The best bridge cameras are everything at once! You get a DSLR's ergonomics, a superzoom lens's power, and a compact camera's convenience. Hard to say fairer than that, and what's even better is that many bridge cameras can be picked up for an absolute bargain price.
Given all this, you might wonder why all photographers don't just use bridge cameras for everything. It's a fair question, but bridge cameras do have a few drawbacks it's worth being familiar with. Their fixed lenses do limit you to the focal range that's printed on the box: what you see is very much what you get, and there's no cheeky boosting it with a teleconverter or anything like that.
The applies to the new Nikon Coolpix P950, for example, which adds raw capture and 4K video to the highly-regarded Coolpix P900, but still uses this rather limiting sensor size. The pixels on the sensor will be more tightly crammed together, which can lead to issues with noise at higher ISO settings, in turn making the cameras less useful in low light. Bridge cameras also tend to be pretty big, so if you're looking for similar versatility but in a much smaller package, check out our guide to the best travel cameras.
Bridge cameras do tend to represent a saving when it comes to cost, though as you'll find out shortly, they really do run the gamut from extremely cheap to extremely... not. (We'd always advise the budget-conscious to take a look at our regularly updated list of cheap camera deals.) The more expensive models do tend to be seriously sophisticated though, so they're worth checking out if your budget goes that far.
What is a bridge camera?
As we've mentioned above, one of the defining attributes of a bridge camera is its sensor size. This is partly because of those enormous zoom lenses: camera makers can only make such colossal ranges work in the body by using a smaller sensor. Until recently, almost all bridge cameras used small 1/2.3-inch sensors of the type you get in regular point and shoot cameras and some smartphones. You would get a huge zoom range at an affordable price, but the image quality would be limited.
And then Sony, Panasonic and Canon brought out more advanced bridge cameras with much larger 1-inch sensors. These sensors are not as large as those in DSLR and mirrorless cameras, but they’re not a million miles off, and the quality is much better than regular bridge cameras. They expand options in low light too, and make the cameras generally more versatile.
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 but only average picture quality.
And do keep in mind that versatile as they are, bridge cameras can’t do everything. For ultra-wideangle shots, 1:1 macros, tilt-shift lenses and extra-fast apertures, you need an interchangeable lens DSLR or mirrorless camera.
But if a bridge camera is definitely what you need, keep reading. Start from the top of our list if you only want the best, and work your way down if your budget is a bit tighter. We do score extra for value for money!
Read more: The 10 best compact cameras
The best bridge cameras in 2020
The RX10 IV is the latest incarnation of Sony’s RX10 bridge camera series and takes a useful step forward from the RX10 III. The main highlight is the inclusion of a 315-point phase-detect AF system, which makes it far better suited to tracking moving subjects, while the introduction of a touchscreen, a feature that's been oddly absent from the RX10 line-up – and indeed, many of Sony's others lines until recently – is also noteworthy. 24fps burst shooting, which is a significant improvement over the already-capable 14fps on the Mark III, together with Bluetooth connectivity, distances it further from the camera it updates. Because of all this it's a much more capable camera for sports and action and the best bridge camera you can buy right now – but this comes with a significant premium over both the Mark III and rival cameras.
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 is also occasionally subject to the odd cashback deal, so make sure to look out for these as they can make quite a difference, and if you don’t need the RX10 IV’s high-speed AF and shooting, this model can save you a lot of cash.
The FZ1000 is four years old now, and there is a new FZ1000 II which is also definitely worth considering, but we still like the older FZ1000 for its value. Look closer, 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. As if that wasn't enough, occasional cashback deals make it even better value for money – definitely one to snap up if you don't need the fancy tricks of the more recent FZ2000 / FZ2500.
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 FZ2000 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 older FZ1000 (below) makes more sense – particularly when you see just what you get for the money.
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.
The Nikon Coolpix P950 is a successor to the P900, and represents a continuation of that camera's ambition to be one of the biggest and best superzooms going. Accordingly, the P950 boasts an impressive 83x optical zoom with an equivalent focal length range of 24-2000mm, and if this somehow isn't enough for you, it can be digitally extended to 4000mm with the 166x Dynamic Fine Zoom. The P950 adds a lot of features that people felt were missing or sub-par on the P900: it improves the viewfinder, adds RAW capture and ups the maximum video resolution to 4K. The only reason it's not further up the list is its small sensor size – an 83x zoom range is great, but we reckon a larger sensor is overall more useful.
Read more: Nikon Coolpix P950 review
With its 24-2000mm (equiv) zoom lens, the Coolpix P900 made headlines, but the new P1000 walks all over it with an astonishing 125x zoom range, offering the equivalent of a 3,000mm telephoto lens at full stretch. It is a stretch, though, because at this setting the lens's maximum aperture loses a full three stops from its f/2.8 maximum to a pretty miserable f/8. You'll be glad of Nikon's in-built VR (Vibration Reduction) system to cut camera shake, though it can't fix the general lens softness that creeps in at longer focal lengths. It does improve on the P900 in some key areas, offering raw format shooting, a higher-resolution electronic viewfinder and 4K video. However, its asking prices is almost as astronomical as its zoom capabilities – it's a lot to pay for a bridge camera with a small 1/2.3-inch sensor. But if you want the longest zoom range the camera world has ever seen, you can't expect it to be cheap.
Read more: Nikon P1000 review
After the excesses of the Nikon P900 and P1000, the Panasonic FZ82 looks pretty tame. By comparison, its 60x optical zoom range is somewhat ordinary, its maximum aperture range of f/2.8-5.9 is uninspiring and it uses a small 1/2.3-inch sensor, which caps the image quality you can expect. But three things raise the FZ82 above the ordinary. First, the price: this camera easily undercuts all its rivals in this list while giving them a real run for their money in features. Second, it shoots 4K video and has Panasonic's neat 4K Photo modes for high-speed image capture. Third, its 60x zoom offers a wider 20mm equivalent wideangle setting than any of its rivals, so it's a good deal handier for shooting in tight spaces – a great advantage in travel photography.
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.
If you're the type to drive an even harder bargain, it's also worth looking at the SX70 HS's predecessor, the Canon PowerShot SX60 HS. You get a lot of the same functionality as the newer model, most notably that generous zoom range and 16.1MP of resolution, but at a more competitive price. The lens's maximum aperture isn't as good, topping out at f/3.4 rather than f/2.8, and both the rear LCD and viewfinder have lower resolutions. These may or may not be deal-breakers for you, and if they aren't, you'll find you get an impressive amount of camera for your money with the SX60 HS. It's still very much a competitor.
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