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It’s pretty much an accepted axiom that if you want a stylish ultra-compact camera, you’re going to be limited to a 3x zoom lens. The corollary of course it that if you want a longer zoom range you’ll end up with a much more bulky camera. There are a few cameras such as the Ricoh Caplio R6 and Panasonic Lumix TZ3 which provide wider than average zoom range in a relatively compact shape, and there are one or two fairly small 4x or 5x zoom compacts available, such as the Canon IXUS 800 IS or the Sony Cyber-shot T100 (review coming next week), but on the whole it is true that most small cameras tend to have small lenses.
However proving that every rule has an exception, Casio has recently introduced the Exilim EX-V7. The numeral in the name refers to both its 7.2-megapixel resolution, and the 7x zoom ability of its unusual non-protruding lens. The lens configuration means that the camera can be very small. In fact it’s just 95.5 x 59.8 x 25.5mm, and 149g excluding battery and card, which isn’t much bigger than some of Casio’s 3x zoom ultra-compact models. This unusual design comes at a price though. The V7 is currently available for around £245, which is expensive for a 7MP compact.
This type of optical configuration, where the zoom lens is mounted horizontally within the camera body and looks out via a prism, isn’t a new idea. It was first used on the Minolta Dimage X in 2002, one of the first truly ultra-compact digital cameras, and on a long and popular series of its successors. However since Minolta pulled out of the camera market last year the technology has gone unused until now. One of the advantages of this type of lens is that it avoids a lot of the optical compromises that can cause problems for other types of compact zoom, and so in theory can produce better optical quality. It is a bit slow though, with a maximum aperture of f/3.4 – f/5.3. Casio isn’t the only one to use this technique; I believe several of Sony’s ultra-compacts use it as well.