In the past two years, a new trend has emerged in point-and-shoot cameras: ultra wide-angle lenses. Photographers salivate over these 24mm equivalent wide-angle lenses because they can capture an unusually broad view, such as a sweeping landscape, a skyscraper from base to peak, or a yard full of people at a family reunion. Going ultra-wide also creates an exaggerated sense of space, which can make a living room look cavernous or a line of fence posts appear more spread out.
When shopping for a wide-angle compact camera, you’ll see that most are advertised as having a zoom multiplier, such as 3x or 10x, but this doesn’t tell you how wide the lens is when fully zoomed out. To determine the wide-angle of a lens’ view, look for the 35mm film-camera equivalent focal length in the camera’s specs.
A 50mm equivalent focal length is the same angle of view the human eye sees, and any number lower than that amount is considered wide-angle. Since the back of the eye is curved, people actually register more of the scene at a time, so going wider to 35mm will seem more like what the eye actually sees. As a lens goes wider and this number goes lower, each mm makes a bigger difference. By 24mm, pictures show about twice the amount of a scene as 35mm, and they can actually fit in more than the naked eye can see at one time. A lens that is 24mm equivalent or smaller is called “ultra wide-angle.”
The first major camera manufacturer that started extending its point-and-shoot zoom range to the ultra-wide 24mm was Panasonic with the Lumix LX3 camera. Today, most of the big point-and-shoot manufacturers are successfully going wide.
The Samsung HZ35W, Panasonic ZR and ZS series, Casio EX-FH100 and EX-H10 models are great all-around cameras for beginning photographers. The Casio EX-FH100 (24-240mm equiv) and Samsung HZ35W (24-360mm equiv) get the nod for greater flexibility and advanced control options that encourage the user to experiment and learn about exposure.