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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

One digicam, two lenses: Kodak announces the EasyShare V570


Ultrawide angle zoom lenses are tricky and expensive to make, not to mention bulky. Kodak sidesteps these limitations by combining an ordinary 3x zoom lens and a 23mm equivalent fixed focal length ultrawide optic in a single camera, making what's sure to be one of the more intriguing cameras of 2006.

Given the maturity of the digital camera market, it's pretty rare when something genuinely new comes along. It's even more rare to find something new that actually meets a real need in the marketplace. The newly-announced Kodak EasyShare V570 looks like it just might satisfy on both counts, offering both a fixed ultra-wide angle lens and a separate 3x optical zoom lens in a very small package.

Wide angle capability is rare, but desirable in consumer digital cameras, as indoor confines often make it hard to capture all you want to see in your photograph even if you back up against the wall. While most modern digital cameras have a "wide" end to their zoom lens, it's seldom really that wide, equalling about 33 to 39mm on most digital cameras. To get quality wide angle lenses at a low price, you really need a prime (non-zoom) lens. Selling a non-zoom camera into this modern market would be tough, though, because they make framing and composing your shots much easier.

Camera makers can design and build an ultra-wide angle lens, and zoom lens design and construction is a well-understood art. Combining the two is the tough part. A few cameras manage to cover a range from ultrawide to medium telephoto (notably the Kodak EasyShare P880 and the Sony DSC-R1), but the optics required to do so are relatively large and bulky, not to mention expensive to make and sell.

Rather than try to tweak the optics to go from 23mm to 117mm in a singe stroke, the engineers at Kodak decided to use two lenses to cover the range.

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