Bridge cameras fill that gap between slim, auto-everything compacts and bulky, complex DSLRs. Also known as ‘super-zooms’, they tend to come with integrated (i.e. non-detachable) zoom lenses that go from mega-wide to ultra-long. However, while manufacturers are increasingly designing Bridge cameras with larger sensors, when it comes to image quality they still can’t really compete with anything but the very lowest of entry-level DSLRs.
Nonetheless, Bridge cameras offer a unique combination of features that cannot be found elsewhere. Indeed, depending on your requirements, a Bridge camera may even offer the best value for money. Here we give a run down of the top five Bridge camera models currently available.
Best Bridge Camera Under £200 : The Nikon Coolpix L340
Before we dive into the 5 bridge cameras that topped our 2017 list, we’ll quickly give a shout to the Nikon Coolpix L340. Technically this is an older model, but you can still pick one up in a couple of places online.
And because it’s a little older, you’ll get a seriously good deal for a lot of camera. It’s by far the cheapest, quality bridge camera around, and the specs stand up pretty well. With 20MP, HD video shooting (720p) and a 28x optical zoom lens you can get a great little camera for starting out in photography for not a lot of money. Plus, it’s a Nikon. What’s not to like?!
So if you’re looking for a budget bridge camera, grab a Coolpix L340 before they run out!
Now let’s reveal the 5 best bridge cameras in 2017. We’ll dive a little deeper into each of these.
Best DSLR Alternative: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000
Panasonic’s top of the range offering in the Bridge format could just be close enough to an entry-level DSLR in image quality and features to persuade you not to go that route.
Panasonic’s top of the range offering in the Bridge format could just be close enough to an entry-level DSLR in image quality and features to persuade you not to go that route. Yes, there are even smaller, lighter, more convenient cameras than this, but they also come with plenty of compromises. The DMC-FZ1000 might just offer the best of both worlds.
The FZ1000 features a 25-400mm zoom. Lens aperture varies as you zoom through the focal range, so the stated maximum aperture of f/2.8 is only achievable when zoomed to the widest setting. While this is pretty standard – especially with regards to this format of camera – there are other Bridge models out there that do not suffer from such a problem, so if you really can’t live with this restriction then you might want to move on to explore some of the alternative options below. Invariably though, the removal of this restriction will entail compromises in other departments.
The FZ1000’s video quality is excellent. Indeed, it was the first Bridge camera able to capture at a resolution of up to 4K. Whether you’ve got a monitor that’s sufficiently specced to appreciate the difference in quality that shooting 4K video brings is another matter entirely, but nonetheless the extra resolution is there for you should you ever need it.
There’s an external microphone jack for when the onboard mic proves insufficient. However there’s no headphone monitor plug unfortunately.
While we’re starting to see 1-inch-sized sensors on Bridge cameras more and more frequently of late, the 20-megapixel-producing sensor in this Panasonic is better than most and the FZ100 produces sharp images through the ISO range up until 800 – beyond which things start to become a little hazy (at least when examined up close). The camera will capture simultaneously in JPEG and RAW formats.
It’s also worth noting that, as the FZ1000 shoots video at 4K, you can easily extract pretty decent looking and reasonably-sized (8MB) stills from a move sequence. This can come in pretty hand in cases where you don’t want to risk missing an action shot but can’t totally trust your trigger finger to deliver on the instant.
The viewfinder is electronic, rather than optical. Purists might view this as a handicap, as it means you’re not shooting in ‘direct’ contact with the subject. Others will argue that it’s actually a plus because what you see is precisely what you’re capturing to disk. Likewise, some people may find the plastic body a little on the cheap side, others will love how lightweight this makes the camera. There’s clearly no pleasing everyone.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ1000 Price Comparison
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Best Bridge Camera Under £300: Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200
Very cheap, when compared with the other models we recommend here.
We should start by saying that the DMC-FZ200 is by now quite an old camera and has in fact already been superseded by the FZ300. Why do we review the FZ200 here, then, rather than it’s more modern sibling? Quite simply because it’s still a great camera that will give more recent releases a run for their money.
Oh, and because it can now be picked up for cheap. Very cheap, when compared with the other models we recommend here.
The FZ200 comes with a 25-600mm zoom lens that maintains a constant aperture of f/2.8 throughout the entire focal-range. On this front, then, the FZ200 is actually far superior to it’s newer, more expensive cousin, the FZ1000, that only offers a 2.8 aperture at its widest zoom setting. The lens barrel itself features controls to switch between auto and manual focus settings, and a second, zoom control that is somewhat smoother than the one on the camera body.
The FZ200 is capable of capturing 1080p HD movies at up to 60 fps. In good lighting these are of surprisingly high quality. However, be warned that although the lens can be zoomed while capturing video, both zoom and lens motors are somewhat noisy and will likely interfere with recordings made in quieter situations.
Well of course, there had to be a reason why this camera is now so much cheaper than other similiar Panasonic offerings, and clearly one of them is the fact that the FZ200 only produces 12-megapixel files on a 1/2.3-inch sensor. What this means is that, up close, and even at 100 ISO, you’re likely to see the kind of noise that with files shot on the FZ1000 or a similar camera would only start to become apparent at higher ISO settings.
So, how do the FZ1000 and FZ200 compare? Well, the FZ1000 wont allow you to shoot wide-open at longer zoom settings – likely necessitating an increase in ISO (and consequently noise) in order to counterbalance the loss of light. The result being that images shot hand-held, on a long focal length, in low lighting conditions will be somewhat noisy. Meanwhile, the FZ200 will permit shooting at f/2.8 even zoomed in to 600mm – allowing for a lower ISO to be selected – but will probably show just as much noise as the FZ1000 set on a higher ISO, due to the inferior sensor.
In short, if you’ll frequently be shooting hand-held, on a long focal length, in low lighting conditions, then there’s probably little difference between the final results to be attained by either of these two Panasonics. In all other conditions (i.e. even shooting on a tripod in low lighting conditions) the FZ1000’s image quality is going to be far superior to that of the FZ200. But then again, at several times the price of the FZ200, this is precisely what one would expect.
We need to be perfectly clear, then, that this is a small-sensor camera that produces only passable quality photographs at higher ISO settings. Having said this, images shot on the FZ200 using a low ISO aren’t half bad at all, and if you don’t need enormous files that will stand up to close scrutiny by pixel-picking pedants, this camera has plenty else to offer.
There are different burst-shooting rates depending on the quality of files the FZ200 produces and whether autofocus continuously adjusts as you shoot or just locks to the first setting and stays there while capturing subsequent frames. With focus continuously active and shooting in RAW format, the fastest the camera can manage is 5.5 fps (comparable to most entry-level DSLRs). However, if you’re happy to trade in image quality for speed, the FZ200 can capture at rates up to 60 fps at lower resolutions (that may seem like an astonishing rate, but bare in mind that in effect it’s just like shooting video).
Shooting modes include aperture and shutter priority modes, alongside manual, so you won’t be held back in this department at all. The FZ200’s viewfinder is electronic (although of superior quality to most) and the LCD flips out, however there is no automatic sensor when switching between EVF and LCD (selection is made manually by means of a dedicated button). As with the FZ1000, build-quality is somewhat plasticy. One other irritation is that access to the battery/card-slot is blocked when the camera is sitting on a tripod.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 Price Comparison
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Best Canon Bridge Camera: Canon Powershot SX60 HS
This is a good all-round camera that manages to strike a pretty convincing balance between long-zoom, reasonable image-quality, decent image-stabilisation and passable video capture.
This is a good all-round camera that manages to strike a pretty convincing balance between long-zoom, reasonable image-quality, decent image-stabilisation and passable video capture. Of course, it by no means excels at any of these features, but nonetheless does a respectable job on all fronts.
The SX60 HS comes with a 21-1,365mm zoom lens. While that’s a lot of zoom, it’s still not the widest range of focal-length available on a bridge camera (but seriously, other than nature photographers and sweaty-palmed men in raincoats, who really needs such a long lens?). With a widest aperture of f/3.4, going down to 6.5 at longer focal lengths, this is clearly not the fastest lens around either.
The SX60’s lens features Zoom Framing Assist, a feature that permits you to briefly zoom back out in order to recompose on a subject who might have wandered out of frame, before the lens quickly resets itself to the same focal-length you were at previously – whereupon you can continue shooting. Meanwhile, Framing Assist offers an extra degree of image stabilisation whilst zoomed in to longer focal lengths, allowing for greater ease in composing. Dedicated buttons for both of these features are located on the lens barrel itself.
The SX60 HS captures 1080p video at up to 60 frames per second. Although there’s some noticeable trailing and jerkiness when panning or capturing fast-moving subjects, video quality is pretty good and will even stand up to viewing on an HD monitor (as long as you don’t look too closely). Zooming while recording is fairly slow, however it’s also pretty silent, so will likely not be detected by the camera’s onboard mics unless you’re shooting in a sensory deprivation tank or somewhere similarly silent. In any case, there are external microphone and headphone jacks, should the desire to do so ever arise.
In upgrading from the SX50 HS to the SX60 HS an extra 4 megapixels of resolution were added to the SX-series’ arsenal, giving it a respectable 16 megapixels. it’s still only a 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor under the hood, so unlikely to give Panasonic’s FZ1000 or other 1-inch-sensor models much to worry about on the resolution front, however the SX60 HS’s image processor has been much improved for better performance in low-light. Capture is possible in both JPEG and RAW formats (or indeed both at the same time).
All the usual shooting modes are covered, from auto-everything through to full-manual. High-resolution burst-shooting rates vary from 3.4 fps with continuous focusing up to 6.4 fps with the focus locked to the position of the first frame.
Unlike some of the other recommendations under review here, the SX60 HS features internal Wi-Fi, so if this is of major importance to you then Canon’s offering definitely has an edge here.
The SX60 features an electronic viewfinder and a high-resolution, articulating LCD. Sadly, not only is there no sensor to automatically detect which of the two you are using at any one time, but the button that toggles between the two settings is not dedicated to this usage and involves scrolling through a number of options just to make this simple selection. This may not sound like such a big deal, but in practice can be very frustrating when shooting. Although it should be noted that, when folding the LCD back in, the camera will automatically switch to EVF mode, so this serves as a kind of work-around.
Canon SX60 Price Comparison
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Best For Image Quality: Sony RX10 II
Image quality is really the RX10 II’s selling point, and if this is also a priority for you then you might just have found the perfect match.
This isn’t the cheapest Bridge camera out there, and nor does it offer anywhere near as great a zoom range as many of its competitors, however image quality is really the RX10 II’s selling point, and if this is also a priority for you then you might just have found the perfect match. However, as bridge cameras go, it’s not particular slim, and its lens is pretty bulky, so if you think you can live with a camera the size of the RX10 II then might I suggest you also give an entry-level DSLR serious consideration too: it’s that big!
Lets be honest now, when compared to other Bridge cameras, the RX10 II is so seriously under-endowed that it likely feels uncomfortable using public bathrooms. However, as is well know, those with plenty to show can’t always be relied upon to perform, and not only does a compromise on zoom length invariably translate into greater image quality, but the RX10 II’s 24-200mm lens also has the advantage of retaining the same maximum aperture of f/2.8 throughout its entire focal-range. Size isn’t everything, and despite its diminutive stature this is undoubtedly a good lens.
At full HD and 4K, the RX10 II’s video quality is excellent. The camera’s DRAM chip and Bionz X processor combine to make for an ultra-fast shooting experience, allowing for 40x super slow-mo capture. Video quality is further improved by a new design of anti-distortion electronic shutter that is intended to avoid creating those bizarre stroboscopic video effects – such as very fast moving objects appearing frozen – that can occur with rolling shutter. Although it should be said that on this latter front Sony hasn’t been entirely successful, as some odd artifacts are still sometimes noticeable when panning quickly.
As noted, smaller zooms usually produce sharper images. Furthermore, in the case of Bridge cameras, they also permit the manufacturer to cram in a larger sensor. So, as far as image quality goes, the RX10 II is definitely a contender for the top spot within its category. Not only is there a 1-inch, 20.2 megapixel sensor, but this the first camera to feature the new Sony Exmor RS stacked sensor design.
All of this translates into very sharp images (although lets not get too carried away: this is still a Bridge camera, not a full-frame DLSR), especially when shooting RAW format. Conversely, there appears to be a fair amount of noise reduction being added to JPEGs on the RX10 II – resulting in cleaner but ultimately softer photos. Resolution is very close that of Panasonic’s FZ1000 (above) and although it can’t quite match the Panasonic on dynamic range, the RX10 II is close to that of Canon’s G3 X (below). However both the Panasonic and the Canon somewhat outperform Sony’s offering when it comes to noise levels.
The RX10 II’s LCD screen isn’t touch-sensitive and nor is it fully articulating, however it does at least fold out (either up or down). The viewfinder is very clear and bright, and thankfully Sony have included a sensor that knows when you switch between EVF and LCD. It’s also possible to customise the RX10 II’s controls a fair amount, making it a very user friendly piece of kit. Additionally, the RX10 II’s burst-rate is a very impressive 14 fps.
The RX10 II’s main competitors are really Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FZ1000 and Canon’s G3 X. Each of these cameras offers a similiar level of resolution, however they both considerably outdo Sony’s offering with regards to zoom-length.
Sony RX10 II Price Comparison
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Best Superzoom Bridge Camera: Canon G3 X
When it comes to striking a balance between zoom-length and image-quality you will not find better than this.
If the (relatively) short lens of Sony’s RX10 II (above) turns you off, yet you’re determined to get the best possible image quality out of your Bridge camera, then the Canon G3 X makes for a serious competitor. Panasonic’s FZ1000 perhaps beats it on resolution, but it too comes with a much shorter lens. So although some people may not be enamored of the G3 X’s boxy, functional design (and of course others may equally love it), when it comes to striking a balance between zoom-length and image-quality you will not find better than this. The only real let down is video functionality.
Of the three large-sensored Bridge models we look at here, at 24-600mm the Canon offers the longest focal length. Unfortunately, though, maximum aperture is not constant, but instead the lens gets progressively slower as you zoom through this range: starting from f/2.8 at the widest focal-length; f/4 at 50mm; f/5 85mm; and shutting down to f/5.6 at 200mm. Image sharpness remains surprisingly good throughout this entire range though and the only slight annoyance we encountered was in trying to make minor adjustments to the focal length, as the lens tends to jump a little too far each time.
Focusing is generally fast and smooth however – at least with slow moving targets under good lighting conditions – and, rather cleverly, various different parameters can be assigned to the G3 X’s focus ring. So, for example, when using autofocus, the ring can be set to instead control aperture. Of course, there are no click-stops, but the selected aperture can be clearly viewed on the LCD. Similiar to the Canon above, the G3 X also offers a framing-assist function.
Although sadly the G3 X lacks the 4K functionality offered by some of its competitors, it captures full HD video at up to 60fps. Unfortunately though, whereas the G3 X’s lens performs admirably when capturing one-shot stills, it doesn’t deal with continuous shooting too well – which of course it makes it less than ideal for movie usage. This means that although the G3 X’s video capabilities are by no means substandard, if video is your number one priority you’ll probably want to look elsewhere (such as to the Panasonic DMC-FZ1000 or Sony RX10 II, above).
The G3 X comes with a one-inch 20-megapixel sensor and exhibits an impressive dynamic range. It also performs well at high ISOs, thanks to its state-of-the-art DIGIC 6 processor. Indeed, when shooting in RAW format, images are noise-free up to and including ISO 800 and remain sharp well beyond this setting – even if noise does then start to become apparent.
The camera also offers top-notch, five-axis image stabilisation that really makes a difference when shooting at the zoom’s full extent. Capture is possible in both JPEG and RAW formats – either separately or simultaneously.
Shooting modes include Manual, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, Program and several auto, scene and special effects modes. Burst-rate is 6 fps.
Build-wise, this is a brick-like, sturdily-made camera that inspires a whole lot more confidence than any of the other models we’ve considered here. It also offers a degree of weatherproofing not normally found on cameras of this ilk. So although we haven’t had the opportunity to test the G3 X in the field over any considerable period of time, it clearly stands out as likely being the more durable of the five.
Whereas some might fret about the tendency of Bridge cameras to offer electronic viewfinders over optical ones, with the G3 X this isn’t even an issue, as there’s no viewfinder at all (although you can buy one separately and attach it via the hotshoe). Instead the G3 X boasts a pretty large (3.2-inch) high-resolution touch-screen. However, rather than allowing for vari-angle positioning, the LCD will only tilt in one direction. Finally, the G3 offers integrated Wi-Fi.
Canon G3 X Price Comparison
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Panasonic’s FZ200 offers a much cheaper way into the Bridge format than any of the other cameras we’ve looked at here, but with inevitable compromise on several fronts. Meanwhile, the Canon Powershot SX60 HS offers a good all-round shooter that will satisfy the needs of most enthusiasts. However, those looking for maximum image quality from a Bridge camera would be advised to go with either Sony’s RX10 II, Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FZ1000 or Canon’s G3 X (in no particular order). Precisely which one of the three you go for will largely come down to your own particular needs and, of course, current pricing.
However, having examined the best options currently available within the Bridge format, I feel it only right that I make clear my reservations about the format in general. Personally I think that a Bridge camera only becomes a serious option if you are looking for a long lens in a compact body that produces reasonable resolution photos for moderate outlay. If you can strike even one of these requisites off your list then you should probably be looking elsewhere, as there are definitely better and longer lenses; smaller and lighter bodies; cheaper formats; and cameras capable of producing higher quality images. On the other hand, as no other format offers all of these things in one single camera, Bridge cameras clearly have their place in the market.
However, as soon as you decide, for example, that an outrageously wide and long zoom lens isn’t actually going to be all that important for you in the end: well, forget the Bridge camera. Or, just as equally, if you really do need such a wide-range of focal-lengths but also require maximum image quality and are willing to pay for it (and pay heavily, as you’d need to buy several lenses, not just one, in order to cover such a zoom range on a DSLR), then don’t waste your time with these jacks-of-all-trades (and masters-of-none).
The bottom line is that images shot on a Bridge camera will not stand up to anywhere near the same degree of zooming, enlargement or cropping as will those produced using a DSLR. Nor will a Bridge camera offer anything close to the lightweight mobility of a compact camera. It will, however, provide you with way more zoom to swing than any other format can.
If you’re still unsure as to whether a Bridge camera is really for you then check out our Bridge vs DSLR comparison guide.