Look for power, performance and a huge lens without busting the bank or your back? A bridge camera could be just the ticket
It’s hard to imagine a broader church than the modern bridge camera. Originally lusted after for the way they offered gigantic zoom lenses without the cost and weight of a DSLR, the modern bridge camera is now capable of offering far, far more. Sure, if what you want is a big lens that doesn’t weigh or cost too much, a bridge camera still fits the bill, but there are cameras out there that put even high-end DSLRs to shame in terms of features. In particular, those wanting to create high-quality video on the cheap might be surprised to find what’s out there.
Here, we’ve rounded up the best bridge cameras, from a trifling £167 to cameras that cost, well, somewhat more. Along the way, we’ve looked for cameras that make sharing easy, while still offering the kind of creative control that more experienced photographers love – and that keen-to-learn amateurs will benefit from in the long run.
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How to buy the best bridge camera for you
Why should I get a bridge camera instead of a DSLR?
Ah, the million-dollar question. At heart, bridge cameras are just fancy compact cameras with a small sensor – a fraction of the size of the sensors you’d find in most DSLR cameras – and non-interchangeable lenses. These are the two big selling points of DSLRs; a big sensor means tip-top image quality even in poor light, while interchangeable lenses mean the same camera body can be used for everything from high-end portraiture to reportage, wildlife and sport. You name it and a decent DSLR will shoot it well.
The small sensors in bridge cameras are a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they don’t produce images with as much clarity or depth of field as DSLR cameras, but on the other, a small sensor means that any lens you put in front of it is effectively magnified by another factor. That’s why some of the bridge cameras here have enormous focal lengths – the longest is the Nikon Coolpix B700 with a focal length of 1,440mm. Yet even the shortest maximum focal length here, the Panasonic FZ2000’s 480mm, would cost you many hundreds, if not thousands of pounds were you buying a DSLR lens with equivalent reach.
Elsewhere, bridge cameras often offer the same range of creative modes as DSLRs, so more advanced photographers can take control of shutter speed or aperture size, or go the whole hog and use their camera in manual mode. That makes them a great choice for photographers who know they want a decent length lens, but at a weight that’s tolerable for long periods, or who simply want a versatile and relatively lightweight camera for travel.
Do I need a viewfinder?
Another interesting question. Many DSLRs have a true optical viewfinder, with the image gathered by the lens and reflected into an eyepiece on the top of the camera. Bridge, mirrorless and compact cameras don’t need one, with many users happy to compose using the large screen on the back. The same screen is used for setting the camera up. Adding an electronic viewfinder (EVF) adds a fair bit to the price of a bridge camera, and it’s no coincidence that neither of the cheapest models here has one.
There are advantages to a viewfinder, though, the biggest being that holding the camera closer to your body makes you more stable. This isn’t so important when shooting at wider focal lengths but it’s absolutely crucial when working at the long end of a lens. Adding an EVF can also make it easier to gauge composition and exposure in very bright conditions. One thing to note is that, although EVFs are smaller than the LCDs on the back of a bridge camera, they always use more power, so you’ll get worse battery life if you use the EVF all the time.
How about connectivity?
Wi-Fi is de rigueur these days – indeed even the very cheapest of our cameras here offers 802.11b/g/n. Obviously, Wi-Fi can be used for image transfer, although anyone with a serious number of images to move will find a memory card reader or USB connection a much more efficient business, but it can also be used with the camera manufacturer’s apps. These allow you to grab images off your camera for sharing on social media or sending via email, but – more impressively – they also enable you to control your camera remotely. That means you can set up your camera somewhere unreachable and then trigger it remotely, for example.
What kind of video features should I look for?
Unless you are absolutely certain that video production – in almost any capacity – isn’t for you, there’s no reason to buy a bridge camera that doesn’t shoot Full HD, also known as 1080p. More discriminating video producers – or those who want to be – should also note the different frame rates supported by various cameras. Cinematic footage tends to be captured at 25fps, with faster frame rates allowing for smoother motion, albeit with a more homespun feel.
With bridge cameras spanning a very wide range of prices, it’s no surprise that video features vary widely – if you want to capture 4K video, expect to spend quite a bit more.
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Canon PowerShot SX60 HS: The best mid-range bridge camera
Price: £325 | Buy now from Amazon
The PowerShot SX60 is what you call an oldie but a goodie. While it was launched around three years ago, but there’s still plenty to like about Canon’s superzoom snapper. No surprise, given its middleweight price of £325.
The star of the show is its gigantic zoom range – the 65x zoom lens motors out to an incredible 1,365mm, offering an unbelievable amount of reach. It isn’t always that easy to use – with a maximum aperture of f/6.5 when zoomed in, you’ll often be reaching for the upper end of the camera’s 100-3200 ISO range. This in itself is a slight irritation, because the SX60 HS doesn’t have a dedicated ISO button, which makes changing this often-used setting a bit fiddly. Image quality at higher ISOs is good rather than great, making the SX60 HS a great choice for well-lit photography but, as we’d expect from a bridge camera at this price, a little more problematic once all the good light has gone. Luckily, it’s easier to get a steady shot using the 922,000-pixel EVF.
Video options are terrific. The SX60 HS shoots up to Full HD at 60fps, allowing jazz-smooth motion, while 30fps is available as well. A microphone input bolsters its video appeal. In stills mode, the camera shoots a respectable maximum continuous frame rate of 6.4fps.
Elsewhere, Wi-Fi gives the option of remote control via smartphone, while battery life from the proprietary lithium-ion rechargeable is right towards the top end of the market. A solid choice, albeit one with stiff competition from Nikon’s Coolpix range. Read our full review for more details.
Key specs – Sensor: 16.1 megapixel, 1/2.3in; Lens: 65x zoom lens with 21-1,365mm equivalent zoom length; Stabilisation: Optical IS; Still formats supported: JPEG, RAW; ISO range: 100-3200; Shutter speed range: 1/2,000th – 15 seconds; Maximum continuous still shooting: 6.4fps; Video formats: Full HD at 60, 30fps; HD at 30fps, 480p at 120, 30fps, 240p at 240fps; External microphone input: Y; Rear monitor: 3in vari-angle, 922,000-pixel; EVF: 922,000-pixel; Connectivity: Mini-USB, 802.11bgn Wi-Fi, NFC; Memory card: SD, SDHC, SDXC; Battery: Rechargeable, proprietary lithium-ion; Battery life: 340 shots, 450 shots in eco mode. Dimensions: 128 x 114 x 93mm (WDH); Weight: 650g
Canon PowerShot SX430 IS: The best bridge camera on a budget
Price: £167 | Buy now from Amazon
Just how cheaply can you build a camera with a 45x zoom lens? Canon’s SX430 IS answers the question with a cheap-as-chips £167 asking price married to a lens with a zoom range equivalent to 24-1,080mm in 35mm terms. The compromises aren’t obvious when it comes to the sensor, either. With a standard compact 1/2.3in sensor – at 20.5 megapixels the highest resolution – the SX430 IS actually stands out.
Pull the camera out of the box and the light begins to dawn. It’s the lightest camera here by almost a factor of two; at 323g it feels decidedly lightweight. Part of this is down to the omission of an EVF; the SX430 IS is one of only two cameras here not to offer one. This presents a slight usability problem – keeping that whopping lens trained on your subject while the camera is at arms’ length is a challenge.
Image quality is good, as long as you can keep the camera’s ISO under control. Once you creep over ISO 400 you’ll find images pretty noisy. To the end of keeping images presentable, the SX430 IS’s maximum ISO is a relatively paltry 1600.
Compromises abound elsewhere as well. The maximum video resolution on offer is merely HD, with a single frame rate of 25fps available for the choosing. Those looking to marry that long lens with a love of wildlife should beware the SX430 IS’s maximum continuous frame rate of just 0.5fps. Low light mode, which caps the sensor resolution at five megapixels, raises this to 2.2fps but even that’s hardly swift.
The camera’s biggest compromise will make itself felt for anyone spending a few days away from mains electricity; even in eco mode the camera will only shoot 260 shots before the battery’s exhausted. Leave the camera in its out-of-the-box power management mode and you’ll get fewer than 200.
For the money, the SX430 IS is a good camera, particularly for those who want to get started in long-lens photography. But photographers who want to advance their skills will find themselves reaching the camera’s limits sooner rather than later.
Key specs – Sensort: 20.5 megapixel, 1/2.3in; Lens: 45x zoom lens with 24-1,080mm equivalent zoom length; Stabilisation: Optical IS; Still formats supported: JPEG; ISO range: 100-1600; Shutter speed range: 1/4,000th – 15 seconds; Maximum continuous still shooting: 0.5fps, 2.2fps in Low Light Mode (5-megapixels); Video formats: HD at 25fps; 480p at 29.97fps; External microphone input: N; Rear monitor: 3in vari-angle, 230,000-pixel; EVF: No; Connectivity: Mini-USB, 802.11bgn Wi-Fi, NFC; Memory card: SD, SDHC, SDXC; Battery: Rechargeable, proprietary lithium-ion; Battery life: 195 shots, 260 shots in eco mode. Dimensions: 104 x 69 x 85mm (WDH); Weight: 323g
Nikon Coolpix B500: The best value bridge camera
Price: £260 | Buy now from Amazon
For under £300, the Nikon Coolpix B500 hardly puts a foot wrong. Fully extended, its 40x zoom lens equates to 900mm, and its 16 megapixel sensor, while not the last word in resolution, produces decent quality images. Images don’t always stand up to the harsh scrutiny of large-scale prints but photographers looking to publish online won’t complain.
There’s no viewfinder – a sacrifice made, presumably, to keep the B500 affordable – but the 3in vari-angle screen is a peach and the omission is more than compensated for elsewhere. For instance, the B500 shoots Full HD at 30 or 25fps, and has a maximum continuous frame rate of 7.7fps for up to seven images. That’s small beer by DSLR standards but useful for those wanting to come home with some decent sporting images.
All the other bridge cameras here come with proprietary lithium-ion rechargeables – reliable and high-powered. The B500 takes four AA batteries which you’ll need to supply yourself, so if you want rechargeables expect to tack on about £20 to the price. That said, AA batteries are available practically everywhere, so if you run out of juice somewhere and plugging the camera in is inconvenient, a few quid at a cornershop will see back you up and running. Battery life is also superb, and our tests with a set of 2,500mAh Duracells saw us shoot over a thousand frames – nearly double Nikon’s own optimistic-sounding quote.
At this price, the B500 is a blistering bargain. Spend another hundred quid and you’re looking at the Canon PowerShot SX60 HS, which has a substantially longer lens and an EVF, but if you can live without, the Nikon is money seriously well spent. Read our full review for more details. Read our full review for more details
Key specs – Sensor: 20.3 megapixel, 1/2.3in; Lens: 60x zoom lens with 24-1,440mm equivalent zoom length; Stabilisation: Optical IS; Still formats supported: JPEG, RAW; ISO range: 125-3200; Shutter speed range: 1/4,000th – 25 seconds; Maximum continuous still shooting: 5fps up to 5 frames, 120fps at VGA resolution; Video formats: 4K at 30, 25fps, Full HD at 60, 50, 30, 25fps, HD at 60, 50, 30, 25fps; External microphone input: N; Rear monitor: 3in vari-angle, 921,000-pixel; EVF: 921,000-pixel; Connectivity: Micro-USB, 802.11gb Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1; Memory card: SD, SDHC, SDXC; Batteries: Rechargeable, proprietary lithium-ion; Battery life: 420 shots. Dimensions: 125 x 107 x 85mm (WDH); Weight: 570g
Nikon Coolpix B700: The best bridge camera for a massive zoom
Price: £370 | Buy now from Amazon
At a hair under £400, the Coolpix B700 has you spending the kind of money that will bag a reasonable DSLR, so it really needs to sing for its supper. And yodel it does, with its lens reaching the furthest of any here – from 24mm at the wide-angle to a whopping 1,440mm at its long end. In keeping with its DSLR-challenger price, you get plenty of buttons, as well as a useful jogwheel on the back that allows you to make quick, fine-grained changes to exposure. A pair of Fn buttons lets you set the camera up as you want. The 3in vari-angle screen on the back is bolstered by a small, 921,000-pixel EVF. The view through the EVF could be sharper, but it allows you to hold the camera more steadily when shooting at the long end of that extraordinary lens.
Performance is good all-round. The camera’s maximum ISO is 3200, at which images don’t exactly look their best, but keep the ISO under control and you’ll see plenty of detail and, befitting Nikon’s reputation, excellent colour reproduction. Battery life is good too, at 420 shots.
The Coolpix B700 might also be the cheapest way into reasonable quality 4K video, with Ultra HD available at both 30 and 25fps. Those willing to switch resolution down to Full HD will find frame rates of up to 60fps, allowing plenty of fine-grained motion control. The only video-related drawback is the lack of an external microphone input, forcing users to either use the onboard stereo microphone – at the risk of picking up loud handling noises – or a fully external recording device.
Key specs – Sensor: 20.3−megapixel, 1/2.3in; Lens: 60x zoom lens with 24-1,440mm equivalent zoom length; Stabilisation: Optical IS; Still formats supported: JPEG, RAW; ISO range: 125-3200; Shutter speed range: 1/4,000th – 25 seconds; Maximum continuous still shooting: 5fps up to 5 frames, 120fps at VGA resolution; Video formats: 4K at 30, 25fps, Full HD at 60, 50, 30, 25fps, HD at 60, 50, 30, 25fps; External microphone input: N; Rear monitor: 3in vari-angle, 921,000-pixel; EVF: 921,000-pixel; Connectivity: Micro-USB, 802.11gb Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1; Memory card: SD, SDHC, SDXC; Batteries: Rechargeable, proprietary lithium-ion; Battery life: 420 shots. Dimensions: 125 x 107 x 85mm (WDH); Weight: 570g
Panasonic Lumix FZ2000: The best bridge camera for great stills and 4K video
Price: £879 | Buy now from Amazon
If the Nikon Coolpix B700 is crowding the entry-level DSLR market at around £400, then the Panasonic FZ2000 is going up against the mid-range. At nearly £900 photographers will need a very good reason to opt for this versus a decent DSLR.
It feels the part – built from quality materials and weighing in at just shy of a kilogram, the FZ2000 feels like a bridge camera capable of putting in some reliable miles. It’s positively festooned with buttons and controls for more advanced photographers, and the presence of no fewer than seven re-assignable Fn buttons lets you set the camera up exactly how you like. Its EVF is also a cut above the rest – the pixel count of 2,360,000 gives it more than twice the resolution of most other bridge cameras.
Yet there are other reasons why the FZ2000 justifies its price. Chief among them is its sensor – the 20.1-megapixel number behind the lens measures an inch diagonally, far bigger than the compact-camera class sensors in every cheaper camera here. That means more light gathered per shot, and better images at higher ISOs. In practice we found the lens to be a little soft when zoomed in, though noise at higher ISOs was acceptable. On these fronts, the FZ2000 is better – and considerably so – than smaller sensor bridge cameras, if still not as good as comparably priced mirrorless or DSLR cameras. However, on another front the FZ2000 can do better. Sports and wildlife photographers will definitely appreciate its maximum continuous shooting speed of up to a professional 12fps – much faster than DSLRs at this price.
Most importantly, no mirrorless or DSLR camera offers the same range of focal length as the FZ2000. Equivalent to 24-480mm in 35mm terms, the FZ2000 offers a true telephoto lens at one end and a proper wide-angle at the other, allowing a huge amount of compositional flexibility without switching lenses.
Its video mode is also a huge plus. It’s not the only camera here to shoot 4K; but it is the only one to shoot Cinema 4K, giving you smooth, movie-like motion, albeit with the same slight softness we saw in our still tests. The FZ2000’s video credentials are further boosted by its integrated Neutral Density (ND) filter. This allows you to adjust the exposure of your video without needing to change shutter speed, allowing you to keep motion handling consistent without over-exposing in bright conditions. It’s a pro-level feature that filmmakers will love.
With its relatively short lens and small sensor size, the FZ2000 doesn’t offer a vast amount more than a basic DSLR with a cheap and cheerful telephoto zoom for the money – but its flexibility when it comes to film-making, as well as its turbocharged continuous mode – are what make it worth the asking price. Read our full review for more details
Key specs – Sensor: 20.1 megapixel, 1in; Lens: 20x zoom lens with 24-480mm equivalent zoom length; Stabilisation: Optical IS; Still formats supported: JPEG, RAW; ISO range: 80-25,600; Shutter speed range: 1/4,000th – 60 seconds plus bulb. Electronic shutter: 1/16,000th – 1 second; Maximum continuous still shooting: 12fps up 30 frames; Video formats: C4K at 24fps; 4K at 29.97, 25, 24, 23.98fps, Full HD at 59.94, 50, 29.97, 25, 24, 23.98, HD at 29.97, 25fps; External microphone input: Y; Rear monitor: 3in vari-angle, 1,040,000-pixel; EVF: 2,360,000-pixel; Connectivity: Micro-USB, 802.11bgn Wi-Fi; Memory card: SD, SDHC, SDXC; Batteries: Proprietary lithium-ion; Battery life: 250 shots (rear monitor), 270 shots (EVF). Dimensions: 138 x 135 x 101mm (WDH); Weight: 966g
Sony RX10 IV: The ultimate bridge camera
Price: £1,799 | Buy now from Amazon
There’s a lot to love about the RX10 IV, but then there should be, given its nearly two-grand price. The fact that its a cut above the average bridge camera is made obvious the second you take it out of its box – it weighs more than any other bridge camera here, and packs in not just a vari-angle LCD and a 2,359,296-pixel EVF, but also has a dedicated LCD display on its right shoulder to display current shooting information. Some mid-range DSLRs omit this, so it’s a sign of the Sony’s pro-aspirations that it offers such a useful tool. It also means you don’t need to constantly keep its full colour screens on just to set up a shot, which is part of the reason it offers a very reasonable 400 frames between charges.
Part of the RX10 IV’s heavyweight status is the materials it’s built from – dust and weather-sealed magnesium alloy make this an extremely tough-feeling piece of kit.
Performance is the name of the game. Shoot stills and the RX10 IV will fire 24fps which, in concert with its long 24-600mm lens allows you to shoot very nearly any subject you please from landscapes to distant wildlife. Autofocus is blazingly fast – the RX10 IV offers the same autofocus engine as Sony’s Alpha A9 DSLR, and similarly effective autofocus tracking of extraordinary accuracy for any camera, much less a bridge.
Like the cheaper Panasonic FZ2000, the RX10 IV has a 1in-type sensor, so you can expect image quality to be a cut above the competition. It’s part of the reason the RX10 IV’s ISO sensitivity runs to a whopping 12,800.
Video is also a priority. 4K is offered at a useful variety of frame rates, while Full HD is offered at the same frame rates plus motion-friendly 60fps and slow-motion friendly 120fps.
As seems fair to expect from the price, the RX10 IV more or less rules the roost in terms of bridge cameras – there simply isn’t anything that competes. At this price you’re in the same bracket as many prosumer DSLRs, though, so it’s worth thinking about the flexibility of an interchangeable lens system. But for the combination of telephoto reach, video-making prowess, straightforward performance and handling, the RX10 IV fully justifies its price.
Key specs – Sensor: 20.1 megapixel, 1in; Lens: 25x zoom lens with 24-600mm equivalent zoom length; Stabilisation: Optical IS; Still formats supported: JPEG, RAW; ISO range: 100-12,800; Shutter speed range: 1/2,000th – 30 seconds plus bulb. Electronic shutter: 1/32,000th – 30 seconds; Maximum continuous still shooting: 24fps; Video formats: 4K at 30, 25, 24fps; Full HD at 120, 60, 30, 24fps; External microphone input: Y; Rear monitor: 3in vari-angle, 1,440,000-pixel; EVF: 2,359,296-pixel; Connectivity: Micro-USB, 802.11bgn, NFC, Bluetooth 4.1; Memory card slot: Memory Stick Duo, PRO Duo, PRO Duo High Speed, PROHG, SD, SDHC, SDXC; Battery type: Rechargeable, proprietary lithium-ion; Battery life: 400 shots (rear monitor), 370 shots (EVF). Dimensions: 133 x 145 x 94mm (WDH); Weight: 1,095g.