Although the smartphone in your pocket can do a lot of great things - and take fantastic photographs - if there’s one area where traditional cameras tend to still fare better, it’s zoom capability.
There are plenty of reasons why a camera equipped with a long zoom lens is the ideal solution for you. Whether it’s for all-round flexibility when travelling, or you just like to photograph a wide range of subjects, having the ability to zoom in (and out) from a scene always comes in handy. Shooting at longer focal lengths is useful for portraits, while being able to zoom even further is ideal for sports, wildlife and other potentially distant subjects.
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Zoom cameras tend to be split into two broad categories. Traditional pocket-friendly snappers which are ideal for holidays and day trips, and what are known as bridge cameras, which are bigger and chunkier, but tend to have lengthier zooms and handling which is reminiscent of DSLRs.
Most pocket-friendly zoom cameras have relatively small sensors, but you can also find a few with larger one-inch type sensors that still offer a good degree of zoom. Bridge cameras also tend to have smaller sensors than that which you’d find in a mirrorless or DSLR camera, but as an all-in-one solution, it’s often worth the trade off for ease-of-use.
When it comes to choosing a zoom camera, think about exactly how much zoom you actually need. You’ll probably want at least an 8-10x zoom, but some of those in our list here offer 20 or 30x, with one even offering a staggering 125x (enough power to shoot the moon!).
Thinking about equivalent focal lengths, if zoom is your main concern you’ll generally be looking for something which goes beyond the standard 24-70mm type range, so pay attention to that in the specs list. Also think about the wide-angle end of the lens, especially if you’re looking for something to fulfil a range of needs or is ideal as an all-rounder for subjects such as travel. That could even mean you look out for something wider than 24mm for extended flexibility.
With these things in mind, it’s time to have a look at our selection of the best zoom cameras you can buy in 2021…
Best zoom camera in 2021
When it comes to the king of the all-rounders, a camera that is adept at pretty much anything you’d care to throw at it, the Sony RX100 VII is the one. But, the one for which you’ll pay a huge premium for.
With its 8x zoom, it’s fairly flexible (though if zoom is your main concern, there are others that are better here), but it’s the fact that it can shoot at super fast burst speeds, has a retracting EVF, a well-featured touchscreen and a high-performing one-inch sensor - and does all of that while fitting in your pocket that sees it sit at the top of our list.
If you want something which will fit more neatly into your budget, keep looking down our list.
If zoom really is your key concern, then the Nikon P1000 will give you the ultimate reach - with some key compromises.
With its amazing 125x zoom lens, you’ve got enough power here to literally shoot the moon, as well as of course everything else in between.
As you’d expect, in order to accommodate such a lens, the camera is a whopper. There are some benefits to that, such as it’s DSLR-like handling, and excellent EVF. That said however, it’s so big and cumbersome that you have to really want that kind of zoom level to tolerate it - so it won’t be for everyone.
Thanks to a small sensor, it also struggles in low light, and shooting at the 3000mm end of the telephoto lens can also be a bit of a hit and miss situation, too.
With its 40x zoom lens, the SX740 is a fantastic option for those who want a simple-to-use travel-friendly camera, which is also well-suited to family snaps and days out.
Particularly ideally suited to beginners, it also offers more advanced modes for enthusiasts (though sadly there’s no raw format shooting). Other useful specifications include the front-facing screen (ideal for those holiday selfies) and 4K video.
The compromise for having such a lengthy zoom is a small sensor, so the SX740 is probably not one for those who like to shoot a lot in low light, but for bright light holiday shots, it’s a good value all-rounder.
Offering an excellent balance between large sensor and zoom length, the Panasonic Lumix ZS200 (called the TZ200 in Europe) is in many ways the perfect travel camera.
Small enough to fit in your pocket, while still offering a very flexible 15x zoom, it’s ideal for capturing landscapes, portraits and reasonably far-off subjects.
Well-suited to both beginners and enthusiasts, it offers a range of shooting modes and advanced options such as raw format shooting and the ever-useful 4K Photo modes.
There’s a couple of downsides here, such as the fact that the screen is fixed, and that there’s some image softening seen at the full 15x zoom, but, especially at the price, it’s an excellent all-rounder that is a great buy for many.
If you’re looking for a zoom camera for wildlife or other moving subjects, the Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV is a superb choice, and certainly the best of its kind on the market. Not only do you get a very flexible 25x zoom (giving you an equivalent of 600mm at the telephoto end), but you get fantastic image quality throughout the zoom range.
You also get superb AF tracking for moving subjects, and fast burst shooting to keep up with those elusive subjects. With its large one-inch sensor and maximum wide aperture - even at the telephoto end - the RX10 IV is no slouch when it comes to low light shooting either.
Of course there is a price to pay for such excellence, with the RX10 IV being one of the priciest models on the market, but considering the equivalent spend you’d need to make for comparable DSLR optics, it could arguably be viewed as a bit of a bargain.
What was once a fairly pricey model has come down in price to make for excellent value, especially when you compare the Panasonic FZ2500 (sold as the FZ2000 in Europe) against its biggest rival, the Sony RX10 IV.
In many ways, the two cameras very similar, being premium bridge cameras with one-inch sensors and pretty lengthy zoom lenses. The RX10 IV just about pips the FZ2000 when it comes to image quality, but in terms of value it’s the Panasonic which is the clear winner.
You also get a well-performing EVF, fully articulating screen, 4K video and a range of different shooting modes to suit the needs of both beginners and more advanced users.
The DSLR handling means it’s a little on the bulky side, but once again, if you compare this to the equivalent gear you’d need for a DSLR or mirrorless camera, it actually makes for a very practical travel companion.
If you’re looking for a well-rounded bridge camera which offers a good range of functions - and has that all important ultra long zoom, then the Canon SX70 is a good option.
At 65x, it’s one of the longest on the market (without verging into the ridiculous territory of the Nikon P1000), giving you good scope to shoot pretty much every subject imaginable.
It handles pleasantly, especially if you’re used to using a Canon camera, and has a useable enough EVF and fully-articulating screen (which is let down by the fact it’s not touch sensitive). There’s a good range of shooting modes, plus the ability to shoot in raw format.
The trade off here for the ultra-long zoom is a small sensor, meaning the SX70 doesn’t perform amazingly well in certain conditions - such as low light. But for a good value travel and holiday camera, it’s well worth considering.
When going out on long walks, you’ll want a camera that can cover a range of shooting scenarios, but doesn’t take up much room in your pocket or weigh you down. Step forward the Panasonic TZ95, which offers a fantastic 30x optical zoom lens in a dinky little body.
The trade off, once again, is a relatively small sensor, meaning that this is a camera for use primarily in good light - but if it’s a hiking camera, that's likely to be par for the course.
More positive news is the range of different shooting modes, 4K Video (and Photo modes), and a tilting screen which comes in handy for shooting from awkward angles, including selfies and for low-level shooting from the forest floor.
In terms of feats of engineering, the Sony HX99 (and its sister camera, the HX99) lay claim to being the world’s smallest 28x optical zoom cameras. So, if having a lengthy zoom in something which is truly pocket-friendly is your main ambition, then it’s the camera to beat.
It’s also a stylish offering, with useful features, such as a screen which faces all the way forwards for framing selfies. You also get 4K video recording, and a range of shooting modes.
Like others on the list with a small sensor, it’s less adept for shooting in low light, but if you’re using it for travel and day trips, that might not be too much of a concern.
This excellent value bridge camera is great for those who want something inexpensive but which still offers a pretty lengthy zoom.
With 60x zoom available, you’ve got excellent scope here to photograph a wide variety of subjects. And speaking of wide, with its 20mm (equivalent) wide angle, it’s also an excellent option for landscapes making this a useful all-rounder for travel and trips.
As ever, there’s a compromise to be had, and here that’s the small sensor, making it less impressive when working in low light conditions. It’s also a little annoying having to manually switch the viewfinder on and off - but as it’s available for an excellent price, the FZ82 a nice value option for those on a budget.