When Will it Stop? (60x Zoom Range)

Updated to include Panasonic FZ70

JK Imaging, under the licensed brand name Kodak, introduced the PixPro AZ521 last week. The big news? 24-1248mm f/2.9-5.6 equivalent lens sitting out front of a 1/2.3" sensor. 

Several years ago in Japan, one of the strategies I was told "would hold off the smartphone" was the so-called "travel zoom." Essentially anything at 10x the focal range or more. We went from 28-200mm equivalents in compacts to 24-500 equivalents, and now we have someone making a 52x focal length range zoom. To put that in context, at 24mm equivalent we're covering an angle of view of 74° across the horizontal axis. At 1248mm, we're down to near 1.5°. You probably can't put that small number into context, so let me: standing on the end line of a football field and shooting a person at the opposite end line, they'd fill the frame. At 50 feet, you'd get a head shot. 

Now, I have no idea how good the lens in this camera is. But I can tell you that the 50' head shot at f/5.6 has all of 1.8" of depth of field, which isn't enough to get the nose to ear in focus, and you'd better not move forward or backwards even one iota after the camera has focused. That image stabilization in the lens better be good, too, because if you've ever tried to frame 1.5° hand held, it's not very easy.

Not to be outdone, Panasonic announced their own version: the US$400 FZ70, with a 20-1200mm (60x) f/2.8-5.9 lens, also with a 1/2.3" BSI sensor, and also featuring a 202k dot EVF that's not going to show you much of what the camera is resolving.

The problem I have with all these "push the limits" types of designs is that they don't generally deliver all that much more that's useful to the user. 1248 is a bigger number than 820 or 500 or just 300, but the number itself isn't a determination of quality. We have the same problem with pixel counts, too. I'd argue that most people would be far, far better served by a 10mp 24-120mm f/2-2.8 camera than virtually any of the things that the compact camera industry is pursuing. The camera makers think that the "win" is having bigger numbers to use in their marketing. I'd argue that the "win" is making a far better camera than a smartphone can be in terms of image quality and controllability, then make it work seamlessly with your smartphone. 

What we have is a lemmings-like, follow-the-others approach to design happening in designing many of these compact cameras. That's what happens when you have over-population and are forced to migrate from your original habitat. We have too many camera makers chasing too few customers with too few of the right products.

text and images © Thom Hogan 2013 -- all rights reserved // @bythom on twitter, hashtags #bythom, #gearophile