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

best bridge cameras
(Image credit: Nikon)

The best bridge camera is the perfect balance between the portability and convenience of a compact camera and the long reach and ergonomics of an interchangeable lens DSLR or mirrorless camera. Designed to handle similarly to DSLRs, the best bridge cameras feature a fixed lens with a superzoom range – perfect for capturing wildlife or sports photography without breaking the bank.

Bridge cameras feature a massive zoom range, which means that they can capture anything from a wide angle landscape to a frame-filling photo of a distant bird. These handy cameras are particularly known for their ability to capture far-away subjects, such as safari wildlife or the moon. However, while bridge cameras are definitely super useful pieces of kit, they do have a few drawbacks that it's worth being aware of. 

While the aforementioned fixed lens is a boon in some ways (you never have to pack a spare lens and you get a huge amount of range with one piece of glass), it can be a drawback in others. You will always be limited to the focal range and quality of the lens attached, with no ability to swap it out for something else that your bridge camera doesn't offer – such as a fisheye lens, macro lens or tilt-shift lens. You aren't even able to add a teleconverter to increase the reach of the camera further. 

Another potential drawback to the best bridge cameras is the sensor. Most of the best DSLRs or best mirrorless cameras feature larger sensors than bridge cameras – even newer models such as the Nikon Coolpix P950

However, despite some drawbacks, there's something undeniably useful about the best bridge cameras. With pretty affordable price tags, flexible focal length ranges and compact bodies, there's a reason why bridge cameras remain so persistently popular. 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

The Sony Cyber-shot 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. Its 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.

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best bridge camera: Nikon P950

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2. Nikon P950

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 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

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3. Panasonic FZ82

Check out what you get against what you pay – 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

After the excesses of the Nikon P950, 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.

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4. 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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5. Panasonic FZ1000 II

Best bridge camera for value

Specifications
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
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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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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8. Nikon P1000

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

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

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9. Canon PowerShot SX70 HS

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.

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10. 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?

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.