One of the most commonly undervalued features on a camera is the zoom. A better camera with a good zoom will get you faraway shots while maintaining image quality. Add in the fact that nearly all smartphone cameras lack optical zoom, it’s easy to see why the market for long-zoom cameras is appealing.
Bridge cameras — also referred to as megazoom and super-zoom cameras — are a mix between a point-and-shoot and an interchangeable lens camera (ILC, such as DSLR and mirrorless cameras), and many pack in some pretty big-zoom capabilities. New models, like Nikon’s Coolpix P1000, offer such long zooms that you used to only find in an ILC. They have a fixed lens, which means you can’t swap out the lens for another, but with versatile focal ranges, you wouldn’t need to. Most bridge cameras include advanced features like manual modes and have a DSLR-feel with a larger profile and grip (some long-zoom cameras have a more compact body). But, bridge cameras also bring plenty of zoom, often even more than you can get with a DSLR lens, or at least more than you can get affordably.
The problem with bridge cameras, however, is that the longer a lens gets, the tougher it is to get a sharper image. If you’re paying a few hundred dollars for a bridge camera, you want usable images at the end of that big zoom. And, most use small-sized sensors common in point-and-shoot cameras, rather than the large sensors found in ILCs. That’s why we’ve gathered some of the best bridge cameras that will not only get you a pretty great zoom, but good image quality from the wide to telephoto range.
Canon PowerShot SX60 HS ($429)
The Canon PowerShot SX60 HS extends the reach with an extensive 65x zoom. While it lacks fancy extras like 4K, the Canon SX60 is a well-priced option with a longer reach than most megazooms. The SX60 sits at a mid-point for things like lens aperture and burst shooting, and instead opts for lower price point. Still, the SX60 is a good option for consumers who don’t need a wide aperture but still want a longer reach than most bridge cameras can offer. As a camera that’s almost two years old, however, Canon could potentially be releasing a new version soon.
Nikon Coolpix P1000 ($995)
Nikon’s Coolpix P900 left a few jaws on the ground when it was revealed it carried a massive 83x zoom. Despite being leaps and bounds above the competition at that point, Nikon has shown it was just getting started. Nikon’s Coolpix P1000 camera, due out September 2018, takes it to a whole new level with a ridiculous 125x zoom onboard, with an equivalent focal range from 24mm to 3000mm. At the 24mm range, the P1000 has a maximum aperture of f/2.8; as you get up to 3000mm the maximum aperture drops to f/8. Behind the monstrous lens is a 16-megapixel 1/2.3 inch backside illuminated sensor that can also capture 4K video at 30fps. The Nikon P1000 might not have the fastest lens on the market, but if it’s reach you need, there’s no other option.
If you don’t need that long of a reach, don’t discount the P900, which remains in the Coolpix lineup and a popular product. The 83x zoom is plenty for most users, and is much more compact, making it ideal for everyday carry.
Panasonic Lumix FZ300 ($398)
The longer the zoom, the lower the image quality gets when shooting in the dark. That’s because most zoom lenses stop at a maximum aperture of around f/5.6 or more at full zoom. The Panasonic Lumix FZ300 bucks the trend, however, with a lens that has a constant f/2.8 aperture throughout the zoom range. That’s a strong featured compared to the specs on most bridge cameras.
The tradeoff? A more limited zoom range that stops at 24x. Still, Panasonic tosses in a few other big features to make the camera really enticing. There’s 4K video, five-axis image stabilization, and a 12 frames-per-second (fps) burst speed – all wrapped up in a splash-proof body with both an electronic viewfinder and a tilting touchscreen. If you’ll be doing a lot of low-light shooting, like reaching across a concert hall for example, this is the zoom camera to get.
Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV ($1,700)
The Sony Cyber-shot RX10 IV’s $1,700 price tag makes it a luxury option, but you get a lot for the money — not just in features, but excellent performance. The RX10 IV and its three predecessors — the RX10, RX10 II, and RX10 III, all still available — use a large 1-inch Exmor sensor. That means more resolution (and bigger prints) along with better low-light performance. But, the RX10 IV, like the RX10 III uses Sony’s “stacked sensor” technology that enhances image quality and camera performance. The sensor also offers more depth of field than the typical bridge camera with a 1/2.3-inch variant. It offers a nice boost in image quality over some of the lower-tier options, too, but it’s actually tougher to put a zoom lens in front of a larger sensor, so the RX10 IV tops out with a 25x zoom, which is equivalent to a 24-600mm lens on a DSLR. It’s still a technical feat, considering the RX10 and RX10 II only reach 8.3x.
While the RX10 IV shares similar features as the RX10 III, it’s actually more powerful. Sony redeveloped the Bionz X for the RX10 IV and, working with the stacked sensor, it can achieve a continuous shooting speed as high as 24 frames per second (fps) and an autofocus speed of 0.03 seconds. The RX10 III can shoot up to 14 fps; if fast action is your thing, the RX10 IV is the better camera for the job, but the RX10 III is no slouch.
Still, even with all those features, that $1,700 price tag is tough to swallow. To put things in perspective, an off-brand 600mm zoom like the 150-600mm from Tamron costs $1,000 (just for the lens) while Nikon’s 600mm prime costs more than $9,300. If price is a concern and you don’t mind a lower speed, the RX10 III shaves $200 off the price, and you still get the same lens — we think users will be just as satisfied with the performance. For even more savings and you want to stick with Sony, check out the RX10 II ($1,200). It has nearly all the same features, and while the optical zoom is shorter, it has a bright f/2.8 aperture across the entire focal range.