Remember when everyone was yelling about how the “super-zoom” category was dead as new, affordable DSLRs began dotting the landscape?
Well, somebody forgot to tell all the major camera manufacturers as many of them have recently released new product in this still very vibrant category. And more important than that, consumers are still buying.
“With this category it has always been about an easier shopping experience for the consumer,” began Gavin Lane, a New York-based amateur photographer who recently entered the event-photography business. “There are far fewer variables involved than looking at DSLRs. The average snap-shooter wants the added power a longer zoom gives them but a large percentage don’t want to abandon that grab-and-go convenience their point-and-shoot gives them.”
Lane, like everyone else in the photo industry, has been impressed with the new consumer-level DSLRs that have hit the market in the last two years, but he’s always felt the super-zoom category would continue to grow despite the emergence of this “new” DSLR category.
“Now that we’re seeing 12MP models with optical zooms up over 20X, the average snap-shooter has been addressed nicely with the super-zoom,” he added. “It’s an easy buy and the learning curve is negligible. The choices in this category today should keep it hopping for quite a while.”
In recent weeks the super-zoom category has been as active as any in the imaging industry as new models have debuted from most of the major players – and more powerful zooms are just a part of the equation.
The latest Kodak model is the Z980 featuring a 24X zoom, detachable vertical grip and two shutter buttons to accommodate the dual shooting angles. The new Olympus digicam recently intro’d in this category is the SP 590 UZ, which features a 26X optical zoom and 12MP resolution along with some neat in-camera editing tricks. Samsung’s latest is the HZ15W, which sports a 10X optical zoom and 12MP res and adds 720p video at 30 fps.
Fuji announced the 12X optical zoom FinePix S1500 that features 10MP resolution and a continuous shooting panoramic mode with in-camera stitching of up to 3 photographs. Add Auto Scene Recognition and Dual Image Stabilization along with ISO settings up to 1600 ISO to the feature list as well.
Nikon has grown their popular Coolpix line with eight new models, and at the top of that list is the new super-zoom L100 that features a 15X optical zoom. The L100 also features 10 megapixel resolution, a three-inch high-resolution LCD with new anti-reflection coating.
Of course Canon has maintained a solid presence here as well and their new PowerShots, the SX1 IS (28mm wide-angle 20X optical zoom lens and 10MP resolution) and SX200 IS (12MP and 12X optical zoom) also feature HD video capability and Optical Image Stabilizer along with a full range of shooting and recording modes, including RAW + JPEG for, as Canon explains, “the ultimate creative control.” Again today it’s Super -Zooms with a plus.
When asked why she recently went out and purchased the 15X Sony H50 super-zoom, Carrie Dooley, a Birmingham, Ala., mother of three had a quick response. “I was tired of not getting the shots I wanted at my daughter’s soccer games. I couldn’t ever position myself to get close enough. A DSLR was just too much camera for me. I’m not changing lenses. The camera I have now is perfect and I’m getting the shots I felt I was missing.”
Panasonic’s latest entry into this category is the ZS3, the successor to the TZ series. The company is calling this one the world’s smallest 12X zoom camera, so soccer moms like Dooley should take note. It sports a 25mm Leica wide-angle lens, a 10MP CCD and three-inch LCD screen.
In addition to face detection, it offers face recognition, which allows the camera to recognize a specific face (a spouse or child for instance) and always prioritize the focus on that face. Users can store six faces internally.
Casio’s EX-F1, while more well-known for its speed (60 still frames at full resolution) features a 12X optical zoom range that performs solidly as well. Of course the jaw-dropping here lies within its 1,200 fps video capability.
Sony’s DSC-HX1 is a 20X optical zoom model that features a 9MP CMOS sensor and features something Sony calls “sweep panorama” as the camera can take 224-degree panorama shots in one easy press-and-sweep motion. They demo’d this feature at PMA to some ooohs and aaahs. Add the ability to capture 1080p HD video as well.
“There is obviously a large segment of the camera-buying public that still isn’t interested in dealing with the learning curve and change of lenses that is involved with owning a DSLR,” explained Olympus’ digital product manager, Sally Smith Clemens. “They want to be able to pick up a camera with a powerful zoom that anyone in the family can use and just go shoot. This category gives them exactly that and the feature sets are getting more and more robust so it isn’t only the zoom range that’s attracting attention.”
For most end-users it really boils down to flexibility. “There are times when you definitely want a DSLR, under a very controlled environment, like a backyard barbecue, but when I’m shooting my kids’ soccer games or we’re on a family outing where I just want less hassle and there’s less time to think, the super zoom camera is the answer,” began Kelly Murphy, a 41-year-old mother of two from Levittown, N.Y.
She added that the DSLR she currently owns was her first step up from the point-and-shoots she had but felt she always wanted the power of a longer zoom without the complications inherent in a DSLR. “I know my DSLR is a better camera but we recently purchased a Nikon P80 and I’m more comfortable shooting with it, and because of that I feel like I’m getting better images.”
New to this category is Pentax and their PMA-released X70, adding a 24X optical zoom model to their line-up that features 12MP resolution and the company’s “Triple Shake Reduction” technology that includes Mechanical SR via CCD shift mechanism, Digital SR via high ISO, and adds Movie SR as well.
For many manufacturers it’s simply about listening to the consumer. “It’s more important than ever today to listen to what the buyer wants,” began Nikon’s David Lee, senior VP. “The super-zoom category simply matches a feature to what consumers want to do with their cameras. Finding that balance, between design and technology, without letting go of what consumers really want, is where we need to be.”
For dealers, the key remains matching the right camera with the right consumer. “It’s about knowing your customers and understanding their individual needs,” explained Lane. “For the customer who likes to experiment and has really taken to photography as a serious hobby, the entry-level DSLR will feed that hunger. While, for the soccer mom, who wants just a little more control but hasn’t thrown herself into photography, the super-zoom remains a great fit.”
General Imaging has also entered this space with their PMA-introduced X3 that features a 12X optical zoom and 12MP resolution. The model actually made its debut last year in Europe and the company is giving this a category a go here in the U.S. for 2009.
With a 2009 line-up this powerful, it’s clear to see the super-zoom category is here to stay.
“I love my super-zoom and, more importantly, I love what I see emerging in this category,” Lane concluded. “It really has something for everyone now and remains a great step-up for a large percentage of consumers.”