Dawn of the Megazooms
With pocket-size point-and-shoot cameras peaking, camera makers have emerged from their R&D labs with a new generation of hybrids: mutants with superior vision. These cameras blend the simple controls of pocket models with high-quality optics and advanced features typically offered only on digital single-lens reflex units. The unfortunate moniker given to these cameras? Megazooms.
These units' defining features are larger lenses and high-power optical zooms. You also get manual control over ISO settings, aperture, and shutter speed. Don't expect to slip one of these behemoths into a pocket. These chunkier models fit in a camera bag or camping pack.
We tested six newer megazooms, from Canon, Casio, Fuji, Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony (the Canon is actually a 2007 model; the company hasn't yet announced an updated version for 2008). Another contender, Nikon's new Coolpix P80, was released too late to make our tests; an online review is planned.
Many megazooms add image stabilization to the lens; and if ever you need image stabilization, it's when you're zoomed in on a far-away subject. That's because the greater the magnification you're using, the less movement it takes to blur a shot. Even with image stabilization, you should use a tripod, especially in low light.
Want high-end features? The slow-motion mode in Casio's Exilim Pro EX-F1 shoots 60 full-resolution photos per second and (much-lower-resolution) video at 1200 frames per second. The EX-F1 can also capture 1080i high-definition video, making it a great hybrid of a still and video camera.
A megazoom's responsiveness (how quickly the camera takes the picture after you press the shutter release button) falls short of a digital SLR's lightning-fast reaction. Nevertheless, these plus-size point-and-shoots bring you close to the experience of using a digital SLR, and they do so for much less dough.
Here's how the ratings of these cameras stacked up as of June 2008. For the latest version, see our Top-Rated Advanced Point-and-Shoots chart.