. Other features include: a dedicated movie button to start and stop recording of 720p HD video; eco mode that helps extend battery life; smart auto mode, which picks the optimal settings by intelligently selecting from 32 predefined scene modes for stills and 21 for video; and creative filters, such as fisheye effect, toy camera effect and monochrome. $279.99. usa.canon.com

Samsung Smart WB2200F.
Samsung’s 60x superzoom broke new ground in providing a 20–1,200mm f/2.8–5.9 lens—the first with ultra-wide-angle focal lengths of an incredible 20mm equivalent! The lens has Samsung’s iFunction control to adjust aperture, shutter speed, EV and ISOs from the lens. The camera also delivers a full complement of features, including: a 16.4MP BSI CMOS sensor; a 3-inch hVGA LCD plus a 200K-dot EVF; Full HD 1080p video capture at 30 fps; and an ergonomic dual grip. Its built-in Wi-Fi/NFC system provides “tag & go” one-touch sync to a compatible mobile device by touching them together. This connectivity enables the photo beam feature to send photos directly to a phone and the auto share feature to back them up in real time. A remote viewfinder function lets users control the WB2200F with a smartphone—great for shooting selfies and group shots. $449.99. samsung.com

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX400V. The flagship of Sony’s ultra-zoom lineup, this curvaceous DSLR-styled camera boasts a 20.4MP, 1/2.3-inch Exmor R CMOS sensor and Bionz X image processor. Also of note is a 50x, 24–1,200mm f/2.8–6.3 Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens with a 100x clear image zoom function. A 3.0-inch, 921K-dot LCD monitor is complemented by an eye-level EVF. The HX400V can shoot continuous full-res bursts at 10 fps as well as record Full HD 1080p video at 60p and cinematic 24p. Plus, lock-on AF uses multiple points with subject recognition to keep moving subjects in focus. Other key specs include: built-in Wi-Fi/NFC; GPS; intelligent sweep panorama mode; ISO 100–12,800; a built-in hot shoe; and Optical SteadyShot image stabilization with intelligent active mode for minimizing blur when moving while shooting video. $399.99. sony.com

Olympus Stylus SH-1.
Styled in the retro-inspired Olympus PEN tradition, this attractively slim, 16MP compact employs a 24x, 25–600mm f/3.0–6.9 lens that’s coupled to a TruePic VII image processor. It also provides 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilization for capturing sharp handheld images and Full HD 1080p video at 60 fps. The superzoom boasts a 3-inch, 460K-dot, touch-screen LCD monitor and built–in Wi-Fi connectivity with remote camera control and viewing on a smartphone via the Olympus Image Share app. Other key features are: ISO settings to 6400; a blazing burst rate of 11.5 fps; interval shooting; a time-lapse movie setting; backlight HDR, handheld starlight and panorama modes; art filters; AF tracking; and a built-in electronic level gauge to ensure level horizons and plumb verticals when composing. $299.99. olympusamerica.com

Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS50.
Due to take its place as the new flagship of Panasonic’s ZS series of compact point-and-shoot cameras this April, the pocket-sized Lumix DMC-ZS50 boasts a live viewfinder (LVF) and a 30x optical zoom (24–720mm) lens. In addition, the sleekly styled bridge model, appealing to serious enthusiasts, features a control ring, RAW recording and improved low-light shooting by using a new image sensor that has higher sensitivity than previous ZS models. The camera’s LVF also has enhanced resolution and an eye sensor. Its newly developed High Sensitivity MOS image sensor pairs with an advanced image processor to provide high-speed, high-sensitivity image capture and 1,920×1,080 60p, smooth Full HD video recording in the AVCHD Progressive format, as well as 10-fps burst shooting. $399.99. panasonic.com

Fujifilm FinePix S9900W. Featuring crisp, contemporary DSLR styling and an ergonomic handgrip, Fujifilm’s recently announced S9900W ultra-zoom FinePix incorporates a new state-of-the-art 5-axis IS system to minimize the effects of camera shake, a 16.2MP CMOS sensor and an impressive 50x, 24–1,200mm equivalent f/2.9–6.5 zoom lens. Its optical range can be boosted to an incredible 100x magnification with Fujifilm’s Intelligent Digital Zoom technology, while going all the way down to 1cm in super macro mode for close-ups. It has a 3-inch, 460K-dot LCD monitor plus a high-res 0.2-inch, 920K-dot EVF. Other key specs are equally impressive: ISO settings to 12,800; Full HD 1080i video capture at 60 fps; an ultrafast AF speed of 0.15 sec; 10-fps continuous bursts; interval timer shooting; built-in Wi-Fi; HDR mode; 11 effects filters; and motion Panorama 360 to record expansive views. $349.95.

Fujifilm also announced the FinePix S9800, which is essentially the same model but without built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. $329.95. fujifilmusa.com

Nikon Coolpix P610. With its striking appearance and ergonomically rounded contours, including a large comfortable handgrip, this 16MP DSLR-styled entry has all the bells and whistles. And those include a 60x, 24–1,440mm equivalent Nikkor ED glass lens that gets out to an amazing 120x using Nikon’s digital dynamic fine zoom function. Other high-tech features include: a built-in EVF and a 3-inch, vari-angle 921K-dot LCD; filter effects, special effects and picture controls for added creativity; a macro mode; Full HD video recording with stereo audio recording; the ability to create a time-lapse video using its time-lapse feature; 7-fps shooting at full resolution; 5-stop, dual-detect optical VR (vibration reduction) image stabilization to help minimize the effects of camera shake; and integrated Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity. Another plus for travelers is the camera’s built-in GPS and a points of interest (POI) function, which allow users to geotag shots and view where they were taken on a map. $499.95. nikonusa.com

Pentax XG-1.
Delivering both the flexibility and build quality of a DSLR with the convenience of a compact camera, the XG-1 incorporates a powerful 52x zoom lens in its compact, portable body. Coupling a 16MP back-illuminated CMOS image sensor with smc Pentax lens elements, the XG-1 captures images from ultra-wide-angle to super-telephoto ranges. Other features include: a 3-inch LCD monitor; an EVF; an advanced sensor-shift-type SR (shake reduction) system to assure blur-free images even when using the zoom lens’s telephoto range; a super-high-speed continuous shooting mode with a max speed of 60 images per sec; handheld nightscene mode; HDR mode; Full HD movie recording; digital filters; interval shooting; and family friendly features like pet detection mode. $299.95. ricohimaging.com

Canon PowerShot SX530 HS. This brand-new entry looks like a downsized version of a sleek, modern DSLR. It provides impressive performance and versatility with a 50x, 24–1,200mm equivalent f/3.4–6.5 zoom lens. Its upgraded 16MP High Sensitivity CMOS sensor and Digic 4+ processor combine to form the Canon HS system designed for low-light performance. Users can compose the picture, view the captured image and navigate the menu on a 3-inch, 461K-dot LCD. Other features include: built-in intelligent IS for shake-free imaging; smart auto mode; face ID; high-speed AF; Full HD 1080p video with stereo sound at 30 fps; zoom framing assist; and hybrid auto mode that records video clips before each still to create a highlight reel. Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity make it compatible with the new Canon Connect Station CS100 for easier image sharing. $429.99. usa.canon.com