Whether it’s because of fear, prudence, or a restraining order, sometimes you just can’t get close enough for a decent photo. And a 3x zoom lens, standard on most digital cameras, doesn’t help much if you’re trying to get a shot of your surfing buddy thrashing around in the waves or of your neighbor undressing in the window across the street.For situations like these, where your subject is more than 10 or 20 feet away, you need something more powerful — like the 12x zoom lens on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 or the 10x zoom on the Kodak EasyShare Z740.The downside of these cameras is that they aren’t easy to pocket, unless you’re a safari-vest-wearing dork, and they will put an awkward bulge in a shoulder bag. But if you’re serious about taking good photos — and don’t want to give up the simplicity of a simple point-and-shoot camera — these two are excellent choices.LASERLIKE FOCUSThe Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5 has a powerful 12x Leica zoom lens, offering the equivalent of a 36mm-432mm focal length with an aperture of f2.8-3.3. Those specs are impressive for a camera that weighs just 11.4 ounces, and while the Lumix FZ5 is bulky and lacks the elegance you’d expect of a camera with the Leica logo on it, it does take beautiful, sharp pictures.One key to that image quality is the FZ5’s optical image stabilization. When engaged, the camera’s electronics jiggle internal lenses slightly to compensate for your hand motion, and the result is a much clearer image — especially with photos taken with the lens fully zoomed.Shooting in the camera’s “simple” mode is easy — just point and shoot — and usually results in excellent pictures. There are also nine preprogrammed scene modes. The four-way controller lets you scroll through exposure, autobracketing, white balance, and flash compensation settings, adjusting each one as you go with ease. One nice touch: a control that lets you tweak the preset white balance settings to compensate for odd lighting.The FZ5 is outstanding at close-ups, too — its macro mode lets you get within an inch or two of your subject for extreme detail shots. That might be handy when you finally get a bit closer to that attractive neighbor.KEEP IT SIMPLEKodakEasyshare.jpgThe Kodak EasyShare Z740 is marginally heavier but slightly more compact than the Lumix FZ5. It has a 10x Kodak zoom lens, with the equivalent of 38mm-380mm focal length at f2.8-3.7.The Kodak Z740 lacks image stabilization but delivers terrific photos in most circumstances. On the whole, the Kodak produces slightly warmer, richer colors than the Panasonic. When zoomed out all the way, hand shake can be a problem, so for your long shots use a tripod or brace the camera against a wall or table.The Kodak Z740 lets you adjust exposure, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO film speed equivalent settings with the four-way controller, but the display showing these settings is tiny and unintuitive. To adjust other settings, you’ll need to delve into the menu system.Both cameras take great photos, are easy to use in automatic mode, and weigh less than half what a digital SLR would. Sure, they’re compromise cameras, and we wish they had bigger LCDs — but for great shots from a distance, the compromise is well worth it.Between the two, the Kodak Z740 is a better choice for beginners — and, at $100 less, it’s a much better value. But if you’re serious about taking control of your camera and demand the very best quality images, the Panasonic FZ5 is the way to go. -Dylan TweneyPanasonic Lumix DMC-FZ5Best Feature: Image stabilization for extra-crisp shotsWorst Feature: Somewhat sluggish startup and focusingPrice: $450Weight: 11.4 ouncesSize: 4.6 x 3.4 x 2.6 inchesSpecs: 5 megapixels; 12x optical zoom; 1.8-inch LCD; SD card slot (16MB card included); 320 x 240-pixel, 30-fps QuickTime video recordingwww.panasonic.com* * * *Kodak EasyShare Z740Best Feature: Ease of use in automatic modeWorst Feature: Manual settings are too difficult to adjustPrice: $342Weight: 12.2 ouncesSize: 4 x 3 x 3 inchesSpecs: 5 megapixels; 10x optical zoom; 1.8-inch LCD; SD card slot; 32MB internal memory; 640 x 480-pixel, 12-fps QuickTime video recordingwww.kodak.com* * * 1/2
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