Bridge cameras have always been a popular choice among beginner and enthusiast photographers, and a great alternative to the traditional DSLR. Small enough to be used for everyday shooting and suitable for an exhaustive range of tasks, it's easy to see why so many manufacturers continue to produce these cameras.
The turning point for the sector came over 2013-2014, courtesy of Panasonic and Sony. Instead of following everyone else and racing to deliver cameras with even longer lenses than before, the two companies opted to release cameras that combined a more modest zoom range with a relatively large 1in sensor. These two models have since been updated, but the fact that both of these can still be bought brand new is testament to just how well they were received at the time.
The list of bridge cameras that follows is dominated by Sony, and for good reason. Not only has its RX10 line of bridge cameras reshaped what we've come to expect from the small-format, superzoom camera, but the company's decision to keep older models available as they have been replaced by newer versions has meant that the company now has a number of offerings at various prices. So, if you don't need the very newest option, you can still opt for the slightly older ones and save yourself some money.
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Panasonic has been less prolific in the higher end of the bridge camera market, but it has released some very competitive alternatives to Sony's models. Furthermore, it has arguably been more active in the entry-level side of the bridge-camera spectrum than any other manufacturer, which also has the likes of Canon and Nikon pitching in with their own contributions.
What is a bridge camera?
A bridge camera is a compact camera with a non-removable lens that offers some of the convenience of a DSLR camera, thereby bridging the gap between the two. Principally, this is down to the lens; bridge cameras are typically designed with lenses that cover a greater range of focal lengths than normal compacts, and typically more so than what a DSLR with a standard superzoom lens would provide.
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They also designed to resemble DSLRs, with substantial grips and, more often than not, centrally positioned viewfinders. It's also very common to have a similar level of manual control over images that DSLRs offer, which usually comes through the same kind of mode dial you'd find on a DSLR. This tends to comprise Auto and Scene modes right through to Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual options, together with brand-specific options such as No Flash or Creative Auto.
Given that they offer the same kind of control and handling as DSLRs, and arrive with the further benefit of a versatile zoom lens that's permanently mounted to the camera, you may wonder why you'd want to use a DSLR instead. There are a number of good reasons, and two particularly important ones.
The first is the size of the sensor. Even the very best bridge cameras use sensors that are much smaller than those inside DSLRs and most mirrorless cameras, and this has typically meant that they cannot offer the same kind of image quality or control over depth of field that interchangeable-lens cameras can.
The second is down to the lens. As convenient as it is to have such an all-encompassing optic mounted to the camera at all times, you lose the freedom to use lenses designed for a particular purpose, such as macro and tilt-shift-level and ultra wide-angle types. These kinds of lenses also tend to be of a better optical standard than the do-it-all varieties you find on bridge cameras.
Today's bridge cameras are typically split into two camps: entry-level models that have a 1/2.3in sensor and enthusiast models that have 1in sensors. While models in the former category are typically far cheaper, older 1in-sensor models can now be had at reasonable prices.
1. Sony RX10 III
Sony's third-generation RX10 model blends up-to-date tech with a reasonable asking price
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
Sony has now released four RX10 models, but its the Mark III that deserves to be mentioned first. While it stays true to the successful formula laid out by the RX10, and subsequently refined by the RX10 II, it brings with it a lens that reaches even further to 600mm from the previous 200mm ending, and manages to do so with a very respectable f/2.4-4 maximum aperture range. While it isn't a replacement for the Mark II model, 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.
2. Panasonic FZ2000 / FZ2500
A significant update over the FZ1000, and a no-brainer if maximum video control is key
Type: Supzerzoom 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
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.
3. Sony RX10 IV
A worthwhile step-up over the Mark III, but its age means it's not the cheapest
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
As the name suggests, the RX10 IV picks up from where the previous RX10 III left off, and adds a handful of sweeteners to make it a fitter fighter. 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 undoubtedly a more capable camera – indeed, arguably the best bridge camera you can buy right now – but this comes with a significant premium over the Mark III. So, it's the Mark III that gets out vote overall, but if you're intending to capture moving subjects with any regularity, the Mark IV is the one to go for.
4. Panasonic FZ1000
Phenomenal value for money when you consider just what you're getting
Type: Supzerzoom 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
The FZ1000 will be celebrating its fourth birthday later this year, so it's reasonable to assume that many may have overlooked it in favour of the slew of models that have emerged since its release. Look closer, however, 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.
5. Sony RX10 II
This 4K-enabled model is still well worth a look if a shorter zoom range suits
Type: Superzoom compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 24-200mm (equiv) f/2.8 | LCD: 3in tilting screen, 1.23million dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 2.36million dots | Continuous shooting: 14fps | Movies: 4K and Full HD | User level: Enthusiast
It's easy to forget about the RX10 II. It wasn't, after all, the landmark model that the original RX10 became, and the more recent Mark III and Mark IV have brought with them a handful of improvements. Still, Sony did make a number of key changes to differentiate it from the original, and as an older model that's often subjects to cashback promotions, you can end up getting it for a very reasonable sum. Price aside, key reasons you may want to consider it over the original RX10 include a fresh 20.1MP 1in sensor, a 2.35million-dot EVF and 4K video recording. Elsewhere, the 24-200mm (equiv.) isn't the longest here, but it does at least boast a constant f/2.8 aperture, while the weather-sealed construction allows it to be used outdoors in confidence. Throw in an anti-distortion shutter, Wi-Fi, a tilting LCD and capture rates up to 960fps and you've got yourself quite a powerful camera.
6. Sony RX10
The one that started the 1in-superzoom game is still going strong
Type: Superzoom compact | Sensor: 1in | Megapixels: 20.1MP | Lens: 24-200mm (equiv) f/2.8 | LCD: 3in tilting screen, 1.23million dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 1.44million dots | Continuous shooting: 10fps | Movies: Full HD (1080p) | User level: Enthusiast
The RX10 was Sony's first stab at the 1in-sensor superzoom game, and it immediately made an impression. Having been launched before Panasonic's FZ1000, there was nothing else like it at the time, and the only real criticism of it was its price. Four years on and it's still a credible option for those wanting a little extra reach – with a much more appealing price tag too. As you might expect, you do miss out on a handful of niceties from more recent iterations, such as 4K video recording and a touchscreen, and the EVF isn't quite the 2.36million-dot version as seen in the Mark II, rather a still-capable 1.44million dot alternative. Then again, the core of a 20.1MP 1in sensor, 24-200mm (equiv) f/2.8 lens, Full HD video to 60p and a 10fps burst shooting option are still perfectly sound, particularly at a price that's not far higher that that of certain other smaller-sensor bridge cameras.
7. Nikon P900
A smaller sensor than the options above, but a whole lot more zoom makes the P900 special
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, 921k dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 7fps | Movies: Full HD (1080p) | User level: Beginner
With its 24-2000mm (equiv) zoom lens, the Coolpix P900 is certainly an ambitious camera. With this kind of focal length you zoom so much further than with the average DSLR/lens kit, which explains why it's been such a smash among amateur astrophotographers. Thankfully, the lens is equipped with Nikon's five-stop Vibration Reduction system and you get plenty of manual control over exposure settings too, in addition to Wi-Fi, NFC and even a GPS system. Naturally, it won't be for everyone; there's no Raw shooting, the screen doesn't respond to touch and, perhaps more concerningly, the sensor is far smaller than those in the above models. Nevertheless, it makes the cut because it offers something genuinely unique at this level – and for some, it may well be just what they want.
8. Sony HX400V
A 50x optical zoom with image stabilisation and full manual control? Yes please.
Type: Superzoom compact | Sensor: 1/2.3in | Megapixels: 20.4MP | Lens: 24-1200mm (equiv.) f/2.8-6.3 | LCD: 3in tilting, 922k dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 0.2in type | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 10fps | Video: Full HD (1080p) | User level: Beginner
Sony doesn't just have the enthusiast in mind with its bridge cameras, as it's also traditionally catered very well for the more junior user. The HX400V, its current entry-level offering, fuses the company's Exmor R CMOS sensor technology with a 50x optical zoom that's both ZEISS-branded and stabilised for better results. The tilting LCD, electronic viewfinder, hot shoe and Full HD video option round off the core part of the spec sheet, while Wi-Fi and NFC make image sharing easier. And if you're not happy with the amount of control you have you can expand it through separate (paid for) apps from Sony's PlayMemories service. Naturally it won't deliver the kind of results you'll get from its RX10 cousins, but at this price is still does a fine job.
9. Canon PowerShot SX60 HS
With a 65x optical zoom starting at a focal length equivalent to 21mm, the SX60 HS is a great candidate for travels and holidays
Type: Superzoom compact: | Sensor: 1/2.3in | Megapixels: 16.1MP | Lens: 21-1365mm (equiv.) f/3.4-6.5 | LCD: 3in articulating, 922k dots | Viewfinder: EVF, 922k dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 6.4fps | Videos: Full HD (1080p) | User level: Beginner
As with the Nikon P900, the PowerShot SX60 HS is constructed around a 16.1MP sensor, although its optic has a (slightly) more sensible focal length equivalent to 21-1365mm. That still requires support in order to make sure image quality stays strong, and we get it through a lens-based Image Stabilizer, while those recording videos can call upon a digital five-axis dynamic image stabilisation system to keep things steady. The SX60 HS does have a handful of advantages over its Nikon rival such as Raw shooting and a hot shoe for mounting external flash units, and you can even control it wirelessly through your phone or use external microphones for better audio quality, although it's a shame the screen isn't touch sensitive. Nevertheless, it manages to be a fair bit cheaper than the P900, so for those on a budget it might make more sense.
10. Panasonic FZ300 / FZ330
Almost four years old now, but a constant f/2.8 aperture and 4K video make it shine
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
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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