Why I hate “Power Zoom”

Someone asked me why I hate the “power zoom” feature of the Sony 16-50 kit lens. Here’s why:

  • Biggest issue: you can’t zoom with the camera off; you have to wait for the camera to turn on and power up, which isn’t instant, it takes time. Only then can you start to zoom, and then the zooming itself takes time. By then you have potentially missed the shot. With a manual zoom, I can zoom while the camera is powering up, I can even zoom when the camera is off. I can walk around with the camera at 70mm if I want.
  • No markings. I can’t pre-zoom to a known focal length (say, 50mm) with the power zoom
  • The power zoom resets to zero every time you power down the camera.
  • Power zoom consumes battery. The battery life on the a6000 is lousy enough without using it to power something that I could just power with my hand instead.
  • Damn zoom button is a small target, easy to miss, easy to push the wrong way.
  • The electronic separation of the power zoom mechanism from the actual zooming is imprecise and squishy. Nudge a bit, oops, it’s too far, nudge it back. Gah, now we’re too wide, nudge it back the other way. Nudge, nudge, nudge, and of course all this uses battery, and by the way, your subject has gotten bored with you, and/or moved along. Direct zoom with hands on the lens is faster and more precise.

Possible advantages of Power Zoom that don’t help me:

  • Some of the Sony NEX cameras have a zoom control in the body, near the thumb, which would be an advantage; sometimes I need to shoot and zoom one-handed. The a6000, however, doesn’t have that feature. So, major advantage of power zoom is absent from my camera.
  • Smooth zooming during video. That’s fine, but I don’t shoot video. And besides, I thought the rule for cinematic video is that you’re supposed to move the camera with a constant focal length, not zoom.

Item 1 is by far the biggest issue. Since keeping the camera powered-on drains the battery quickly, I want to keep the camera off as much as possible. So, let’s say I’m walking around, and I know I’m going to take a portrait of someone, or some other use that requires max tele. I’ll keep the camera off, switch it on when I’m ready to take that portrait … and … wait … for … the … damn … zoom … and the photo is gone.

It is a dealbraker for everyone in all circumstances? No. In fact, sometimes I use the kit lens while bicycling (I actually do a lot of photography while bicycling around), and it’s an annoyance that I can get used to. If I didn’t have the money for the SEL1670Z, I’d probably learn to live with the kit lens.