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Bridge Cameras

(and why they're still a viable choice in 2017). 


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In This Article:


What Is a Bridge Camera

Early Bridge Cameras

Should You Get One?

Bridge Camera For Weddings

Best Make & Model

Conclusion



What Is A Bridge Camera?


Many long-time photographers got into digital when the "DSLR" was still a massively-overpriced foray into impending obsolescence. 

Back then you'd have to spend like five grand on the thing, and by the next year the pictures would look awful compared to what was out there. 

The solution many photographers chose, especially when they weren't made of money, was to buy a bridge camera

This was the "bridge" between a point-and-shoot and a DSLR.  No interchangeable lenses, but the "super zoom" capability was great.   Unlike its point & shoot cousins, the bridge camera also had fully-manual mode, which is important to any pro or advanced amateur. 


Above:  The Fuji S7000 was a major achievement in bridge cameras.
It was so good that even today, people still look for them.
The sensor is small and rather noisy, but it can still make nice pictures,
and for macro it's still my favorite.



Early Bridge Cameras

I remember the first real bridge camera, because a friend of mine bought one.  It was a Nikon Coolpix, the 5700, which had 4.9 megapixels (that was a lot for 2002!). 

He thought that camera was pretty great, but for some reason I had an aversion to Nikon digital cameras of any kind.  Actually, here's why.  My reasoning was that Nikon 35mm film cameras were so good that Nikon had no business making these digital things.  Seeing a hunk of computer with the name "Nikon" on it was actually kind of off-putting.  (I don't have this aversion to Nikon DSLR's, though, but I used to.)

The Coolpix 5700 was expensive, too.  There was no way I was going to pay $1,100 for that. 

So I looked around for a while and became convinced that the Fuji cameras were as good if not better.  Maybe that was partly because I wanted to get into digital without that "Nikon" connotation.  And so, not long after that, I acquired my own first "bridge camera", a Finepix S602 Zoom (3.1 megapixels).  Back then it wasn't cheap, but it still cost a lot less than those new-fangled DSLR's.  It was also quite a bit less expensive than that Nikon Coolpix I mentioned.

After my 602 on its tripod fell on a rock and broke the zoom mechanism, I got a Finepix S7000.  At 6.3 megapixels, I figured this was probably all I'd ever need (actually it turned out that wasn't too far off... 10 MP really is about all you need for most things.  Okay, actually 12.2.)    The S7000 turned out to be a great camera.  I really liked the fact that it could take a zoom barrel shroud.  To this you could fit a 55mm filter.  The shroud protected the zoom lens if you were to drop the camera inadvertently. 

What's even cooler about the S7000 is that if you shoot CCD-RAW, you get 12-megapixel images.  That's pretty incredible for a camera announced way back in '03.   (The CCD-RAW images look better to me.  Maybe that's because the camera has not pre-downsampled them.  In JPG mode you get images pre-shrunk to 6 MP.)

The Finepix S602 and the classic Finepix S7000 are long-discontinued, but the bridge camera is still around.   At first it might not seem as attractive an option now that DSLR's have come down in price, but the bridge camera can still be a good choice in 2013 and onward.  Why?  Mainly, bridge cameras have optical "ultra zoom" capability that wouldn't be cost-effective to offer in an interchangeable-lens DSLR.   The early bridge cameras had 4x or maybe 6x optical zoom, but today they've gone way past 20x.

The more I think about the ultra-zoom feature, the more I realize what a good deal the bridge camera is if you photograph wildlife.  To get a good 500mm telephoto for a DSLR you'd have to shell out some serious cash, yet most bridge cameras today offer at least 500mm equivalent, and a couple are well north of 800mm.

Another nice thing about bridge cameras-- actually, a major thing-- is that they never need a sensor cleaning.  There's no mirror mechanism to fling oil droplets onto the sensor.  No dust can get in there.  You'll never lose the lens, because it stays attached to the camera.  You can just bring the camera with you and go take pictures. 


Should You Get One?

A good bridge camera is like having a whole collection of lenses, and it's a lot less expensive... so I'd say yes, it's definitely worth getting one.  

Are there any major downsides to the bridge camera?  The biggest one is the small sensor.  Those who predicted the downfall of bridge cameras rightly pointed out that DSLR's with their bigger sensors were also more profitable because of add-on gear, and thus there was no economic reason to put a bigger sensor into a bridge camera.  However, this didn't make the bridge camera go away as many of us expected. 

What the camera companies probably figured instead is that you'll get a bridge camera, then decide later you need a DSLR for its better low-light performance.  However, neither camera truly makes the other one redundant.  You'll still find yourself using both for different situations.  (It looks like the camera companies were pretty shrewd.)

We've seen that bridge cameras still have a couple of major advantages, and in some cases they can even stand in for a DSLR.  One more thing I like about bridge cameras is that you don't get into "lens gluttony" as often happens to DSLR owners.  The bridge camera has one do-all lens, and that's it!

That "one lens" feature actually used to be a problem with the older bridge cameras, but not for an obvious reason.  You see, the older ones had very poor low-light performance and no image stabilization, so you had to use a tripod for a lot of the shots. 

If that tripod got knocked over while the camera was turned on, the zoom assembly would get broken. 

With an SLR you could just put on a different lens, but with a bridge camera that was Game Over.  At the very least it meant an expensive repair before you could even use the camera again.  Anyway, it's not as likely to happen anymore, thanks to the image stabilization and better high-ISO performance of newer bridge cameras.   All the modern ones can do well at ISO 400, not bad at 800, and they're at least passable at 1600 (in a pinch). 

Even with the rise of sub-$500 DSLR's, a bridge camera still makes a lot of sense.  You get a lot of focal length for the money, combined with a fast electronic viewfinder, reasonably good high-ISO performance (though not as good as a DSLR), and usually a bundle of in-camera processing options.  



Though I like film better, it was a great idea to put RAW capability in a bridge camera. 
 Here's a shot from 2012, made in CCD-RAW on the old Fuji
(a bridge camera introduced way back in 2003).  

When I tried this same shot in JPG, it tone-banded from a little ol' saturation adjustment.
(I have a new article explaining what's so good about RAW.)




Bridge Camera For Weddings

There probably still exist pro wedding photographers today (2017), and they tend to use full-frame DSLR's for their work.

A bridge camera could make a good backup camera for this, especially if you got one with a 1" sensor. 

Modern bridge cameras have high continuous-shooting rates, even higher than some DSLR's. 

Keep in mind, as always, that a pro with a beginner camera will outperform a beginner with a pro camera.  With that said, today's bridge cameras are not beginner cameras at all;  they are very powerful tools with a lot of potential.   Actually, even the older bridge cameras wereaimed more at the advanced market;  the average snapshot-taking tourist doesn't want to deal with a bunch of controls (or at least that's what the camera companies have taught him).  Because of this, "auto" cameras have been popular since at least the Sixties (offhand I think it was '68.  No, actually '67 or maybe even '66 with the first Electro 35.).  The bridge camera may have "auto" modes, but the real reason to get one is its advanced (manual) features.

Anyway, the small sensor means image noise at high ISO, which is a consideration, but then again the older DSLR's were kind of noisy, too. 

Large prints (16x20 etc.) are easily within reach of today's bridge cameras.  Most of the other objections to pro use have been overcome by technological advancements... except for one.  The smaller sensor means less bokeh or background blurring.  (Technically, bokeh is not the blurring itself, but the "quality" of the blurring.  I know this, yet I don't care. I call it "bokeh".) 

This is one area where I'd solidly choose a DSLR (actually, I choose a film camera, but whatever).  However, every pro should have a backup, and as long as you're good with switching back and forth between two different sets of controls, then the bridge camera can be a great backup for pro shoots.   


Best Make & Model

This section is mostly historical for 2013-2015;  some of the models listed here are not current production.  (For something a bit more recent, try this article.)

However, there isn't a whole lot that's changed in bridge cameras.  That's because of hard limits imposed by physics, not technology.  The resolution to be had from a 1/2.3" sensor actually maxed out around 2012, but there have been slight improvements in image processing, and of course features and usability.

I didn't put these in alphabetical order.  Rather, they're in increasing order of preference (but they're close, so consider it random if you want).

Nikon
Pentax
Sony
Panasonic
Fuji
Canon


Nikon - the Coolpix P510 has no flash hotshoe.  Neither does the P500.  Neither does the L810.  Do you see a pattern here?  Too bad, because the P510 has the second most-powerful optical zoom (42x), for a 35mm focal length equivalent of 1000mm. 

If you're stuck on Nikon, get an entry-level Nikon DSLR instead of the Coolpix.  I think Nikon probably prefers it that way, because then they can get you hooked on Nikon DSLR lenses.  Canon's strategy was smarter:  you buy the SX50 which can take a Canon Speedlite, then you later buy a Canon DSLR (which takes the same Speedlite), and then you get hooked on Canon DSLR lenses.  Canon wins.   (The thing is, after buying a good bridge camera, you may well find that you never need a DSLR.)

If you're big on bridge cameras but not Nikon in particular, then get a Canon SX50 (see below, under "Canon", for more details).  

I think either choice (a Nikon DSLR or a Canon SX50) would be better than the Coolpix P510, depending on what you want to do with it.   That's just my opinion, and there are a lot of happy Nikon bridge camera owners out there.  UPDATE:  reader Stewart B. from the UK reminds me that the Nikon does have panoramic mode built-in, while the Canon requires you to stitch the pictures together later.  If landscapes and travel are your primary reason for getting a bridge camera, this could swing the decision toward the Nikon.

OK, let's be fair to Nikon.  The P510 does have a custom user mode ("U" on the dial, just like the pro Nikon DSLR's.)  And it could be argued that the pop-up flash is enough for most uses, especially if you hold a piece of white paper in front of it to diffuse it a bit.  Still, bounce flash opens up a whole new world of lighting options. 

Nikon Summary:   No flash hotshoe, so it's a no-go for me.  I'm disappointed in Nikon for this, but they'd rather have you buy their DSLR's and get hooked on expensive lenses... anyway, I'd better mention the fact that the Nikon does have built-in panoramic mode.   Consider your primary uses for this camera, and maybe that feature would be critical for you.  (See also the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 & FZ200, below).
I might add that the Coolpix P510 bridge camera does cost quite a bit less than the Nikon D3200 with kit lens.




Pentax makes the X-5, and the reason I didn't even mention it originally is that I was not too thrilled by the fact that it has only two aperture settings, and also because it lacks a flash hotshoe.  I also don't like the idea of "digital" image stabilization that they use on this camera (actually, it's sensor shift augmented by some cheap digital trickery;  see below).  Mainly it's the two aperture settings, and the lack of hotshoe, for me at least.

(Just so you know, when a camera does something digitally, chances are it's because they're being cheap.  All the "digital shake reduction" does is turn up the shutter speed by boosting the ISO setting:  a very cheesy way to do it.  You could do that manually on any camera.  Talk about marketing-speak!

It really says "We didn't want to invest in a really good mechanical shake reduction system."  But... they at least have some on this camera.  It's a "hybrid".)

I decided to add this camera into the list of possibilities, though, because a reader recently asked about it.  The Pentax X-5 for the money (currently well under $200) is certainly a passable choice if you don't care about pro features.  (All-black version available here;  get the silver and black model here)   To be sure, it will yield better pictures than the bridge cameras of just a few years ago (the X-5 is from 2012).  It also has that "DSLR" feel in your hand, and for about 200 bucks, that's less than half the price of an entry level DSLR.  I don't want to down this camera, because it could be all you need for what you're doing.  This goes back to what any experienced photographer will tell you:  it's more a matter of operator skill than what kind of camera you have.   You could buy a Pentax X-5 and find it's your favorite camera of the decade.  Nothing wrong with that at all (it's not my favorite camera, though).

Once you're looking in this price range, you might be tempted to get the even cheaper Fuji S4500.  If you're going to make it a contest between these two cameras, I'd actually go for the X-5.  The Pentax has 1080p video resolution, whereas the S4500 is only 720. 



Sony makes the 18.2-megapixel DSC-HX200V, which has a "background blur" feature to simulate the bokeh that you'd get from a real DSLR.  When a superzoom is within the wide-angle to short telephoto range, background blurring is normally hard to achieve because of the small sensor... unless, of course, you zoom in to a much longer focal length.  Even there, bridge cameras don't offer much bokeh, so a background-blur feature is highly significant.

The DSC-HX200V has no flash hotshoe.  This would take it out of the running for me, but maybe not for you.  (By the way, don't use older flash units on any digital camera unless you use a Wein Safe Sync.  Otherwise you'll burn out the digital camera's flash circuitry!) 

Sony now has the DSC-HX300/B (here), which offers 50x optical zoom to compete with the Canon SX50.  If it weren't for the lack of flash hotshoe, the HX300 would be my favorite choice.  It has better autofocus than the HX200, and easier manual focus as well.  It allows for background blurring ("Background Defocus", available through the SCN setting on the dial).  It also has a mode called "Intelligent Sweep Panorama", which allows you to create panoramic shots by panning the camera.  The HX300 also has a top shutter speed of 1/4000th, compared to the Canon SX50's 1/1600th.

Even more recently they introduced the HX400V/B (here) with 70x optical zoom and a flash hotshoe.  Resolution has been increased to 20.2 megapixels, though it won't improve image quality with such a small sensor.  Let me clarify that:  it won't improve image quality at high ISO;  in fact it's a bit worse-looking due to smearing and artifacts.  Remarkably, though the HS400 has noticeably sharper, more detailed JPG's at ISO 80 than the HX300.... or even the Canon SX50.  I'd still get the SX50, partly because of its RAW image capability.

The Sony HX series has just about everything else right:  optical image stabilization;  manual focus;  slowest shutter speed 30 seconds;  etc., etc.   In fact the optical image stabilization on the Sony is really good, maybe better than on any of the other bridge cameras.  The HX200, 300, and 400 have built-in panorama sweep modes, competing with the Nikon and Panasonic offerings.

Sony Summary:  For a traditional "small sensor" bridge camera, the Sony HX400 is actually quite good.  If you use the lowest ISO setting, its image quality is arguably better than most other bridge cameras.   And here are some highlights:

HX 400V/B
- Flash hotshoe
- RAW mode
- Wi-Fi & GPS
- You can download camera apps for it too
- Better image quality than the HX300 at lowest ISO
- Better image quality than most other bridge cameras at lowest ISO

Once again, lack of a hotshoe on the HX200 and 300 tells me to skip those.  On the plus side, the background blurring feature can be pretty handy for simulating the "bokeh" you'd get with a DSLR.  If you're all about outdoor-daylight photos of people, this could be the camera for you.

Update: if you want one of the best bridge cameras made today in terms of image quality, consider the Sony RX10 or the new Panasonic FZ1000 (see below).  It's not cheap, but the RX10's sensor is about four times the size of what's in nearly ever other bridge camera.  That means the RX10 has much better low-light performance, and the images are not as crunchy looking.  Just know that because of its larger sensor, the zoom is only 8.3x.  Then again, that's quite a bit better than the 5x to 6x optical zoom that early bridge cameras had.  8.3x zoom gives an equivalent of 24 to 200 mm, which is a very, very useful range.


              



Panasonic has the Lumix DMC-FZ150 and the DMC-FZ200.  Here are some of its features:

- f/2.8 to 5.2 lens (FZ150) or f/2.8 across entire range (FZ200)
- 12 megapixels
- 24x optical zoom (equiv. to 600mm on a 35mm camera)
- Flash hotshoe
- Very low shutter lag (about 0.1 second)
- Fast continuous-shooting mode
- 1080p HD video
- RAW mode

The fast response could make it one of the better bridge-camera choices for weddings, events, and action sports if you don't want to get into a DSLR with all its various and expensive add-on lenses.  You can pick up the DMC-FZ150 through this link.

High ISO performance on this model is not so great, but you can always get a flash for it.  For the DMC-FZ150, Vivitar makes a 4-AA bounce flash unit (available through this link).     Consider also that the ISO 800 performance on the DMZ-FZ150 is still better than the ISO 200 performance on my old Fuji S7000.   The Panasonic is quite usable at 800, and even 1600 isn't that bad.

The Panasonic also offers optical image stabilization.

The newer DMC-FZ200 (available here) has a couple improvements.  The most significant one is that is can do f/2.8 no matter how much you have it zoomed in.  This is a big deal, and not something you can do with a DSLR lens (at least none that I know of in the affordable range... you'd have to spend big bucks and get something like the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L).  Medium- and long zoom-telephoto lenses with f/2.8 get expensive when you buy them for a DSLR. 

Another cool thing about the FZ200 is that the camera will put panoramas together for you from multiple shots.  This normally requires special computer software and some operator skill.

New:  I finally got around to posting a full review of the FZ200.  Read it here.

Once we consider the external flash units from Panasonic (the DMW-FL360, etc), this is where I'd consider a different make of bridge camera (mainly the Canon).  A great camera with a so-so flash unit is frustrating at weddings and other events (ask me how I know).  Slow recharge times, low power, non-availability of certain modes, etc.:  these are things that could equal missed shots or poor results.  I would go for the Canon bridge camera because it works with Canon Speedlites (see "Canon", below).  Meanwhile the Panasonic flash units are expensive, and they really don't have the performance.    That's too bad, because in every other respect, the Panasonic bridge cameras have the right features for wedding & event photography.

As a workaround, you might consider this flash from Metz.  It's fairly powerful, has fast recycle time, and it swivels.  If I were going to buy the FZ200 and use it semi-seriously, I would definitely get that flash unit for it.

Update:  Panasonic now has the DMC-FZ1000 (available here), which has a 1" sensor like the Sony RX10.  Again, we're looking at about four times the sensor area of your typical bridge camera.  Image quality is superb.  The FZ1000 has 4K video and 16x zoom with an f/2.8 to f/4 lens. 



Pansonic Summary:  The FZ200 could be a good choice for event photography, but I would seek the aftermarket flash unit if you want to get the most out of it.

Meanwhile, the new FZ1000 is Panasonic's entry into the large-sensor bridge camera market, competing with the Sony RX10.  The Panasonic's better zoom (16x) makes it a better choice if you want the all-around, "does almost everything" camera.  Like the RX10, it's not cheap, but it has the performance.  A one-inch sensor is not as good as APS-C (which you'll find in many DSLR's), but it's definitely better than the 1/2.3" sensors that are in other bridge cameras.

         


Fuji was the brand I wanted to like most in bridge cameras, and as far as I'm concerned it's still a top contender.

Just a heads-up, though:  for advanced work, you might want to avoid the Fuji SL300 (etc) and the Finepix S4500 (etc).  These two series have no manual focus.  That really counts against them for any kind of pro or serious enthusiast-type use (although it might not matter so much to the casual user).  

If you're even thinking of pro or serious amateur use and want to use a Fuji, stick with the HS-EXR series.  These are the HS20EXR, HS25EXR, and HS30EXR. They offer manual zoom (unusual!) and actually look a lot like a DSLR. 

The HS25EXR (used to be available through this link or this one), is less money than a real DSLR.   It's also a lot less than we had to pay for the early Fuji bridge cameras ($800...).   The HS25EXR takes AA batteries, which I see as a benefit because you can carry some Sanyo Eneloop rechargeables with you.   This is great for hiking where you can't get to a charger.  The HS20/25 EXR's also have RAW capture mode, like the old S7000.

Then there's the HS30EXR (was available here).  It has RAW shooting mode, and it also has a much better electronic viewfinder than the 20 or 25EXR.  However, the HS30EXR also has a lithium battery instead of AA's.  I actually see that as slightly counting against it, but you might not.   The improvements from the HS20/25 EXR to the HS30 aren't really that huge anyway.

Early in 2013, Fuji introduced the 16-megapixel HS35EXR (available through this link) which currently sells for substantially less than the HS30.  The 35 has a slightly bigger sensor (1/2 inch) but pretty much everything else is the same, except a lower burst-frame rate.  I think I would probably go for the HS35 if the choice came down to these two.

Introduced at the same time was the HS50EXR (available here).  It sports 42x optical zoom (the 35EXR has only 30x), a  16MP sensor, and of course a flash hot shoe.  Like the 35EXR it has a 1/2" EXR CMOS sensor, and like the 35EXR it also has RAW mode.

All these HS-EXR models are compatible with Fuji's external TTL flash units, the EF-20 and EF-42.   The EF-20 flash is typically just over $100;  the EF-42 goes for roughly twice that.  I'd get the EF-42 because it can do bounce flash.  (Get yours here). 

Fuji, the makers of Velvia, offers "Velvia" simulation modes on these cameras.  At first I thought that was pretty cool, but the more I look at these and compare with real Velvia, the more I realize how much they can't compare.  Fuji still has a long way to go.  A bridge-camera macro-capture of actual Velvia slides still looks way better than a "Velvia-mode" digital shot taken with one of these cameras.  In color photography, subtleties are everything, and the digital camera companies still don't have it.  If anyone will get it perfectly right, it's probably going to be Fuji, but it's a long way off.   The real thing has some hard-to-quantify "X factor".   (Check out some of my film vs. digital articles, such as this one or this one.)

There are two things I dislike about the newer Fuji bridge cameras.  One is the image stabilization, which is not optical but sensor-based.  Sensor-shift stabilization seems a poorer choice for a camera that never has to change lenses.  (On a DSLR it could actually be a good thing.)  The thing is, this is not a show-stopper.  It's tolerable.  My old Finepix S7000 had no image stabilization at all!  The limitations of sensor-shift really start to become a problem at longer zoom settings.  (If you're using a tripod for the maximum superzoom setting, you're supposed to turn off image stabilization anyway, so...)

The other thing I slightly dislike is their choice of RAW format.  It's a proprietary file type (.RAF) that requires special software.  The free program S7Raw can open it, but on my system that won't run.  Another program, "rawtherapee", can handle the older .RAF files, but I don't know if it will open the ones from the newer Fujis.  (That's because the older "RAF" files were actually CCD-RAW, but I don't think the newer ones are.  Will update when I get the chance to try it.)  Why camera companies insist on such odd file types, I have no idea.  (Yet another reason I prefer film).  Anyway, you could always shoot JPG instead and take the slight quality loss, but once you discover the usefulness of RAW, it's hard to do without that. 

As long as you can get S7Raw to run on your system, you'll have access to RAW anyway.  

One more downside I can think of.  Like the SX50 (see below),  the HS30EXR has a rather annoying shutter-speed-limit that prevents you from using higher ISO in combination with long shutter times.  In other words, it's no good for those award-winning Milky Way shots you might have been planning.   Then again, small sensors get very noisy very quickly, so those ten-second shots are better left to a DSLR anyway. And by the way, it's not the highest ISO that's best for this application, but 400 or 800.) 

Fuji Summary:   In their time, the HS35 and HS50 EXR's were strong contenders.    The HS35EXR had only 60% of the zoom capability of the SX50, but it also cost quite a bit less.  The HS50EXR was closer to the Canon in zoom capability (42X), but obviously it cost more than the 35EXR.  The Canon SX50 was and still is the best of the bunch.   (If panoramas are your thing, the Fuji can do 360-degree panorama stitching in-camera, so consider that.)
    

Summary
:  The HS50EXR is a great choice overall. 



Canon  makes the SX40 HS and SX50 HS, and you might already know that I'm partial to Canon digital cameras because of their nice color rendition. 

The SX40 has no RAW mode (although there's a firmware hack called CHDK which can add that feature if you want - may void warranty).  The better SX50 supports RAW image capture, so that's what I'd get.

Here are a few other points of interest for the Canon SX50:

- In-camera effects including HDR, "tilt shift" and "toy camera"
- Better high-ISO performance than the SX150/SX160 or G12/G15 compact cameras.
- 1080px HD video
- optional "square format" composition
- Incredible 50x optical zoom!  That's like a 1200mm lens on a 35mm camera! 

(The SX40 has 35x optical zoom.)

You might still be able to get the older SX40 on Amazon, but like I said, I'd skip the SX40 and get the SX50 instead. 

From time to time, the SX50 goes on sale.  Its list price has been lowered to $429 (as of May 2014), and you can usually get it even cheaper than that on Amazon.  (Worth getting;  I have an in-depth review of the SX50 here.  See also my 2014 bridge camera comparison page.)

It might seem a tough choice whether to go for one of these bridge cameras, or whether to go for something like the EOS Rebel T3 DSLR (review here).  That's because the DSLR has much better high-ISO performance.   They're both in the same price range.  Thing is, the Canon bridge cameras in particular offer unheard-of zoom capability.  Remember:  to get anywhere near the versatility of a bridge camera, you'd spend a mint on lenses for your DSLR.  You'd also need 3 camera bags to tote them all around.  (You could always pick up an Opteka for your DSLR, but look at the thing.  That's not fitting in your mini camera bag!).  

Bridge camera or DSLR?  How about this.  I know that some well-heeled photographers will scoff at this, but I'm of the firm opinion that operator skill is more important than how much your camera costs.  Here's what I'd do, to cover 99.9% the digital shots I'll ever need to take:  get an SX50 and a Canon Rebel T3 or perhaps a T3i.  Total cost:  as low as $730 to $850... and you'll have two cameras and still be in it for less than most photographers pay for one DSLR.  Then, save your money up later and get an L-series lens for your T3/T3i. 

I still can't believe how powerful the optical zoom is on the SX50.  Birders love this camera because you can zoom in on a bird way off in a distant tree and actually get a frame-filling closeup.  The SX50 is also great for photographing larger animals where you wouldn't want to get trampled by being too close.

For event photography with the SX50, consider a bounce flash.  If you can budget it, skip the two entry-level flash models and go with the 430 EXII at least.  It may seem pricey if you're used to $40-$50 flash units, but it has the power and it can interact fully with the camera's menus.  Get your 430 EXII through this link

The nice thing is that if you do eventually go for a Canon DSLR, this flash will work with it.   If you think you'll need to trigger off-camera flashes with TTL, save up and get the 600 EX-RT or a used 580EX II.

I would also get the Lensmate 58mm filter adapter (available through their website).   Or, get the slightly lower-cost Goja 58mm adapter that comes bundled with a UV filter.  

                      

Just take note that the SX50, like many other bridge cameras today, does not take AA batteries.  Also, unlike the Nikon P510 and the Lumix DMC-FZ, the Canon also lacks built-in panorama stitching.  Just something to consider here.  (By the way, some of these kinds of features can be introduced later with firmware upgrades.  Not that they will, but I'm just sayin'.)

Another thing some might dislike is that at slow shutter speeds (one second or longer), the camera cannot utilize any of the higher ISO settings.  You're stuck at the lowest ISO here (couldn't they at least have done 400?).  Canon engineers probably figured that one second and longer is strictly tripod territory anyway.  The superzooms in general will noise up at high ISO;  all the more with long exposure times.  However, the one place where high(ish) ISO is absolutely necessary while using a tripod is when you're photographing the night sky.  Low ISO means much longer shutter times, which will give streaks or star trails.  If you want those nice, National Geographic-type shots of the Milky Way where the stars are points of light, this camera isn't going to do it.  (If towns and cities don't start mitigating their light pollution, you're not going to be able to see the Milky Way anyhow...)   Aside from that, the SX50 is a winner.

Canon also makes the cheaper SX510Here's why I much prefer the SX50.



Conclusion

I really like bridge cameras, and I know I'm not the only one. 

If I had to choose one right now, it would be the Canon SX50 without a doubt.   I now have a full review of the SX50, and here's a gallery.  (Please purchase your SX50 directly through this link and help keep my website on-line.  Thanks!) 

Now that the Fuji HS50EXR seems to be discontinued, my second choice in a bridge camera is the Panasonic FZ200;  review here

As long as you know what features you require and choose accordingly, you could do well with almost any of the bridge camera models available today.

For any pro or advanced amateur, there are certain features that are really important.  Here's what I look for:

Must-have:

- Manual and Aperture-Priority modes
- Manual Focus
- Flash Hot Shoe
- Reasonably low shutter lag (0.3 second or better)


Should have:

- RAW mode (actually, I might even call this a must-have, because I do a lot of landscapes.)
- Continuous Shooting Mode (7 fps or better)
- 30x or better Optical Zoom

Initially, these criteria steered me toward the Canon, and they still do.  But now, what about the newer offerings from Sony et al?

When I first wrote this article, Sony's top superzoom was 30x.  Then the HX300/B offered 50x to compete with the Canon.   The HX300 has no flash hotshoe, but the brand-new HX400/B does.  The HX400 also has 70x zoom.  As I said, the HX400 is a great choice, except that it lacks RAW capture mode.   For more info in a comparison form, see also my new article here.

I've also mentioned the newer 1"-sensor bridge cameras.  In terms of image quality, the Sony RX10 and Panasonic FZ1000 are going to surpass any of the other choices, simply because of their bigger sensors.  Worth it?  Well, sure, if you want a does-it-all camera that never has to change lenses. (Get your RX10 via this link, or your FZ1000 through this one, and help keep my website going.)  Just know that they don't zoom as far as their smaller-sensor counterparts.

Bridge cameras today are in the same price range as entry- or mid-level DSLR's, but the extra-long focal lengths and other features allow the bridge camera to stand on its own.   Bridge cameras have evolved into their own permanent category. 

In terms of price vs. quality, I'd still get the Canon SX50 and feel confident that it's the best overall for the money.  The Panasonic FZ200 is another great choice, and the Sony HX400 would be my third pick.

The Sony RX10 and Panasonic FZ1000 beat everything at all ISO, but they're more expensive and also lack the zoom reach.  

This concludes our look at bridge cameras.  Thanks for reading, and I hope you've enjoyed this article or found it helpful.  You can really help me out if you use the links to buy your camera gear or just about anything else you can think of.

Thanks again!







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