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The best bridge camera in 2021: ultra-zoom cameras for far off subjects

Included in this guide:

best bridge camera: panasonic fz2000
(Image credit: Panasonic)

The best bridge camera combines the portability and convenience of a compact camera with the zoom of a telephoto lens and the ergonomics of a DSLR. Bridge cameras look and feel pretty similar to a DSLR but with a fixed lens and usually a massive zoom range (sometimes up to 1200mm). These hybrid cameras are great for capturing wildlife, sports or even astrophotography and they won't cost you the earth.

Bridge cameras are known for their massive zoom range. They're able to capture anything from a wide-angle landscape shot to a detailed shot of a bird in the distance. These versatile cameras are so popular as they are pretty lightweight for the amount they can zoom so can easily capture faraway subjects such as elephants on Safari or even the moon. There are some drawbacks to bridge cameras such as sensor size and the fixed lens they are still the best option for lots of photographers.

If you are looking for a setup that means you never have to leave the house with more than one bag then bridge cameras are great. The fixed lens will often cover a huge focal range but you're not going to be able to do much 'specialist' photography. Unlike with interchangeable lens cameras, you won't be able to experiment with different types of lenses such as a fisheye lens, macro lens or tilt-shift lens and you won't be able to add a teleconverter to increase the reach of the camera further. 

The sensors on bridge cameras are normally smaller than the sensors in some of the best DSLRs and best mirrorless cameras. This means that they're not as high resolution, usually have less dynamic range and they don't perform as well in low light. Even newer models like the Nikon Coolpix P950 only has a 1/2.3" sensor. 

Despite the drawbacks and limitations, bridge cameras are still incredibly useful bits of kit. For the price, you do get a lot for your money and the focal ranges are often so large an equivalent size lens for a DSLR or mirrorless camera would set you back thousands of pounds. Check out the best bridge camera models available below...

Best bridge cameras in 2021

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1. Sony RX10 IV

Best bridge camera for performance and quality

Specifications
Type: Superzoom compact
Sensor: 1in
Megapixels: 20.1MP
Lens: 24-600mm (equiv) f/2.4-4
LCD: 3in tilting screen, 1.44million dots
Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36million dots
Continuous shooting: 24fps
Movies: 4K and Full HD
User level: Enthusiast/Expert
Reasons to buy
+Phase detect AF system+Great still/video quality+Excellent lens
Reasons to avoid
-Very expensive

Even though the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV is the most expensive camera on our list - it has a high price tag for a reason. The most exciting upgrade from the RX10 III is the 315-point phase detect AF system which makes it much better at tracking moving subjects. Sony has also included a touch screen making it the first RX10 model with one. Bluetooth and wifi connectivity make it possible to share images to your smartphone on the move and the 24-600mm lens makes it a super versatile camera. It's capable of 24fps in continuous burst mode which is a big improvement on the 14fps on the Mark III. All of these extra features make it a much better sports and action camera but you will have to dig a little deeper into your funds. 

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best bridge camera: Nikon P950

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Best bridge camera for supertelephoto reach

Specifications
Type: Superzoom compact
Sensor: 1/2.3in
Megapixels: 16MP
Lens: 24-2000mm (equiv.) f/2.8-6.5
LCD: 3in articulating, 921k dots
Viewfinder: EVF, 2,360k dots
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 7fps
Movies: 4K UHD 30p
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Raw shooting option+Improved electronic viewfinder
Reasons to avoid
-Sharpness drops at full zoom

The insane zoom on the Nikon Coolpix P950 is the main reason it claimed second place on our list of best bridge cameras. It's without one of the best superzooms going with an impressive 83x optical zoom and an equivalent focal range of 24-2000mm. If that's not enough for you, you can even digitally extend the zoom up to 4000mm with the 166x Dynamic Fine Zoom. It features an improved viewfinder, adds RAW output and you can capture 4K video. If it wasn't for the small sensor it would've claimed the top spot but a larger sensor does have a lot of advantages. s

Read more: Nikon Coolpix P950 review

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3. Panasonic FZ82

Best budget bridge camera – the FZ82 is a bargain

Specifications
Type: Superzoom compact
Sensor: 1/2.3in
Megapixels: 18.1MP
Lens: 20-1200mm (equiv.) f/2.8-5.9
LCD: 3in articulating, 1,040k dots
Viewfinder: EVF, 1,166k dots
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 10fps
Movies: 4K UHD
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+4K video/4K Photo modes+Extra-wideangle zoom+Value for money
Reasons to avoid
-Middle of the road specs

The Panasonic FZ82 is much more of an ordinary camera than the Nikon P950. It features a 60x optical zoom range, a maximum aperture of f/2.8-5.9 and uses a small 1/2.3-inch sensor which isn't the best for resolution or low light performance. However, the price point of the FZ82 is very appealing and you do get quite a lot for your money compared to other models. It's capable of shooting 4K video and employs Panasonic's 4K photo mode for high-speed image capture. The 60x zoom offers a 20mm focal length on the wide end which is wider than most other bridge cameras and it makes it much better suited to shooting in small spaces.

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4. Panasonic FZ1000 II

Best bridge camera for all-round value

Specifications
Type: Superzoom compact
Sensor: 1in type
Megapixels: 20.1MP
Lens: 25-400mm (equiv) f/2.8-4
Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36million dots
LCD: 3in vari-angle LCD, 921k dots
Max burst speed: 12fps (50fps in SH mode)
Movies: 4K and Full HD
User level: Enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Brilliant value for money+Great image quality+Good burst mode
Reasons to avoid
-No in-camera Raw processing

The FZ1000 II is a welcome update to the original Panasonic FZ1000 bridge camera. Look closely, and you'll see that you're still getting a hell of a lot of current tech for the money. The 20.1MP 1in sensor and 25-400mm (equiv.) f/2.8-4 Leica-branded lens come together to form a capable core, with 4K UHD video, 5-axis Power O.I.S. stabilization, a 2.36million-dot OLED EVF, Wi-Fi and NFC, and raft of video-specific additions such as zebra patterning on top of it. Definitely one to snap up if you don't need the fancy tricks of the more recent FZ2000 / FZ2500.

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5. Sony RX10 III

If the RX10 Mark IV is too expensive, the RX10 III could be tempting

Specifications
Type: Superzoom compact
Sensor: 1in
Megapixels: 20.1MP
Lens: 24-600mm (equiv) f/2.4-4
LCD: 3in tilting screen, 1.23million dots
Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36million dots
Continuous shooting: 14fps
Movies: 4K and Full HD
User level: Enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Great image and video quality+High quality stabilized lens+Cheaper than the RX10 IV
Reasons to avoid
-The RX10 IV is better for action

Sony has now released four RX10 models and has a policy of keeping older models on sale, so while the RX10 Mark III is not the newest, it still gets second place in our list. It introduced an impressive 600mm maximum zoom setting, and a very respectable f/2.4-4 maximum aperture range. While it isn't a replacement for the Mark II model (still on sale), it boasts a slightly better battery life and a nine-bladed diaphragm in comparison to the Mark II's seven-bladed alternative, although it does miss out on the ND filter that made an appearance in both previous models. The camera can be found for some great prices now, so, if you don’t need the RX10 IV’s high-speed AF and shooting, this model can save you a lot of cash.

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6. Panasonic FZ2500 / FZ2000

The FZ1000's bigger sibling is better, but it does cost more

Specifications
Type: Superzoom compact
Sensor: 1in type
Megapixels: 20.1MP
Lens: 24-480mm (equiv) f/2.8-4.5
Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36million dots
LCD: 3in vari-angle touchscreen, 1.04million dots
Max burst speed: 12fps (30fps at reduced resolution)
Movies: 4K and Full HD
User level: Enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Excellent control over video+Great overall image quality+Good burst mode
Reasons to avoid
-Sony RX10 lens is better

Panasonic already won many people over with the FZ1000, with its 1in sensor, 25-400mm (equiv.) f/2.8-4 zoom lens, 4K video and masses of control making it a fine DSLR alternative. The FZ2500 (sold as the FZ2000 in Europe) delivers plenty more, including a slightly longer lens, touch-screen control and an electronic viewfinder with a slightly higher magnification than before, but its in video where Panasonic has made the most significant improvements. So, here we get DCI 4K video and a variable ND filter, for example, although the latter can, of course, be used for stills too. The lack of weather-sealing is a pity, but its falling price, together with the occasional cashback deal, makes it a brilliant-value competitor to models in Sony's RX10 series. If you need something more for stills than video, however, you may find the FZ1000 II (above) makes more sense – particularly when you see just what you get for the money.

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7. Panasonic FZ330

If you don't mind a the smaller sensor size, the FZ330 has a great lens

Specifications
Type: Superzoom compact
Sensor: 1/2.3in
Megapixels: 12.1MP
Lens: 25-600mm (equiv) f/2.8
LCD: 3in vari-angle touchscreen, 1.04million dots
Viewfinder: EVF, 1.44million dots
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 12fps (60fps in SH mode)
Videos: 4K and Full HD
User level: Enthusiast
Reasons to buy
+Amazing features for price+Constant f/2.8 aperture+Good zoom range
Reasons to avoid
-No in-camera raw processing

From its junior models right through to its various flagships, Panasonic has always been generous with features. This has allowed its models to remain appealing in the face of newer competitors, and 2015's FZ330 exemplifies this perfectly: a sub-£500/$500 camera with 4K video recording, a splash-resistant body and a 25-600mm (equiv) lens with a constant f/2.8 aperture. You simply don't get that anywhere else right now! On top of that there's a tilting touchscreen, a 1.44million-dot EVF, Wi-Fi and image stabilisation, which round off the specs to deliver a mighty fine proposition for the advanced novice or enthusiast on a budget. 

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You think the 83x P950 is amazing? The P1000 will blow you away

Specifications
Type: Superzoom compact
Sensor: 1/2.3in
Megapixels: 16MP
Lens: 24-3000mm (equiv.) f/2.8-8
LCD: 3in articulating, 921k dots
Viewfinder: EVF, 2,359k dots
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 7fps
Movies: 4K UHD
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Five-stop VR system+Interplanetary zoom range+4K video
Reasons to avoid
-Loses sharpness at full zoom-Huge size

At its max zoom, the Nikon P1000 has an astonishing 3000mm focal length which is even more impressive than the P950's. However, when shooting at the telephoto end you lose three full stops taking the aperture down from a solid f/2.8 to a miserable f/8. Nikon's VR (Vibration Reduction) cuts down camera shake but at longer focal lengths there is a noticeable softness in images which it doesn't fix. It boasts a higher-resolution electronic viewfinder, 4K video capabilities and raw format shooting. The biggest downside of this camera is its price tag and the fact it only has a 1/2.3-inch sensor. It's a lot of money for not a lot of sensor and there are other cameras on the list that are better value for money - albeit not with the same zoom range. 

Read more: Nikon P1000 review

(Image credit: Nikon)

9. Nikon Coolpix B500

A big big zoom, at a low low cost

Specifications
Type: Superzoom compact
Sensor: 1/2.3in
Megapixels: 16MP
Lens: 22.5-900 mm (equiv.) f/3 - f/6.5
LCD: 3in tiltable, 921k dots
Viewfinder: None
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 7.4fps
Movies: 1080P
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Low price+40x zoom+Image stabilization
Reasons to avoid
-No eyelevel viewfinder-Mediocre image quality

The Nikon Coolpix B500 is a very popular bridge camera - due to just how much bang you get for your buck. Despite a lower price than many bridge cameras, it offers 40x zoom range and a lot of advanced controls – making it a great choice for those wanting telephoto reach for shooting birds and other distant subjects without paying a fortune. Drawbacks include having to make do with the LCD screen - as there is no eyelevel viewfinder - and that could be hard work if trying to track a fast moving subject, or shooting in bright sunlight.

Also read Should you buy a NIkon B500?

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It's a big name brand, but its price and performance put it in the midfield

Specifications
Type: Superzoom compact
Sensor: 1/2.3in
Megapixels: 20.3MP
Lens: 21-1365mm (equiv.) f/3.4-6.5
LCD: 3in articulating, 922k dots
Viewfinder: EVF, 2,360k dots
Maximum continuous shooting rate: 10/5.7fps
Movies: 4K UHD
User level: Beginner
Reasons to buy
+Very good zoom range+Relatively compact for its type+Vari-angle screen
Reasons to avoid
-Only 5.7fps with servo AF

On paper, the SX70 HS looks a close rival to the Panasonic FZ82 (above), offering a slightly longer maximum zoom and nearly matching the Panasonic's wideangle setting. But its f/3.4-6.5 maximum aperture range is on the low side and its 20-megapixel resolution can't overcome the limitations of the small 1/2.3-inch sensor size. The SX70 does handle well and it's not that big for a bridge camera, but the opposition has moved on, with bigger zoom ranges, bigger sensors or lower price points. The SX70 HS offers solid enough specifications but at a price point which makes its rivals look more tempting.

What is a bridge camera?

The simple definition of a bridge camera is this: big lens, big body, small(ish) sensor. But the reality is a little more complex than that. Once upon a time, manufacturers could only make those enormous zoom ranges work in bodies if they had a small 1/2.3-inch sensor, the kind you'd find in a point-and-shoot camera.

This all changed, however, when Sony, Panasonic and Canon figured out how to make bridge cameras with 1-inch sensors, which are much closer to those of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, and the jump in quality is just as noticeable as the jump in price.

The bigger sensor also means a smaller zoom range, so it's up to you where your priorities lie. That's why we've split our bridge camera guide into two halves: the first section deals with advanced, comparatively expensive bridge cameras with 1-inch sensors (though many are a few years old and can be picked up for much less than on launch). The second half of our list comprises, 

But the bigger sensors mean smaller zoom ranges and higher price tags, which has split the bridge camera market into two halves. The more expensive 1-inch models at the top of our list have a smaller zoom range, but we reckon it’s worth it for the extra image quality. The cheaper 1/2.3-inch models in the bottom half of our list have spectacular zoom ranges and friendly price tags, but only average picture quality.

Read more: 

The best digital cameras 
The best cheap cameras 
The best camera deals
The best compact cameras 
The best mirrorless cameras
The best cameras for professionals
The best travel cameras 
The best point-and-shoot cameras 
Canon PowerShot SX740 HS review

Rod Lawton

Rod is the Group Reviews editor for Digital Camera World and across Future's entire photography portfolio, with decades of experience with cameras of all kinds. Previously he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more.