Sometimes you don’t want to lug around a DSLR and an assortment of lenses – you want one camera and one lens that does it all.
This means a feature set that cherry picks the best that a typical DSLR has to offer, including manual control and preferably the ability to shoot in raw format as well as JPEG, along with a lens that offers a very broad focal range, so it won’t matter that it can’t be swapped.
Enter the superzoom camera, also known as an ultra zoom or bridge camera – so called because it bridges the gap between a point and shoot compact and an full bells and whistles DSLR, in terms of handling and feature set, at least.
For this reason, superzooms tend to closely resemble DSLRs in terms of look, build and – to an extent – handling, but feature smaller image sensors and, partly because of this, afford physically smaller lenses.
While not a replacement for a DSLR then, the advantage here is that the cameras can offer a very broad focal range; one that, if you were to try and achieve similar effects with a DSLR, would make for a prohibitively expensive and awkwardly unwieldy combo.
The larger physical size of a bridge camera or superzoom when compared with a snapshot camera may deter some, but there’s a lot more creative versatility here in terms of framing choices. A case in point: many models also offer tilt and swivel LCD screens as well as optical or electronic viewfinders. Again, with a bridge camera there is more choice and more options for the photo enthusiast.
So if you are after one jack-of-all-trades digital camera – either instead of a DSLR, or perhaps as a less expensive back up – and you value convenience and flexibility as much as image quality and pixel count, then a bridge or superzoom camera could be your ideal companion. So here we’re shining the spotlight on the best of some recent releases.
Specs: 12MP CMOS sensor, 26x optical zoom,1080p video, 3-inch, 460k dot tilting screen
Looking for the ultimate overall bridge camera, and less bothered about just grabbing the longest lens? Separating this 26x optical zoom model from the herd – its focal range running from 24-624mm in 35mm terms – is a rock-solid build reminiscent of the semi-pro DSLR it resembles in shape and form, plus rubberised body armor that aids a firm grip.
Oddly it not only looks gorgeous, but smells great too, as the zoom coming with a rubber surround to prevent slippage in the heat of the action. Given that this is a premium product in Fuji’s pro/enthusiast photography range, the cost of the Fuji X-S1 is neither cheap nor prohibitively pricey, particularly when it’s now being touted for $300 less than the original asking price.
The Fuji X-S1 wins our Best superzoom camera award.
Fuji FinePix HS30 EXR
Specs: 16MP CMOS sensor, 30x optical zoom, 1080p video, 3-inch, 460k dot screen
Fuji’s 16MP FinePix HS30 EXR, denoting both inclusion of a 30x optical zoom – which can be artificially extended to 60x – and a triple-use proprietary “EXR” sensor, has a lot going for it. Its immediate appeal as you heft it from its box also owes something to a sturdy DSLR-like build, plus a lens barrel that can be extended and precisely adjusted by hand, as with a DSLR proper.
It’s a jack-of-all-trades camera, and happily appears to have mastered many of them from the outset. A lithium ion battery, 920k dot resolution electronic viewfinder and tilting LCD screen are improvements. Add in the ability to shoot raw and JPEG, CMOS-shift image stabilization, f/2.8 maximum aperture, a level gauge to ensure straight horizons without a tripod, plus the ability to manual focus during video – here Full HD – and there’s not much to dislike.
Sony Cyber-shot HX200V
Specs: 18.2MP CMOS sensor, 30x optical zoom, 1080p video, 3-inch, 921.6k dot screen
Resembling a downsized DSLR, dimensions in part dictated by a big and bold optically stabilized 30x zoom, here stretching to a 35mm equivalent 810mm at the telephoto end, the HX200 is Sony’s flagship bridge camera. While in truth its audience is pretty broad, the included GPS facility – whereby images can be tagged with location data – will appeal to travellers as much as families and photo enthusiasts.
Build quality feels substantial, and thanks to a molded handgrip the camera is reassuringly chunky. Plus, if you don’t mind a painterly appearance to the end result – due to processing smoothing the usual blocky appearance of pixels – zoom capability can be digitally extended to 60x. The zoom is operated either via a lever or by twisting the lens ring, which prompts a mechanized response yet delivers more precise control.
Nikon Coolpix P510
Specs: 16MP CMOS sensor, 42x optical zoom, 1080p video, 3-inch, 921k dot tilting screen
Trumping its wimpy-by-comparison 36x optical zoom predecessor the Nikon P500 with its new improved 42x zoom, the Nikon P510 is an amateur paparazzi’s dream, courtesy of an ultra-wide 24-1000mm equivalent focal length. For that, the asking price doesn’t feel too bad. Again, the build is “DSLR lite,” the zoom supported by lens-shift rather than sensor-shift image stabilization, while a 16 megapixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor lies at its core. Performance is enhanced by an Expeed C2 image processor.
Slightly more exciting is, once again, a tilting LCD screen – this time of the 3-inch, respectably high 921k-dot variety, which can be angled up or down but not swung out parallel to the body. Naturally Full HD video shooting is also included, while like its Canon SX40 HS rival the ISO range tops out at a modest ISO 3200, and doing battle with the Sony HX200V, a GPS antenna sits over the lens barrel and pop-up flash. This means, unlike the Fuji X-S1, there’s no space for a hotshoe. For sports fans, continuous burst shooting of up to 7fps is offered, which is better than most entry-level DSLRs at its price.
Canon Powershot SX50 HS
Specs: 12.1MP, 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, 50x optical zoom, 1080p video, 2.7-inch, 460,000-dot variangle screen
Canon SX50 HS
Although it has the same pixel count as the Canon SX40 HS that it replaces the Canon Powershot SX50 HS makes a huge leap forward with its focal length range as it features a 50x zoom lens. This optic has a focal length equivalent to a 24-1200mm lens on a 35mm camera, with a maximum aperture of f/3.4-65.
This lens means the camera is suitable for a huge range of photographic situations, from cramped interiors to distant wildlife, but if the telephoto range isn’t quite enough it can be extended digitally to a100x zoom, giving the equivalent of a 2400mm lens.
As well as the ability to shoot in shutter priority, aperture priority and manual exposure mode the SX50 HS can record images in raw format, making it even more attractive to experienced photographers. Less experienced users are also catered for though as there is a host of automatic exposure modes as well as JPEG recording.
On the whole images from the Canon SX50 HS impress, having plenty of detail, good exposure and pleasantly vibrant colors.
Specs: 16.6MP CCD sensor, 21x optical zoom, 720p video, 3-inch, 230k dots screen
Want an ultra zoom but on a tight budget, and not bothered about too many manual features or enthusiast satiating bells and whistles? Although its styling gives a nod to a DSLR, this 16 megapixel Olympus compact is in fact one of the smallest cameras in its class, with dimensions when dormant that enable it to be squeezed into a roomier jacket pocket.
That said, its 21x optical zoom – a range that travel zoom pocket compacts can now match – does appear a tad weedy in the company of such colossus as Nikon’s 42x zoom P510, with the Olympus’s focal range stretching 25-525mm.
There are some interesting features here, if, arguably, they aren’t essential ones. These include Olympus’s Magic Filters digital effects – where the manufacturer has led and others have followed – a panorama mode that automatically stitches three images together – not as flash as Sony’s machine gun-like burst of images in 3D or 2D Sweep Panorama mode – plus a software-enhanced 3D mode that overlaps two images taken at marginally different angles, with results viewable only on a 3D TV.
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