While smartphones are doing their best to kill point-and-shoot cameras, there's still quite a bit of life left in the mid to high end, as we saw at last week's Consumer Electronics Show. One of the most interesting categories is bridge cameras, with superzooms lenses of up to 60x that start from as wide as 20mm and go up to1200mm.
What are bridge cameras?
Bridge cameras fill the gap between low-cost point-and-shoots and more expensive mirrorless ILCs and DSLRs by melding the best features of both. They have fixed long zoom lenses and easy to use Auto and Scene modes as well as advanced settings, (electronic) viewfinders, and excellent image quality.
To compete with smartphones, these models often come with Wi-Fi connectivity and apps for iOS and Android for simple picture transfers and remote viewfinder features. Bridge cameras also usually fall between the two categories when it comes to pricing.
If you are looking for a better camera than what's included in your smartphone, one of these bridge cameras is what you need to get the professional quality pictures you want without technical difficulties and high price of ILCs and DSLRs.
Budget bridge cameras
On the budget end of the spectrum, both Nikon and Panasonic announced cameras that come in around $300.
Panasonic's Lumix LZ40 has a wide-angle 42x zoom lens (22-924mm f 3.0-6.5) and a good Intelligent Auto function. To keep costs down the company skipped the multi-angle LCD and the viewfinder. Final US pricing won't be out until close to the March release date, but Panasonic is definitely aiming this one at budget buyers.
Nikon's bridge camera, the Coolpix L830, is on of the smallest ones we saw at the show. The 34x zoom (22.5-765 mm) isn't as impressive as others—a sacrifice to keep the size down—but when combined with 68x Dynamic Zoom you still get the ability to grab a decent shot even when very far away. We like the deep and comfortable grip, the tiltable LCD, and the fact that it runs on AA batteries. Plus, it comes in a very attractive red color as well as black. The small size matches the small price: $300.
Fujifilm is one of the few camera makers that isn't even bothering with point-and-shoots, anymore. The company announced five products this week, all with features that can't be found on smartphones and put them beyond typical compacts. The most interesting is the $499 FinePix S1, a weather-resistant camera with an impressive 50x superzoom lens (24-1200mm f2.8-5.6). The S1's larger size means there's room for an optical viewfinder as well as an LCD that tilts.
The best bridge camera
The most impressive bridge camera we saw at the show is Samsung's WB2200F Smart Camera. The bulky look might put you off at first, but it's there for a reason.
This camera features a dual grip that makes it comfortable to hold and use whether you're shooting in landscape or portrait orientation. That feature is normally an add-on for more expensive DSLR and ILC camera models. It's lighter than it seems from the size and both grips feel comfortable and natural. Add to that a 60x zoom lens (20-1200mm f2.8-5.9) with optical image stabilization and you have a seriously versatile camera that might even tempt you away from budget mirrorless ILCs.
Samsung has not announced pricing yet, but we expect the WB2200F to be above $500 considering its picture quality and features, including WiFi and NFC connectivity, full manual control, full HD video recording and long battery life.