Bridge Camera is a general name for digital cameras that have some degree of manual control, a long range zoom lens and a viewfinder – but usually not interchangeable lenses. They are somewhere between a point and shoot camera, and a full DSLR.
Between those three shared properties there are many models to choose from. Use the following information to decide if there is a room for one in your kit, or if it is a good first camera to enter the world of photography.
How did it all begin ?
In the early days of the second millennium, a digital camera was either a point and shoot with very few controls and fun to use for the amateur photographer, or it was a heavy, bulky digital SLR with a price tag far beyond reach of the average photographer (see below). Then there was room for a new type, the bridge camera with manual controls, a long non-interchangeable zoom lens, and decent amount of options. For many photographers the bridge camera was a safe option, connecting the old world of film, and future world of digital photography, hence the name – bridge.
A 2MP DSLR from the year 2000, price tag was $10,000 USD.
Take a small image sensor, put it behind a long zoom lens, in a body that looks and feels like an SLR camera, with all the manual controls and gadgets, replace the complicated SLR viewfinder system with a small LCD – and you have created a camera that is a compromise between price, size, and image quality – the bridge camera. A camera that is more than specifications and image quality, a camera that brings the experience of digital photography to non-professionals.
The golden age of bridge cameras was short lived, and it seemed like they disappeared as soon as affordable DSLRs hit the stores. That happened in 2004, but the bridge is still solid.
FujiFilm Finepix 4900Z, announced in 2000, was among the first digital stills cameras to use an electronic viewfinder (EVF) instead of the bulk of an optical one.
Is a bridge camera for you ?
A decade later, deep into the age of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILC) and bridge cameras perform a new role. They stay loyal to their core design values, but with current technologies, they became a formidable tool that often is the right choice, rather a compromise. Bridge cameras today are made by many manufacturers, to fit different photographer’s needs. Some take the traditional task of being a good compromise between price, size and image quality, and others come to replace the DSLR as a complete photographic solution for all your needs.
Here is a quick overview of some leading bridge cameras today, and their strong points.
Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
The capital ship in Panasonic’s fleet of bridge cameras, is no a small camera by absolute measures, but it is a good package size for what it offers. The Lumix FZ1000 ($798 USD) offers a great combination of large image sensor (1″ 20MP) with a long, fast zoom lens that is optically stabilized. The camera’s EVF is very large and bright.
This camera has something for the beginner, as well as the seasoned photographer. Its ergonomics and controls resemble the ones of the Lumix G line of MILC cameras, and are made for fully manual operation. It is a very fast and responsive camera, the lens goes from 25mm to 400mm (35mm equivalent) at a fast f/2.8 at the wide side, and f/4 at the long side of the zoom.
This camera has the most tools in its box. It works great in low light, and the lens can produce shallow depth of field thanks to the large sensor. It is capable of 4k video and has a microphone input socket for better sound recording. The lens is not the longest, nor the fastest and also not the sharpest lens in the family, but in the right hands it will produce beautiful images that will look great on screen, as well as on prints as large as 16×24 inches.
This is the bridge camera to have when you want one camera to do it all. All photos in this article were made with a Panasonic FZ1000.
The king of all bridge cameras, the Sony RX10III is the one that truly redefines the place of such cameras in the bag of the professional photographer. It costs similar to a professional camera (at $1498 USD) and weighs in like one at 1.05 kg (2.32 lb / 37.07 oz), for some photographers it is the best photographic solution available with its unique features.
Aimed at wildlife photographers, Sony’s designers created this camera around the same 1″ 20MP sensor as the FZ1000, but in a weather-sealed body that feels like it was meant to suffer. It has a 24-600mm lens (35mm equivalent) with a fast f/2.4 aperture at the wide end and f/4 at the telephoto side of the zoom. The camera has three control rings around its large lens, of which one is a dedicated aperture control ring, a feature that offers more freedom than any other camera to manual photographers.
The RX10III is a large and heavy camera, but it shines in the most important spot, its image quality. The 24-600mm Carl Zeiss T* lens really makes the most out of the large sensor, at any point along the huge range, it performs in a way that makes you want to use it for your next shoot. For the wildlife photographer the camera offers a speedy 14FPS (frames per second) rate and a unique ultra slow motion video.
This is the bridge camera to take on a wildlife photo-journey, or if you are a one man show photojournalist. It will make sure you will return with great photographs.
Nikon Coolpix P900
The Nikon Coolpix P900, is an optical miracle but at a high cost in usability other than day time wildlife or other long distance objects.
The Nikon Coolpix P900 ($529 USD) is the longest bridge, with its extremely long 24-2000mm zoom lens (35mm equivalent). With f/2.8 at the wide end and f6.5 at the telephoto end of the zoom, the P900 has the longest lens you can get in a camera without breaking your back or your savings. For example, the same focal length in a fullframe Nikkor lens would cost you about $95,000 USD and it weighs 38.5 pounds. This telephoto wouldn’t be available without Nikon’s five-stop optical image stabilizer, that makes it possible to use the mighty lens without a tripod, even at a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second, given your subject is not moving.
At 899g (1.98 lb / 31.71 oz) the Nikon Coolpix P900 if far from being called a compact camera. It should not be your first choice if you plan to do low light photography or video, nor does it have the best image quality. You should choose this camera if you are going to photograph real far subjects in broad daylight.
Panasonic Lumix FZ300
The Lumix FZ300 ($498 USD) is a well balanced mix of technologies and features, together they make this camera one of the funnest to use in most photographic situations, within the limitations of a small sensor. Panasonic chose a fairly low resolution sensor for this camera of only 12mp, in order to better its low light performance. The sensor is behind a 25-600mm lens (35mm equivalent) with a constant maximum aperture of f/2.8, a combination that not only allows for more control over the depth of field and creating beautiful portraits, but is also important to make the long lens useful in a larger variety of scenes with different light conditions.
The FZ300 is a mature bridge camera that works well within its size and cost limits and it makes the most out of the different components. It takes beautiful 4k video and make use of its that capability also to produce 8mp stills images at an astonishing rate of 30 FPS, a useful feature when you’re photographing fast moving objects. Its weather sealing will help you make the right decision before leaving home for a winter vacation, or just to get closer to the waves when photographing on the beach. This camera should be your choice if you wish to have lots of fun, but are not going to make very large prints.
A digital camera is a magnificent combination of optical, electronic and digital devices, put together in order to let you fulfill your photographic creativity and ideas. They come in many different styles and forms, some will fit for you more than others. It is always good to check-in with yourself as to exactly what is it that you want to photograph most, then go look for the camera that can give you that, rather than buy the one with the most impressive specification sheet.
Have you used a bridge camera? If so which one? Do you think there’s still a place for them in today’s photography world? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.