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Panasonic zooms in on camera market

Panasonic announces a slew of new digital-imaging products, including a camera with one of the most powerful zoom lenses in the business.

Panasonic announced a slew of new digital-imaging products Thursday, including a camera with one of the most powerful zoom lenses in the business.

The new Lumix DMC-FZ1 has a 12x zoom lens, meaning it can magnify an image 12 times. Most consumer digital cameras with zoom lenses max out at 3x. Like all lenses in the Lumix line, this one is made by German camera institution Leica.

The DMC-FZ1 also includes image-stabilizer functions to make it easier to get clear images of extreme close-ups, and a new type of digital signal processor that lets the camera process images much faster than traditional chip designs. The camera captures images at resolutions of up to 2 megapixels and uses the Secure Digital storage format.

The DMC-FZ1 is set to go on sale next month in Japan priced at $490 (60,000 yen). As with the other products announced Thursday, North American pricing and availability were not set, but the camera is expected to arrive here early next year.

Panasonic also announced the Lumix DMC-F1, a more compact camera with resolution of 3.2 megapixels and a 3x zoom lens, and showed the SV-PT1 SD, a portable media storage unit that can retrieve images from a Secure Digital card and store them on the unit's 5GB hard drive. Besides providing mobile storage when the camera user doesn't have access to a PC, the unit can display images on a TV set.

Another new device, the SV-P20 SD, is a mobile, battery-powered printer that can print images directly from a Secure Digital memory card. It includes an LCD (liquid-crystal display) screen for previewing images and can make prints at sizes up to 3.5 by 2 inches.

Like other camera makers, Panasonic is using a variety of products--from small, high-style camera models to expensive tools aimed at serious hobbyists--to try to carve out a niche in the increasingly crowded digital-imaging market.