zoom before zoom

Voigtlander ZOOMAR Zoom lens for 35mm still cameras c1959. Photograph by Rama, Wikimedia Commons, Cc-by-sa-2.0-fr

Toronto. Today, when we speak of ZOOM, we usually mean the app used to video conference by computer and internet. In this time of COVID-19, live meetings in person have been replaced by computer conferencing using special apps like ZOOM (which we use for both executive meetings and presentations last held in a facility in North York).

To snap photos, most of us use digital smartphones and their built-in camera(s). Some fancier ‘phones can even merge two of the lenses/cameras to create a hybrid zoom sense.

Before mid last century, photographers used a bag full of fixed focal length lenses and moved back and forth to frame a scene. By the late 1950s, the ZOOMAR lens became available – the first commercially successful Zoom lens for 35mm SLR cameras. Like many things photographic, new ideas and concepts came to the cinematographers first.

For the 35mm photographer, his trusty fixed focal length lenses were much preferred over any idea of a zoom lens. In any case, weight, higher cost, lower speed (aperture),  poorer resolution and a lack of SLR cameras at the time limited the adoption of zooms. Worse, at the extremes of their focal length, zooms suffered geometric distortion (pin-cushion and barrel) as well.

Purists such as Leitz insisted on fixed focal length lenses like their Summicron series for their lighter weight, smaller size, far better photo resolution, and potentially faster design. But as SLR designs succeeded rangefinders, practical photographers preferred the convenience of Zoom lenses and their iffy resolution over a bag full of the sharper prime lenses.

In time, SLRs became the camera design of choice. Zoom lenses improved with a greater range of focal lengths, faster speeds and better resolution. Companies like DxO offered a digital means to correct geometric distortion. Later on almost every photo editor automatically corrected geometric distortion for an ever increasing range of lenses.

With the inroads of smartphone cameras, only the higher-end DSLRs and mirrorless digital cameras remained on offer, All with built-in geometric distortion correction for their own zoom lenses so the scene was corrected before it is even viewed or recorded as an image.



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