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It’s superzoom!
Take close-ups without getting off your duff

02/16/12
By John Andrews jandrews@hippopress.com



It’s tough to get close to people these days. But it’s getting easier to stay far away while still getting close-up photos of them.

This month, Nikon debuts a point-and-shoot digital camera with a 42X optical zoom lens. This doesn’t mean your subject appears 42 times closer — it actually corresponds to the focal length of the lens at its shortest and longest extension when converted to the 35mm standard, which hardly any camera actually uses anymore, blah blah — but suffice to say you can get some real tight shots.

The camera’s called the Coolpix P510, and while it’s technically in the compact category, you won’t be slipping it in your change pocket. It looks more like a (slightly) miniaturized professional SLR, with a handgrip on one side and a substantial lens on the other. Its $429.95 list price gives you plenty of features in addition to the truly crazy zoom, too.

First off, there’s optical vibration reduction built into the lens, and at 42X, any tiny quiver in your hand would blur your photo something fierce without it. Even with it, a tripod is recommended for your longest zoom shots. There’s also manual exposure control among all the automatic options, as well as a tilting 3-inch LCD viewfinder and 1080p video recording.

Megapixels? Come on. Have we not learned yet that anything above 5 is good for anything you’re ever going to do with your photos? But the P510 has 16.1. So sure, once you’ve zoomed in you can still crop your shot and have a crisp picture of that seashell a thousand feet away.

For $30 less, Nikon still offers the Coolpix P500 with a 36X zoom lens and 12.1 megapixel sensor. Everything else is pretty much the same.

If you’re a Canon loyalist, you have two 35X cameras to choose from. The PowerShot SX40 HS has a 12.1 megapixel sensor while the PowerShot SX30 IS is 14.1 megapixels. Hold up, though — the SX40 HS claims better low-light performance with a newer image processing chip, and its sensor uses less power. It also shoots 1080p video instead of the SX30 IS’s 720p.

Both PowerShots’ 2.7-inch LCD viewfinders swivel a bunch of different directions so you can see what you’re shooting at lots of angles, the lenses are stabilized, and the exposure can be set manually. They’re both listed at $429.99.

Another superzoom option is the SP-810UZ from Olympus, which beat everyone to 36X last summer. It did it comparatively cheaply, too, with a list price of $329.99, even though the raw specs were competitive with Nikon’s and Canon’s current models: 14 megapixels, image stabilization and 720p movie mode. The 3-inch viewfinder is fixed, though, and there’s no manual exposure mode. Perhaps more importantly, Olympus is currently trying to emerge from an accounting scandal, so product support in the long term could be, well, spotty.

All these cameras are so-called “wide angle zooms,” which means that while you can get close to a distant subject, you can also take in an expansive vista or fit every uncle into the family snapshot in a small room. A typical camera starts its focal length at a 35mm equivalent, but these start at 24mm. In short, not all of the zoom is added to one end of the range. It’s like being able to take an extra step back — which we could all use now and again.

There’s plenty of tech and more when you zoom on over to twitter.com/CitizenjaQ.






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