My first camera was a bridge camera: the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX200V. I bought it for my very first African safari in 2013. It was much cheaper than a DSLR and the best bridge camera on the market. It had the highest-resolution sensor (18 MP) and one of the most powerful zoom lenses (27-810 mm).
Perhaps I should’ve bitten the bullet and bought a DSLR immediately, but that would’ve been a costly bet! There’s no such thing as the perfect camera, and everyone has different needs. Price is important, and not everyone wants to be a wildlife or sports photographer. Not everyone needs a DSLR when a superzoom will do.
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What is a Bridge Camera?
Bridge cameras (or “superzooms”) “bridge the gap” between compact cameras and DSLRs (or mirrorless cameras). And that was what I was trying to do. Having said that, I felt so much camera envy when I saw a Nikon DSLR that belonged to one of the other guests at a safari. I went and bought a Nikon D850 as soon as I got home!
But the point about bridge cameras is that they occupy a particular niche. They offer good value and an exceptional zoom range. They’re bulkier than compacts. And can’t match the image quality or low-light performance of APS-C or full frame cameras because of their smaller sensors.
But bridge cameras are perfect for those on a budget who want a powerful zoom but don’t want to carry a heavy bag full of lenses around!
The 11 Best Bridge Cameras
I’ve divided up this list into two categories of bridge cameras:
- Small sensor superzoom cameras with 1 / 2.3-inch sensors (6.17 x 4.55 mm)
- Large sensor superzoom cameras with 1-inch sensors (13.2 x 8.8 mm)
Go to our buying guide at the end of the article to learn the difference between these sensor sizes. Otherwise, let’s see if we can find the best bridge camera for you!
Best Bridge Cameras: Small Sensor
The advantage of having a smaller sensor is that the camera can be smaller and, therefore, cheaper. You can carry most of these bridge camera models in a pocket or a purse, and they won’t break the bank!
Best Budget Bridge Camera
This is the best option if you’re looking for the best budget bridge camera. Nikon has discontinued the B600 and B700. But the B500 has the same 16 MP sensor.
II only has a 22.5-900 mm f/3-6.5 lens, which means you’ll miss out on the 1440 mm maximum focal length of the other two. But a 40x zoom range is still pretty good. Plus, the B500’s list of features means it offers excellent value.
On the other hand, it doesn’t support RAW files and you can’t shoot 4K video. Plus, there’s no electronic viewfinder (EVF), and the image quality is no better than you’d expect at this bargain bridge camera price.
The Sony DSC-HX99 replaces the Sony HX90V. It’s the smallest camera on the market to feature a 30x zoom range (24-720 mm). It has all the bells and whistles you might want. It features an 18 MP sensor, 10 fps continuous shooting, and Optical SteadyShot image stabilization.
It also offers 4K 25p video recording, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, NFC connectivity, a pop-up flash, and a 3-inch, 180-degree flip-up touch screen. Finally, you can easily customize the menu options with the Custom and Function (Fn) buttons to access advanced settings.
On the other hand, there’s no dedicated Exposure Compensation dial, built-in GPS, or hot shoe mount. And the rear buttons are small and fiddly. The touch screen functionality is also limited, and you have to flick a release switch and pull the eyepiece towards your eye to activate the electronic viewfinder.
Finally, Eye AF doesn’t work with continuous autofocus (AF-C). And AF-C doesn’t work when taking pictures. That rules out any action photography!
The Panasonic Lumix DC-ZS80 (TZ95 outside the States) is an updated version of the ultra-compact TZ90. It offers good image quality and color rendition with a 4K Ultra HD / 30p video option. It has a 20.3 MP sensor and an f/3.4-6.4 Leica lens with a 30x zoom range (24-720 mm)
It comes with a range of valuable features and options:
- 10 fps in Autofocus Single (AF-S) mode
- Hybrid 5-axis image stabilization
- RAW recording
- 22 Creative Filters
- GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth
It also has a 3-inch, tilting touchscreen and 380-shot battery life. Along with Bluetooth, the main difference from the previous model is the higher resolution and magnification level of the EVF. Otherwise, the camera looks and operates the same way as the TZ90.
The only slight disappointment is the continuous shooting speed—only 5 fps.
The FZ300 is the update to the popular FZ200 and keeps the same 12 MP sensor and 25-600 mm (24x) f/2.8 lens—which is very fast for a superzoom. The resolution might seem low, but the advantage of limiting the megapixels is a marked reduction in image noise. Photo quality also doesn’t deteriorate much, even when fully zoomed in.
This version has some differences:
- A new image processor
- weather sealing
- 5-axis image stabilization
- A high-resolution EVF
- A tilting touchscreen
- Built-in Wi-Fi.
It also offers 4K video with a 4K Photo mode for grabbing 8 MP stills. The only difference between the European FZ330 and the American FZ300 is the video frame rates, which are 25/50 fps and 30/60 fps, respectively.
The Canon Powershot SX70 HS is a compact and affordable bridge camera. It features a 21-1365 mm (65x) zoom range, a 20.3 MP sensor, a 3-inch vari-angle screen, and simple menus and controls.
The image quality is pretty good, with an impressive dynamic range for a bridge camera. The autofocus system deals well with moving objects. And this Canon bridge camera also has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections.
But the f/3.4-6.5 lens doesn’t cope well in the dark. And the 10 fps maximum continuous shooting rate drops to 5.7 fps with continuous autofocus. There is also no built-in GPS, 4K video is only possible with a crop, and the screen isn’t touch-sensitive.
Best Value Bridge Camera
It has the same 1 cm shortest focus distance but a higher-resolution sensor (18.1 MP). It has a wider starting point to the zoom range (20 mm) if you’re shooting landscapes or indoors. And it also offers TouchPad AF and a Depth From Defocus system with rapid focusing speeds of 0.09 seconds!
It also offers 4K video with a Live Cropping mode that allows you to produce 20-second or 40-second Full HD / 1080p clips using pan and zoom. All you set is your start and end points using the rectangle that appears on the screen. The camera does the rest!
Another cool feature is the 4K Photo mode. Normally, the maximum frame rate is only 10 fps, but this lets you choose the best frame from a 4K video clip using the joystick or 4-way controller. The image will only be 8.3 MP, but that’s still enough to create an 11 x 8.3-inch print at 300 dpi.
Best Small Sensor Superzoom Cameras
The Nikon Coolpix P1000 and P950 take the idea of the superzoom to the very limit. You can take your pick when it comes to these two. If you just want a massive zoom range, then go for the P1000. But if that’s too bulky for you, the P950 still has a 24-2000mm optical zoom lens. With the 166x Dynamic Fine zoom, you can extend it digitally to 4000 mm!
Both cameras indeed lose sharpness when fully zoomed in. That’s partly because of the small sensors and the
But you get 16 MP RAW images with a frame rate of 7 fps (up to 10 frames), a 2.36M-dot EVF, a 1 cm focus distance for macro work, and the ability to shoot in 4K. And that’s not at all bad at this price!
Best Bridge Cameras: Large Sensor
If you’re looking for extra image quality or want to take pictures in low light, one of these models with the larger sensor might be more suitable. Yes, they’re generally bulkier and more expensive, but at least you can put one of your treasured pictures on the wall!
The G3 X has a relatively limited focal length range of 24-600 mm (25x). But the fast maximum aperture of f/2.8 helps create attractive bokeh. Canon designed its HS System to combine a high-sensitivity 20.2 MP sensor with a DIGIC 6 processor to improve image quality even in low light.
You also get RAW file support, built-in Wi-Fi with NFC, a touch screen, a flash hot shoe, microphone, and headphone jacks, and water and dust protection. But there is no built-in EVF, and the 5.9fps maximum continuous shooting rate is a little slow (with focus locked from the first frame). The highest video resolution is also 1080 60p rather than 4K.
This model might be for you if you’re not so worried about having a long focal length. True, the zoom range is only 25-400mm (16x). But the 20.1 MP sensor provides great RAW photos. And the fast aperture of f/2.8-4 helps in low-light situations.
It also comes with 5-axis Power OIS stabilization, Wi-Fi, and NFC, and it has a 3-inch vari-angle LCD screen. It’s capable of shooting 4K video, and there are three burst modes: 7 fps (continuous AF), 12 fps (single AF), and 30 fps (in 4K Photo mode).
Note that the Leica V-Lux 5 is a rebranded version of the FZ1000 II with slight aesthetic changes and a marginally different ISO range. But it retails at a higher price, so be warned!
The FZ2500 (or FZ2000 in Europe) is more expensive than the FZ1000 II. Yet it also offers a step up in performance. You get the same 20.1 MP sensor with RAW file capture but slightly more reach with the 24-480mm (20x) zoom. This comes at the cost of a slightly narrower aperture of f/2.8-4.5.
You also have a variable Neutral Density filter, effective subject tracking, touchscreen control, and an EVF with slightly higher magnification. The only problems are that it’s not weather-sealed, and JPEG images suffer from too much noise reduction and clipped highlights.
In terms of video, you get DCI 4K video (4096 x 2160 px / 60p) with various sound level settings and even a wind noise filter!
Best Overall Bridge Camera
If you’re looking for the best overall wildlife, sports, or action camera and have a little more money to spend, then you should consider the RX10 IV. The new version has a touch screen and a new 315-point phase-detection AF system. That halves the focus acquisition time and makes for excellent subject tracking. It’s also capable of shooting in RAW and taking 4K video clips (3840 x 2160px, 30p). You can capture 8MP stills from these, a feature similar to Panasonic’s 4K Photo Mode.
The 24-600 mm (25x) zoom range is not the biggest of these cameras. But the variable aperture of f/2.4-4 gives it the fastest lens, and the 24fps continuous shooting speed is the best in class!
Buying Guide: Best Superzoom Cameras
The fundamental trade-off in finding the best bridge camera is between zoom range and high-quality images. Yes, it’s great to have a fixed-lens bridge camera that does the job of a DSLR with two or three different lenses.
But you must ask yourself what you want to do with your photos. If you only want to publish them on Instagram, then sensor size is unimportant. But it might become an issue if you want to print them out.
Superzoom Sensor Area Sizes
To avoid confusion, let’s talk about their two sensor sizes:
- 1/2.3-inch sensors (6.17 x 4.55 mm)
- 1-inch sensors (13.2 x 8.8 mm)
They’re a bit confusing, aren’t they?! How can a fraction have 2.3 on the bottom? And why isn’t a 1-inch sensor 1-inch wide or long?
The answer is that those measurements refer to the external diameter of the cathode-ray tubes used in broadcast cameras. The “sensitive area” of the tube is usually around two-thirds of the diameter. That gives us the diagonal of the 1-inch sensor, which is 0.63 inches (15.9 mm)—or roughly two-thirds of an inch.
Technology has changed now. And what matters is the area size of the sensors. The greater the sensor area is, the greater its light-collecting power. That means better image quality, dynamic range, and low-light capability.
Comparing Sensor Sizes
A good way to look at bridge camera sensors is to compare them to full frame ones, which are 24 x 36 mm. But you might be in for a bit of a shock!
- A 1-inch sensor is only around one-eighth the size of a full frame sensor (116 mm² v 864 mm²).
- A 1/2.3-inch sensor is only around one-thirtieth the size (28mm² v 864mm²)!
The small sensor size might completely put you off bridge cameras—after all, what good is a VW Beetle compared to a Rolls-Royce?! But the zoom lens is the big selling point. As long as you do not intend to put your pictures up on the walls of a gallery, there’s still plenty to appreciate.
Most bridge cameras, for example, can shoot 4K video, and a couple of the Sony bridge cameras even offer eye detection. That’s not bad for the money.
If you’re looking for the best bridge camera, your first job is to decide how important image quality is to you. That’s largely dependent on sensor size. If you’re more worried about posting images to social media than printing them out, a small sensor superzoom camera with a massive zoom range will suit your needs perfectly. Try the Nikon Coolpix P1000 or P950.
On the other hand, if you want to make the most of a long zoom lens and prefer sharper images, try one of the Panasonic bridge cameras. The best superzoom camera may be the Sony RX10 IV if you don’t mind spending more.
At the end of the day, a bridge camera will probably be a staging point on the way to buying an interchangeable lens camera with an APS-C or full frame sensor. But there’s no better way to bring your subject closer than a superzoom. So make the most of it!
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