So why include them? Because it barely costs a thing to do so. They're not actual "features" in most cases, in the sense of being additional physical assemblies that have to be screwed into place. Instead, most are alternative control systems for such few physical features as are screwed down-algorithms and programming routines that merely switch the way the physical features work. The difference between aperture-priority AE and shutter-priority AE is not a difference between two sets of mechanics, but a difference in how one set of mechanics interprets and responds to the exposure information it receives.
It costs no more to put these control factors in-and if they induce only one in 100 customers to buy the camera, that's one more camera sold. Some users may never use Fuji's live video feed? Fine, some users may never use shutter-priority AE either, yet every camera has it.
Given that we've defined stratozoom lenses as those exceeding the 5x maxizoom of most 35mm camera lenses, the S20 falls into this group-as do many of the 8-megapixel models cited last month, such as the Canon Pro1 (7x zoom), the Konica Minolta A2 (7x zoom), and the Nikon Coolpix 8700 (8x zoom).
Everybody Into the Pool
But it's the 10x figure that captures the imagination and smacks of real optical muscle. In recent times, Olympus was the first to offer 10x in their Ultra Zoom models a few years back.
But it's their exclusive domain no longer and they, like Fujifilm with their "pro" features, will have to turn to other competitive points to differentiate their latest 10x models (of which there were two at the show, the Ultra Zoom 765 and 770-requiring differentiation not only from competitors, but from each other as well). Both are 4-megapixel (2288 x 1712) models with f/2.8-3.7, 38-380mm (equivalent) zoom ranges, but the 770 captures MPEG-4 video and has a hotshoe for on-camera flash.
Konica Minolta's 10x model, the Z2, also features an f/2.8-3.5, zoom covering a 38-380mm equivalent range, and claims a shutter-lag time of .06 sec. Predictive autofocus, a movie feature (both VGA at 30 fps and SVGA at a larger 800 x 600-pixel frame size at 15 fps), and flash hotshoe. CxProcess II is the name Konica Minolta uses for its proprietary in-camera processing system.
Canon's 10x model is the PowerShot S1 IS with an f/2.8-3.1, 38-380mm equivalent range. It's equipped with image stabilization, a 3.2-megapixel imager, and Canon's DIGIC in-camera processing system. MSRP is placed at $499.
Panasonic's Lumix FZ-10 made its "PMA Show debut," though we saw it previously at the CE show in January, and "broke" the story on this intriguing camera in our November 2003 issue. A 4-megapixel camera like most in the 10x range, it boasts a 12x zoom that holds its f/2.8 maximum aperture across its full zoom range.
Each of the 10x-and-over stratozoom cameras has numerous additional features that we'll sort through as time goes on. But getting back to our original question, where do they stand compared to the interchangeable-lens DSLRs? Well, if you've been paying attention, you've figured out one answer already. None of the 10x models zoom-out wider than about 38mm wide angle-even though we used the example of a 28mm wide-angle in discussing the DSLRs. Of course, some of the under-10x-stratozoom lenses (described last month with the 8-megapixel models) do reach that wide-angle extreme. But on their telephoto ends, they zoom-in to about a 200mm equivalent.
So it turns out there are a lot of distinctions among the DSLRs and the high-performance permanent-lens cameras. These will have to be explained to a newly inquisitive marketplace, which means some interpretive and creative evaluations of your own. We'll do what we can in coming months to help you reason-through these distinctions, but for the moment our advice is simple: study the specs, do some thinking, get ready to address some all-new questions. In other words, gentlemen, start your pitches.