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Bridge cameras are compact cameras with SLR-like styling and extra-long zoom lenses and they are the great survivors of the camera world. Back in the noughties they proved very popular with enthusiast photographers, and while many predicted they would be wiped out by the rise of affordable DSLRs (especially budget ones) and compact system cameras, this hasn’t happened.
Actually it’s not that hard to figure out why. Not everyone wants the relative bulk, faff and expense of an DSLR and a big bag of lenses, so it’s the combination of power and portability, at an affordable price, that explains the enduring appeal of bridge compact cameras.
The best examples now offer DSLR-like levels of control and fast, wide-aperture lenses, along with raw shooting and other useful extras such as Wi-Fi and articulated screens. Bridge compact makers have been working hard to keep these cameras fresh and appealing to serious photographers, so read on to discover the best buys.
Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
Sensor size: CMOS, 1-inch | Pixel count: 20.1 | Screen type: 3-inch, 921,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 12fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p (4k supported too)
The Panasonic FZ1000 is the brand’s flagship bridge camera, packing a 16x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 25-400mm) and a large, 1-inch sensor with 20.1 megapixels. Most bridge cameras have small 1/2.3-inch sensors, so this gives the FZ1000 a serious quality advantage. It can also capture raw files as well as JPEGs.
This is not just any old lens either, being Leica DC Vario-Elmarit glass with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the widest point and f/4 at the narrowest. It’s a relatively short zoom range compared to other bridge cameras, but for quality-conscious photographers the larger sensor will more than make up for that. There is also a Hybrid 5-axis Optical Image Stabilisation to reduce the risk of camera shake when the lens is zoomed out.
The image processor is the updated Venus Engine that, according to Panasonic, will offer improved resolution, gradation, colour reproduction and noise control. What’s more, the FZ1000 is the first compact or bridge camera able to record 4K (3840 x 2160 pixel) video at up to 25fps (PAL) in MP4 format. So, you can enjoy 8Mp still images on 4K televisions. Up to 49 AF points are available and a Custom Multi AF mode enables you to use blocks, rows or columns of AF points.
The Panasonic FZ1000 has a 2,359,000-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, and vari-angle rear LCD – but it’s not touchscreen. You can’t shoot raw in HDR mode and the camera is a bit bulky, but otherwise it’s a very good buy.
Read our full Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 review
Sony Cyber-shot RX10
Sensor size: CMOS, 1-inch | Pixel count: 20.2 | Screen type: 3-inch LCD, 1,290,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 10fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p
This is another classy bridge compact, and like the Panasonic FZ1000 it has a relatively large (1-inch) 20.2 megapixel sensor. The zoom range is restricted to 8.3x, but it does have a constant wide aperture of f/2.8. Being able to access such a wide aperture is very useful in low light or for reducing depth of field for creative effect (especially when combined with that relatively large sensor).
Indeed, the sensor is the same as the chip inside the well-regarded Sony RX100 II premium compact, and if that wasn’t tempting enough, Sony claims the redesigned Bionz X image processor will be three times faster than its predecessor. There is manual control and raw shooting too. The Sony RX10 uses a 1.4 million dot electronic viewfinder, which is a very decent resolution, and there is also a rear-tilting screen to aid composition. Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity comes as standard, and you also get a hotshoe for adding an external flash unit.
The RX10 is a very fine bridge compact indeed, especially now the price has dropped significantly since launch. While sceptics may argue that you can buy a decent SLR for the same money, and you can certainly get a bridge camera with a longer lens, this Sony is an appealing marriage of power and convenience.
Read our full Sony RX10 review
Canon PowerShot SX60 HS
Sensor size: Backside-illuminated CMOS, 1/2.3-inch | Pixel count: 16.1Mp | Screen type: 3-inch, 922,000 dots, vari-angle | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 6.4fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p
The headline feature of this camera is its gigantic 65x zoom range. The lens on the SX60 can go from 21 to 1365mm equivalent, making it the perfect one-size-fits-all camera for a holiday or to carry with you.
Coupled with this is Canon’s latest processor, the Digic 6, a face detection and tracking AF system, and manual settings with raw image capture. It’s a tempting proposition.
The camera body is shaped very much like a DSLR, complete with a deep hand grip for you to get your fingers round. This will help keep the camera steady when at the far end of that titanic zoom, and the optical image stablilisation system will smooth out any wobbles too.
Wi-Fi and NFC are both built in, and there’s a hot shoe ready to attach a flash if the internal unit isn’t providing enough illumination. Video users can attach an external microphone too.
Read our full Canon PowerShot SX50 HS review
Panasonic Lumix FZ200
Sensor size: CMOS, 1/2.3-inch | Pixel count: 12.1Mp | Screen type: 3-inch, 460,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 12fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p
This Panasonic’s lens may not reach as far as the glass inside the Canon PowerShot SX65 HS, but this is still a very appealing bridge camera in its own right. Key specifications include a 12Mp CMOS sensor and a 24x zoom lens with a constant maximum aperture of f/2.8, which is really impressive for a lens with a 24x optical zoom range. This makes it great for working in low light and getting creative with background blur.
The lens length is equivalent to 25-600mm, which is very handy for travel photography, when you really appreciate a convenient, do-it-all camera. While being easy to use, the Panasonic Lumix FZ200 will definitely appeal to more experienced photographers, as there are lot of direct controls on the body, plus the ability to shoot in raw. The build quality and ergonomics are great. There is also a fully articulated rear LCD, though it can feel a bit stiff and unwieldy.
There are a few more downsides, too; the metering system seemed to veer towards the mid-tone, sometimes resulting in rather flat images, and luminance noise was noticeable, even at lower ISOs. Still, this is another great buy now prices have fallen, though the Panasonic is facing some tough competition from Sony and Canon.
Read our full Panasonic Lumix FZ200 review
Sony Cyber-shot HX400V
Sensor size: CMOS, 1/2.3-inch | Pixel count: 20.4Mp | Screen type: 3-inch, 921,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 10fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p
Prospective bridge camera owners really are spoilt for choice at the moment, as this relatively large Sony is another tempting buy. As with the Canon PowerShot SX65 HS, the big selling point is the whopping 50x zoom length of its lens, which is equivalent to 24-1200mm in 35mm terms. Just as impressive is the maximum wide aperture of f/2.8, though this drops to f/6.3 at maximum zoom.
The Sony Cyber-shot HX400V has some impressive tech lurking inside, sharing the same Bionz X processor as the full-frame Sony A7 and Sony A7R cameras. This processor promises to reduce start-up time and autofocus performance, while limiting noise at higher ISOs. Sensor-wise, we are talking a 20.4Mp backlit Exmor R CMOS sensor, which again will boost low-light performance (native ISO goes up to 3200 and can be expanded to 12,800). The electronic viewfinder is bright and nice to use and the rear screen, while not touchscreen, is tiltable to aid composition.
Given all this finery, it’s a real let down that you can’t shoot in raw, which will instantly limit the Sony’s appeal for hard-core enthusiasts. If you are happy with high-quality JPEGs, however, then go for it.
Read our full Sony HX400V review