San Jose, California — Camera maker Cazion Electronics has developed a new system that offers a true optical zoom capability without the expensive optics. The new system dubbed Electronic Physical Zoom (EPZ) is being offered in the latest Cazion cameras such as the CZ290A. The new zoom works by reincorporating a previously important photographic resource: the photographer’s mobility.
Zoom is one of the key differentiating features that consumers focus on when considering cameras. Most people would like to have optical zoom, but it is a relatively expensive feature. Digital camera makers introduced digital zoom in an effort to woo price-conscious consumers. However, digital zoom is a misnomer since it does nothing but reduce the resolution of the image while giving the false impression of zoom. Photographically, it is useless, amounting to no more than cropping the image and expanding the result to the original size with the effective resolution reduced by the zoom factor.
The reason that camera makers include a feature like digital zoom that they know is essentially worthless, is pure marketing. Obviously camera makers know how to make optical zoom lenses, but those are expensive, requiring several precision lenses in a movable configuration, typically motor-driven. They also take up more space in the increasingly size-sensitive camera and camera-phone markets. By offering digital zoom, manufacturers can place the all important word “zoom” on the camera. With digital cameras having true optical zoom, a digital zoom feature is usually also included so that the combined larger zoom factor can be advertised. For consumers, as is usually the case, it is a question of economics. Buyers on a tight budget may have to forgo optical zoom.
Todd Hershel, the Vice President of Product Development at Cazion USA explained the design philosophy behind their new system.
“By incorporating the user mobility factor we have been able to provide a true optical zoom for the same price as digital zoom, which is essentially free. In EPZ equipped cameras, the user adjusts the zoom exactly as in any digital camera with the screen immediately showing the effect. The difference comes when they press the button to take the shot. As with most cameras, the button is a two-stage type, where the user presses it halfway to initiate the focus. In EPZ equipped cameras, the focus stage is also when the EPZ system is activated.”
This is where Cazion shows real genius in the elegance of their design. It’s one of those, “Why didn’t I think of that?” things that’s much easier to see in hindsight. Once the EPZ user mobility phase is initiated during the focus stage, the user is instructed via on-screen and voice prompts to move the appropriate number of paces to complete the zoom operation. For example, if the subject is 10 meters away and the photographer zooms in by a factor of 2, the distance to the subject must be halved; thus camera must be moved 5 meters closer to the subject. The EPZ system instructs the user to move approximately 6 paces forward. The camera continuously monitors the distance to the subject as the operator moves forward and offers encouragement to the user by uttering phrases such as: “a little more…a little more.. back-up a bit…that’s it…hold it.” At that point the user snaps the photograph. A similar process is followed when zooming out, although the camera then offers warnings so that the user can avoid mishaps such as stepping backwards over a cliff.
We tested the CZ290A on a recent trip to Europe and were generally quite pleased with the camera’s performance. The EPZ system worked flawlessly. We did find, however, that zooming in on distant objects could result in quite a workout. A 4X zoom to the distant Eiffel Tower from the Champs d’Elysees made for an adventure as I ran across the busy boulevard while trying to keep the camera aimed at the tower. The camera, disturbed by my jostling uttered a continuous stream of increasingly irritated and urgent messages. In the end, it resorted to expletives. It was rather embarrassing to be harangued by a piece of gadgetry, but the results justified the tribulations as we came home with a portfolio of many fine photographs.
On another occasion, I was glad for the camera’s tendency to break into abusive diatribe. While alone on a glacier in the Swiss Alps one morning I was trying to frame a particularly picturesque landscape. I was using the EPZ to zoom out and ignored the warnings to be careful about backing up. I had changed the camera’s language to French so that I could practice my language skills. The last thing I recall before going over backwards was the camera’s urging, “faite attention!” The next thing I knew, I was being awakened by smelling salts and surrounded by rescue workers. Apparently I had stepped off a steep slope, banged my head and skidded 200 meters down into a snow bank. Half buried, I’d been found when passers by heard the furious heckling of the camera complaining about its rough treatment. I’m told that some of the things it said are never heard in polite conversation, and one of the phrases is banned is several French speaking countries. Nevertheless, I was grateful. The icy snow bank had sapped my unconscious body of energy and I was descending into hypothermia. If not for the foul-mouthed camera I’d be a Swiss Popsicle. By the way, I finally did snap that photograph and it is a stunning one. I have a print framed on my wall with an inset of my grim twisted face stuck fast to the ice by frozen dribble. That shot was taken by the camera out of spite as it awaited our rescue.
I contacted Cazion regarding the foul language and impatience of the camera and Mr. Hershel explained that the camera I had was an early development model and the colorful phrases were included by some of the engineers as a joke. However, because of experiences like mine, the crude language is still available as a menu option.
All in all, I’d say that I was impressed by the technology and the low price. For casual photographers on a tight budget, Cazion’s EPZ feature offers a great alternative to traditional optical zoom. Since I became rather attached to the demo model I’d taken on my trip—it saved my life after all—Cazion allowed me to keep it. It’s the one of the best @*#! cameras I’ve ever had.