Big Zoom Compacts: Smaller And Lighter Than A Typical Telephoto Lens (Part 1)

6/11/2013 9:20:06 AM

Get extensive focal range and high-tech features in a camera that’s smaller and lighter than a typical telephoto lens

While interchangeable-lens cameras offer superior versatility and image quality, there's a lot to be said in praise of fixed-lens, compact cameras, particularly those with extreme zoom capabilities.

All of the cameras here offer telephoto reach of at least 500mm*, and many go much further. For some perspective, Canon's 500mm //4 L EF IS II USM lens sells for upwards of $10,000. To be fair, that lens represents some pretty awesome optical engineering and technology truly in a very different class of optics than those found on fixed-lens cameras but for most of us, it's just not affordable.

That's where a big-range zoom camera can give us access to a closer perspective on subjects like sports, wildlife and stage performances normally reserved for professional photographers backed by generous equipment budgets.

Not only are these cameras very affordable on a price-per-millimeter basis, but they're extremely light and portable. Continuing our admittedly unfair comparison but just to make the point - the Canon 500mm //4 weighs in at a little over seven pounds and is 15 inches long.

By contrast, the Canon PowerShot SX50 IIS featured in this article offers a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 1200mm on the telephoto end, but weighs just 1.3 pounds and measures less than five inches in its biggest dimension.

These cameras don't just offer extreme telephoto perspectives at an agreeable price, size and weight; they also include some advanced technology 7. In fact, many of the most innovative features that eventually find their way to interchangeable-lens cameras make their debut in high-performance compact models like these.

Pushing the optical zoom range even further, you'll see that the models we've included here also offer digital zoom capability. There are different approaches to digital zoom, but the main thing to know is that it's something of a compromise in image quality. Digital zoom technology has improved over the years, and it's nice to have the option for longer reach when you need it, but for the very best results, stick to the optical zoom range of the camera.

Canon Powershot SX50 HS

With its extreme 50x zoom, the PowerShot SX50 IIS is the leader in focal-length reach, starting at a wide 24mm and extending all the way to an incredible 1200mm.* And, with digital zoom enabled, the telephoto end quadruples to 4800mm - yes, you read that correctly.

To counteract the inevitable camera shake when shooting handheld at super-telephoto lengths, the camera features Canon's Intelligent IS, which analyzes camera movement and selects the best optical shake correction method automatically; six methods are available, including Macro and a Dynamic mode ideal for video. Speaking of video, you can capture 1080p full HD with stereo sound.

Canon Powershot SX50 HS

The 12-megapixel SX50 IIS is fast, too it can capture up to 10 frames per second great for action subjects. You can record in RAW or JPEG, or both simultaneously. Like a DSLR, you can shoot in manual, aperture- or shutter-priority and program modes, but the camera also features a Smart Auto mode, by which the camera evaluates the scene and compares it to 58 predefined scenarios, selecting the most appropriate camera settings for the subject and conditions.

Other noteworthy features include a hot-shoe for using an external flash, and a Vari-angle LCD flips and swivels for easy viewing. Users of Canon PIXMA and SELPHY printers can connect directly to the printer via USB for one-touching printing.

Estimated Street Price: $429.

Fujifilm Finepix F800EXR

The F800EXR features a 20x optical zoom, ranging from 25mm to 500mm*. That range is expandable to 40x or 1000mm with its digital zoom. A combination of sensor-shift stabilization and auto ISO boost work together to reduce camera shake when shooting handheld.

The camera can capture 16-megapixel images at just under 8 frames per second, or as fast as 11 frames per second with 8-megapixel resolution. It's a speedy camera in other ways, too. In addition to full I ID 1080p video with Face Tracking AF, there's a High Speed Movie mode that can capture video at up to 320 frames per second at a reduced resolution of 320x112, or 80 frames per second at a higher 640x480 resolution.

Fujifilm Finepix F800EXR

A related feature is the Best Frame Capture mode. Using this, the camera starts recording 8-megapixel images at 11 frames per second. When the moment is just right, fully depress the shutter release and the camera saves 16 frames both before and after that instant letting you choose the shot that best captured your subject's action or expression.

The F800EXR also offers Wireless Image Transfer, allowing you to send photos from the camera directly to your smartphone using a free app for Apple iOS or Google Android. Estimated Street Price: $319.

Nikon Coolpix P510

Another option for incredible zoom range is Nikon's P510, with a 42x optical zoom spanning 24mm to 1000mm*, and up to 2000mm with digital zoom enabled. It also includes a close-up mode, letting you focus as close as 0.4 inches. The P510 incorporates lens-shift optical Vibration Reduction.

In addition to the large Vari-Angle LCD, there's an electronic eye-level view-finder that provides approximately 100% coverage a nice alternative when shooting outside in bright conditions makes the LCD harder to view.

The P510 captures its 16-megapixel images in JPEG format at about 5 frames per second. In movie mode, it can record full I ID 1080p at 30 frames per second with stereo sound and continuous AF.

Nikon Coolpix P510

Do you use geo-location features in your photo software to organize shots by where they were taken? If so, the P510 can automatically tag photos and videos with built-in GPS. Want to capture the full impact of the locations you visit? The camera's Easy Panorama mode automatically merges multiple frames into a 180 or 360 degree panoramic photo.

In addition to standard exposure modes like program and shutter-or aperture-priority, the P510 includes 18 Scene modes tailored to a variety of subjects and shooting situations. The P510 also offers in camera editing, allowing you to crop, soften skin, apply filter effects and more. Estimated Street Price: $349.

Olympus SP-820UZ iHS

With its 40x zoom, the SP-820UZ iHS delivers a focal range of 22.4 to 896mm*. You can double that to 80x, or 1792mm, by enabling digital zoom.

The 14-megapixel camera can capture full-resolution images at 3 frames per second, or you can opt for a much faster 30 frames per second at 3-megapixel resolution. The SP-820UZ iHS also can record full I ID 1080p video. To keep stills and video sharp when shooting handheld, Dual Image Stabilization employs sensor-shift correction and boosts ISO for faster shutter speeds.


Smart Panorama mode lets you quickly create panoramas easily; just trigger the shutter and steadily pan across the scene, and the camera does the rest. When shooting into the sun, the Backlight HDR Adjustment makes multiple exposures and merges them into a single image with extended dynamic range.

Like other Olympus cameras, you have multiple Magic Art Filters to apply to your images for unique looks, including Pop Art, Watercolor, Soft Focus and many more, some of which can be applied to video clips, too. There's also a Beauty mode, which automatically smooth’s portrait wrinkles, and a Beauty Make-Up mode, which lets you simulate the effects of adding eye shadow, teeth whitening and more, all in-camera.

Estimated Street Price: $329.

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