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35mm is about 0.115 feet (a bit under an inch and a half). 88mm is about .289 feet (a bit under three and a half inches). They refer to the minimum and maximum focal lengths of the zoom lens. They have nothing to do with the distance from the camera to the subject.
The focal length of a lens is a measure of an optical quantity. It may or may not have anything to do with the physical length of the lens.
All cameras have a minimum focal length. That is the minimum distance they have to be from an object in order to focus clearly. If you have a digital camera with changeable lenses, that minimum focal length is determined by the lens and how it is constructed. If you have a fixed lens digital camera then the manual should tell you what the minimum focal length is.
One other thing to keep in mind is that on most fixed lens digital cameras, there is what is called a macro setting. If you switch to macro mode, it will allow you to get closer to the object and still get a good focus. Your manual should tell you how to turn on that mode.
In wide-angle macro mode, the minimum focus range is as close as 30cm from CCD (21cm from the lens front.) At this point, the magnification is 0.03x (equivalent to 0.12x in 35mm format).(Focal length is 7.2mm. At maximum magnification 283mm x 213mm of the subject can be captured.) In telephoto macro mode, the minimum focus range is 25cm from CCD (13 cm from the lens front) and the magnification is 0.18x (equivalent to 0.7x in 35mm format). (Focal length is 42.7mm to 50.8mm. At maximum magnification 52mm x 39mm of the subject can be captured.)
In wide-angle macro mode,
the minimum focus range is as close as 30cm from CCD(21cm from the lens front.)
At this point, the magnification is 0.03x (equivalent to 0.12x in 35mm format).
(Focal length is7.2mm. At maximum magnification 283mmx213mm of the subject can be captured.)
In telephoto macro mode, the minimum focus range is 25cm from CCD(13cm from the lens front )and the magnification is 0.177x (equivalent to 0.7x in 35mm format).
(Focal length is42.7mm to 50.8mm. At maximum magnification 50mmx37mm of the subject can be captured.)
The macro setting on the fz series allows you to get within a couple of centimeters of the subject and obtain focus. That is pretty close. That is too close. The camera will throw a shadow. You need some room. Most high zoom cameras (notably Olympus) have macro capabilty throughout the zoom which not only increases the magnification but also allows you (requires you) to put some distance between the lens and the subject. The panasonic fz series is different. They do not have macroability at zooms greater than 2x-3x. Beyond that there is no increase in magnification. Why? I dont know. Maybe this feature was designed on a Monday. Fortunately this can all be rectified with the use of a closeup lens. Now the fz series will react like most other high zoom cameras and do it well. The Olympus b-macro is such a lens. There are many others
Sorry you're having such a problem with the fz1 w/b-macro. Here is a shot of the stock fz1 w/b-macro at full 12x zoom - resized only. Try practicing on still objects such as coins or jewlery. If you are beyond 10-12 inches you are probably too far away.