Panasonic gooses megapixels, zoom

An early entrant into the 12-megapixel race, the Lumix FX100 also comes with novel optical zoom technology.

Panasonic announced a new Lumix camera Monday that squeezes a wide-angle lens, a 12.2-megapixel sensor and a novel way of extending zoom lens range into a compact camera.

The Lumix DMC-FX100 is equipped with a 3.6x zoom that spans the equivalent of 28mm to 100mm--an ordinary span but with a wider-angle ability than found on typical point-and-shoot models today. What's more unusual is a lens-shifting technology called Extra Optical Zoom that extends the range to about 196mm.

Panasonic asserts that the zoom feature provides sharper images than so-called digital zoom technology that doesn't move a camera's lens elements but instead trims away pixels from the periphery of the image sensor to concentrate only on the center.

But there's no free lunch: Extra Optical Zoom yields 3-megapixel images. The feature also is available on the Lumix FX9, FZ30 and LX1 models.

Lumix DMC-FX100
Credit: Panasonic
Panasonic's Lumix FX100 compact
camera has a 12.2-megapixel sensor.

The camera will be available in June, but Panasonic hasn't yet released the price.

The FX100's light sensitivity reaches ISO 1600. In a high-sensitivity mode, it can reach ISO 6400, but only with 3-megapixel resolution. Image processing in the camera is handled by a Venus Engine III chip. The camera also features image stabilization to compensate for shaky hands and some dim situations.

Panasonic manufactures the sensor, which measures about 0.58 inches diagonally. Some experts object to the combination of small image sensors and high megapixel counts, complaining that it has degraded image quality by increasing noise levels, but the megapixel race shows few signs of slowing down.

Also Monday, Casio announced its 12.1-megapixel Exilim Zoom EX-Z1200, a new $400 flagship model. It also has image stabilization, face detection technology, a 3X zoom lens ranging from an equivalent of 37mm to 111mm, and the Exilim Engine 2.0 image processor.

And in February, Sony introduced a 12.1-megapixel compact camera, the Cyber-shot DSC W200.

One advantage of SLR (single-lens reflex) cameras is a larger image sensor that's more sensitive to light. Panasonic entered the SLR market in 2006 and plans a new lower-end model this year.

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