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Four Amazing Bridge Cameras Reviewed & Compared
Tracking Down the Best Bridge Camera
When it comes to digital photography, we're really in a golden age. The technology has never been more impressive, and the cost has never been lower for the consumer. If you want a simple point and shoot version, there are dozens available, many for under a hundred. But if you want a bit more juice, but you don't want to splash out on a DSLR, you might want to consider the bridge camera.
Filling the gap in between inexpensive yet simplistic point and shoot models and the more fancy, expensive and complicated digital SLRs, a bridge camera has many of the fancier features you'll want, without the bells and whistles that you're unlikely to use, such as removable lenses and such. They're small and compact, yet they're versatile enough to take some fine photos. In short, they're a good compromise.
This article is written specifically to help you identify a few of the best bridge cameras on the market today. We'll be taking a close look at four of my favorites, giving comparisons between them. Specifically, we're looking at size, price tag, features and usability.
I'll also touch on what exactly a bridge camera is, and how it's different from some of the other stuff out there (like compact system cameras and such). Hopefully my reviews will be helpful!
So What Is a Bridge Camera Anyway?
A bridge camera can be tough for the layman to identify, because they have a fairly wide range of potential features and as yet I haven't seen any clear cut description. A bridge camera is based on the features it has, and the features it lacks.
Single, Fixed Lens: A bridge camera won't have a swappable camera lens. That's one of the biggest differences. The lens it comes with will probably be versatile and multi-purpose, and will often feature a generous amount of zoom.
Digital Viewfinder: Unlike an SLR camera, even the best bridge cameras won't have an optical viewfinder, meaning that what you see through the viewfinder will be a digital representation of what the camera sees. It also means the response time is a bit slower, and that you can't use the viewfinder while it's turned off.
Smaller yet Powerful Sensor: The image sensor on a bridge camera is considerably better than a point and shoot, but it's not as nice as a full fledged DSLR. The camera can also feature some limited manual controls, so you have the option to make each shot your own.
Likely the biggest difference between a DSLR and a bridge model is the price, with bridge cameras being significantly less expensive.
Olympus SP-100: Great zoom bridge camera with a snazzy price.
If you're hoping to get a good bridge camera that reviews well for as little as possible, this is one I'd take a serious look at. It's an inexpensive bridge camera that compares well to much more expensive models.
The first thing you're likely to notice is the zoom lens. It's huge, and it has a great range for its optical zoom capability. It can handle 10.7x zoom, and it's a wide angle lens too, so you'll get a lot of image in each shot.
The image quality is pretty sharp, and the camera features a 12 megapixel sensor. That's likely more than enough pixel density for most uses. It is also capable of taking video in full HD quality.
The housing is slender and has a great feel in your hands, feeling solid and well constructed. It has a magnesium alloy body which feels very dependable. The controls are pretty easy to reach and relatively intuitive, though I'd still spend a bit of time with the manual to get fully acquainted. The touch-tilt screen is about 3 inches across. It's by no means a 'fit in your pocket' camera, but it's small enough to be convenient.
It doesn't have the full manual controls you'll see with a DSLR, but it has exposure and focus to play with. You can control lots of stuff, but you won't feel overwhelmed. There are different filters and image settings. It's awesome if you want quality shots without a ton of fiddling. It makes an awesome wildlife or pet camera because of the zoom and auto features.
This is a good, cheap bridge camera for under $600, and it's well worth a hard look.
Sony DSCH300: A deceptively powerful bridge camera with great zoom
Sony has been making great strides into the digital camera realm, and their line of DSLRs are pretty great. They have taken that new tech and stuffed much of it into this powerful bridge camera, and it's one of the best you can buy today.
Let's start with the image sensor, which is a powerful 20.1 megapixels, giving you truly massive photos if you need them. That lets you get a ton of detail in every shot, and you can crop it to your needs after the fact.
The zoom lens is pretty stellar too, with 35x optical zoom. This lens goes waaaay out! That's the kind of zoom that lets you photograph wildlife without them suspecting that you're nearby.
It comes with features you often don't see on point and shoots, like the image stabilization technology that's included and active. Blurry shots will be a lot less common with that feature running.
The LCD display on the back is huge, colorful and sharp, with a 3 inch viewing surface. (It is NOT touch screen, just so you know). There are a few controls and some built-in image settings, for use both before and after you snap the shot.
It can also do stuff like record 720p HD video, and you can use the 360 degree panorama mode to take it all in.
A few things to note: this is a decent sized camera, certainly not 'portable', but still much smaller than a DSLR. It is one of the top bridge cameras in terms of pixel density, but it does use standard AA batteries rather than a rechargeable unit, so I'd invest in some separate rechargeable ones to save cost. On the whole, Sony makes a solid product and it's a nice choice.
Fujifilm Finepix S1: Among the best bridge cameras, amazing reviews
Fujifilm's S1 is one offering among many by the company. You'll probably notice if you do any further research that owners of these Finepix cameras tend to be pretty fanatical, and I can easily see why. These cameras have that perfect blend of nice features and usability, and they're a joy to use.
The camera will feel very good in your hand. It's not huge, but it's not small either, and you'll probably enjoy the weight and balance of the housing. The controls are all housed on the back and the top thumb control, and they're quite intuitive. You'll be flying in no time with this one.
It features a very capable image sensor that has a maximum of 16 megapixels. The video feature is full HD capable too. Between those two you'll probably have more than enough pixel density and detail for any vacation, family photo or wildlife application.
One huge selling point for me with Fujifilm (and something they pride themselves on) is their ability to handle colour. I don't know why, but their sensors just seem to capture the vibrancy of colour in a scene.
It also features a large 3 inch viewing screen on the back, a digital viewfinder, a rechargeable lithium ion battery, WiFi connectivity, and a fantastic flash unit. Overall it's an amazing bargain digital bridge camera that has a legion of fans.
Canon SX530: A no-nonsense, top quality, digital bridge camera
With any product from Canon, you're getting a really solid piece of equipment that has excellent build quality and technology behind it. The SX520 is no different, and it's probably my favorite of the bridge cameras I'm reviewing here today.
I'll start with the processor on this one. It's the same DIGIC 4+ image processor you'll find on many of Canon's bigger and more expensive models, including the Rebel series. That means images are sharp, true color and very quick to snap. The extra large image sensor allows the camera to handle around 16 megapixels.
The zoom is stellar, the best in the class at 50x optical. That's reflected in the higher price, but you'll really notice the power. The lens is wide-angle, and you'll get crisp photographs even at a distance due to the built-in image stabilization technology, which automatically corrects against blur.
The grip and housing are very natural and relaxed. Despite having a high pixel density and long range lens, it's actually one of the lightest and smallest bridge cameras reviewed here today.
You can record high definition movies with this camera, and it has a nice feature with a single purpose record button, making capturing a scene much quicker. And, on the subject of speed, the auto focus and auto exposure configurations make this one of the quickest cameras to shoot with.
It's a powerful digital bridge camera with many reviews to back it up. Check it out yourself!
Bridge / Digital Camera Poll:
What's your ideal camera?
What's the Next Step Up?
If you're looking for crisper photos, a faster shooting camera, higher pixel density or more manual controls, you're probably going to have to move out of the whole automatic, point and shoot style.
There are a number of ways you can go. The current king of the market is the digital SLR camera, which is available from anywhere around $500 to tens of thousands. Advantages include the swappable lenses, powerful image sensors, optical viewfinder and the ability to manually control almost every aspect of a shot.
Another recent entrant into the market is the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, of which I am a big fan. A definite step up from even the most powerful bridge camera, these guys aren't cheap either, but they tend to be less expensive than a DSLR.
A variety of CPC camera that I'm a huge fan of is the micro four thirds system, which (like the DSLR) features swappable lenses and a high level of manual control, all in a smaller package. Read more about the micro four thirds system in this article I wrote earlier.
If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below and I'll try to respond in a timely manner!