To the untrained eye, a bridge camera can look very similar to a compact camera, which often confuses buyers who don’t realize they’re getting a bridge between point and shoot cameras and full DSLR’s. Bridge cameras are actually intended to work for the more serious photographer who needs a small sensor that allows for intense zooming without the need to swap out lenses like you would with a DSLR camera or a compact system camera. The end result is a long lens packed into a small body that is ideal for travelers and field photographers.
These type of cameras are best for the enthusiast as opposed to the professional. They’ll give you many more shooting options than you’ll find in just a point and shoot without the need to carry around a camera bag packed to the rafters with gear. You aren’t going to get the same high-grade quality as you would from a couple of grand worth of equipment, but you’ll be able to get a lot more control than you will with any standard, off-the-rack piece of kit. So that your photography journey starts off right, we sought near and far for the 8 best bridge cameras.
Nikon Coolpix P530
Pro: High quality but inexpensive
Con: Limited battery life
Easy Mark: Nikon, Canon, and Fujifilm all have strong lines that extend down into their more affordable arenas, so if you’re new to the bridge camera world and looking to get into something workable and affordable, those are the brands to choose from. You can also get an older model and often knock another $100 off the price tag. The P530 is our pick just because it offers full manual exposure control, 42x zoom on the NIKKOR lens, a 16.1 MP CMOS sensor that works both inside and out without creating a lot of noise. The target finding autofocus isn’t any slouch either.
Fujifilm Finepix HS50 EXR
Pro: Stabilizes images well, even when zoomed
Con: No on-board Wi-Fi
Most for the Money: Fuji seems determined to hold the crown for some of the best cameras out there with very low prices. It has a full 1/2-inch EXR CMOS sensor, which isn’t the biggest or the best, but nothing in the same cost bracket comes close. You can also shoot in raw format and use full manual adjustment, giving the enthusiast and the amateur shutterbug some bells and whistles to grow into. It is a full 35mm equivalent with a range of 24-1000mm and even tacks on a 2x digital zoom that shoots without much blur or damage. Another rarity for less expensive equipment.
Olympus Stylus SP-100EE
Pro: f/2.9 max aperture at wide angles
Con: Must switch between LCD and viewfinder manually
Tracking Shot: The SP-100EE gets points for innovation, rather than being an overall outstanding bridge camera. What the SP-100EE does is track subjects while zoomed in so you never lose the shot. We’ve never seen this before, and the amateur private eye in us really enjoyed being able to monitor a single subject without needing to adjust the focus time and again. Add in the 24-1200mm 50X zoom lens, and we were sold on far shots, but the lack of the ability to shoot raw left us a bit cold. Honestly, PI’s and wildlife photographers will fall in love with the tracking feature. Everyone else might be underwhelmed.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
Pro: Simple focal point adjustment
Con: Creates strange luminance noise, even at lower sensitivity
Fast Acting: You’ll see the big brother to the FZ200 a little later on the list, but for a camera that might make you rethink going to DSLR, this is a stunner. The key to the FZ200 isn’t the zoom, which is only 24x – pretty tame for an ultra-zoom camera – but rather it is the f/2.8 aperture that stays solid throughout the 25-600mm range. The sensor is standard for compacts at 1/2.3-inch, but you’ll still be able to capture raw footage if the mood strikes you, which was a rare treat for this level.
Nikon Coolpix P610
Pro: Very clear viewfinder
Con: Aperture and shutter priority must be changed independently
Closing In: An impressive zoom of 60X, this can go the distance. Serving up a sweet focal range of 24-1440mm, that can be further enhanced with a 4X zoom boost for a whopping 5760mm at the absolute extreme. You get the compact camera standard size sensor of 1/2.3 inches, but is a back-illuminated CMOS that handles fully 16 million pixels. NFC and Wi-Fi come standard for easy sharing or transfer of data files, so snap away and then just move them over to your tablet or smartphone. You can shoot in ISO 12800 if you so choose, but raw footage is unavailable on the P610.
Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
Pro: Fully articulated LCD
Con: No touchscreen
SLR Imitator: Numerous cameras will give you greater zoom than you can get from the FZ1000, but they often do so at the sacrifice of width. Here you get a 25-400mm equivalent focus that can give you about as much field depth as a DSLR camera could, but it would need several lenses to get the job done. The inclusion of 4K video is a nice feature that shows this camera to be forward thinking, and the 1″ sensor is good for landscapes as well as close-ups. Responsive, accessible controls attached to a solid grip makes this as much a pleasure to hold as to shoot.
Canon PowerShot G1X Mark II
Pro: 12.8-MP image sensor
Con: Flash photographs look unnatural
Razor’s Edge: For sharp photographs that cut like the edge of a straight razor, the G1X Mark II is a deadly accurate shooter. We can’t quite figure out why this is labeled as a G1X model, since it is a complete redesign from the original that changes the aperture to f/2.0 at the wide end and cuts down to f/3.9 when zoomed. It has a touchscreen LCD that is such a gorgeous addition that it’s almost worth the extra money right there. Fold in some warm colors that aren’t dampening and quality noise reduction and we’re sold.
Sony Cyber-shot RX10
Pro: Includes easy remote operation
Con: Altering the autofocus point is murder
Fixed Aperture: The one thing that bridge cameras almost universally lack is a fixed f/2.8 aperture, which is what makes the RX10 such a beautiful sight, even though it only has a focal range of 24-200mm. This is coupled up with a massive 1 inch Exmor R CMOS sensor and the Bionz X processor that runs like an arrow in flight. Though the Electronic View Finder is sure to cause consternation among purists, Sony has proven they can handle it without flummoxing too badly, and this one won’t give you (many) fits.
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