Dawn of the Megazooms

Equipped with a servo-controlled 20X optical zoom lens, Olympus's SP-570 UZ is the megazoom to beat.
Equipped with a servo-controlled 20X optical zoom lens, Olympus's SP-570 UZ is the megazoom to beat.
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.

The $1000 Casio Exilim Pro EX-F1 combines a 12X optical zoom and a 6-megapixel sensor, but the star of the show is its high-speed shooting mode, great for sports shots.
The $1000 Casio Exilim Pro EX-F1 combines a 12X optical zoom and a 6-megapixel sensor, but the star of the show is its high-speed shooting mode, great for sports shots.

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.

Andrew Brandt

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.

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