Bridge Camera Roundup

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Despite the growing availability of some impressively small mirrorless digital-camera systems, the market for bridge-style cameras continues to hold its own. If you think about it, it’s kind of cool to know you can purchase a technology-packed digital camera that can capture up to 10 frames per second, HD video with Dolby sound, and sports  a fixed 36x optical zoom lens no less for a few hundred dollars. I take that back. It’s very cool.

Smartphones are swell—there’s no disputing that. But there’s a limit to the optical and performance levels of these techno-wonders, at least at this point in time. What makes bridge cameras so seductive is their size—they fit in the palm of your hand, they possess impressive imaging abilities in both stills and HD video, and their über-zoom focal ranges allow you to zip from wide-field panoramas to in-your-face distant landscapes with the simple twist of a zoom ring. Sure, they contain smaller digital camera-size imaging sensors, but for most practical applications, the image quality of these palm-sized wonders is pretty darn good and far more visually dynamic than their ring-toned counterparts.

The key advantages bridge cameras have over their traditional point-and-shoot counterparts is that they have fixed zoom lenses with incredibly broad focal ranges and electronic viewfinders (EVFs), which like the viewing systems on DSLRs, make them far easier to use in bright light or when employing longer focal lengths. For travelers looking to lighten (and tighten) the contents of their carry-on bags, bridge cameras are no-brainers.

Nikon

If it weren’t for the missing bits of red accent trim, you’d think Nikon’s CoolPix L120 and  P500 were full-fledged (albeit palm-sized) Nikon DSLRs. The Nikon CoolPix P500 is the more able of the two, and with a 36x, 22.5 to 810mm equivalent zoom lens is, optically speaking, the most powerful among the eleven cameras included in this roundup.

The controls on Nikon’s P500 are a combination of analog and the usual digital exposure control buttons. Menus and are easy to figure out, and its 3.0", 921,000-dot Vari-Angle LCD is complemented by a 230,000-dot EVF. In addition to the P500’s monster zoom range, the P500 can bang out up to five full-res JPEGs per second and records 1080p full HD video.

Other features found on the Nikon CoolPix P500 include a 12.1MP backlit CMOS imaging sensor and ISO sensitivity levels up to 3200; a five-way VR image stabilization system; 19 Scene modes; dual image processors and Nikon’s EXPEED 2 image processing engine; HDR capture; an Easy Panorama mode; Advanced Night Shooting; Super-Macro focusing down to 0.39" (1cm); and a Smart Portrait System.

Though technically a bridge camera, Nikon’s CoolPix L120 is the only digital camera in this roundup that lacks an EVF. It’s got the telltale viewfinder bump on its top deck, but peek behind its DSLR-like forward façade and all you’ll find is a fixed-position, 3.0", 921,000-dot LCD. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s certainly a consideration if you hate squinting at an LCD at arm’s length on sunny days.

What the CoolPix L120 does have is a 14.1MP CCD, a 21x, 25 to 525mm equivalent zoom lens, and 0.7 JPEG-per-second burst rates at full resolution or up to 15.3 JPEGs per second at a reduced-resolution Sport Shooting mode. Other features found on Nikon’s CoolPix L120 include ISO sensitivity up to 6400; a five-way VR image stabilization system; 17 Scene modes; 720p video capture; in-camera editing functions; and a Smart Portrait mode. The CoolPix L120 is available in a choice of black, bronze and red. 

Canon

Like Canon’s top gun EOS DSLRs, the outer shell of the Canon PowerShot SX40 has fluid curves that look like they were carved by the wind. Though one “x” shy of Nikon’s CoolPix P500 in the optical department, the 35x, 24 to 840mm equivalent zoom lens found on the PowerShot SX40 is equally formidable in its ability to capture scenes both near and far… make that extremely far.

The PowerShot SX40, which contains Canon’s latest DIGIC 5 image processor and a 12.1Mp CMOS sensor, can capture an impressive 10.3 full-res JPEGs-per-second in addition to 1080p full HD video. Other features found on Canon’s PowerShot SX40 include a 2.7", 230,000-dot swivel-based LCD; an EVF for easier image composition under bright skies; ISO levels up to 3200; an Advanced Smart AUTO mode for 32 shooting situations; and focusing down to 2" from the front lens element.

Sony

The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V packs a bunch of neat features, starting with a 30x, 27 to 810mm equivalent Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* zoom lens that focuses down to a centimeter from the front lens element. To better ensure that you successfully capture the shot you see in the finder, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V has a Hi-Speed Linear Focusing system that does an admirable job of keeping the image in your viewfinder in sharp focus.

Along with a 16.2MP backlit CMOS sensor, the Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V allows you the choice of composing JPEG stills or 1080/60p full HD video through your choice of a 3.0", tiltable 921,000-dot LCD or the camera’s EVF.

Other imaging features found on the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V include 3D and Intelligent Sweep Panorama modes; advanced HDR and low-light imaging image capture modes; 10 frame-per-second, full-res JPEG capture; Optical SteadyShot image stabilization; a Background Defocus mode that blurs distracting background details in portraits, a Superior Auto Mode; and an advanced  six-shot HDR capture mode with preset exposure parameters for 33 still scenes and 44 movie scenes.

Panasonic

Panasonic has dual offerings in the bridge-camera division starting with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ47, which in addition to a 12.1MP CCD imaging sensor, features a Nano-coated, 24x, 25 to 600mm equivalent Leica DC Vario-Elmarit zoom lens, ISO 6400 sensitivity levels, a 3.0", 460,000-dot LCD and a 201,600-dot electronic viewfinder.

The Lumix DMC-FZ47 can capture full-resolution JPEG stills at burst rates of up to 3.7 full-res frames per second, 3D still capture, 1080/60i HD video with Dolby stereo sound, and it allows for full manual control overrides of exposure settings. Other neat features found on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ47 include an Intelligent Auto mode that makes it easy to capture sharp, well-exposed imagery; a dual speed zoom power zoom; POWER O.I.S image stabilization; eight Creative Control modes; an Intelligent D-Range Control for better shadow and highlight detail; and an optical image stabilization system.

Next up is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150, which shares almost all of the creative and technical features found on the Lumix DMC-FZ47 including the same 12.1MP CCD imaging sensor; Nano-coated, 24x, 25 to 600mm equivalent Leica DC Vario-Elmarit zoom lens; ISO 6400 sensitivity levels; and a 201,600-dot electronic viewfinder.

In addition to JPEG stills, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 can also capture RAW files, and its 460,000-dot LCD is swivel-based, which makes it easier to shoot stills and video from challenging or awkward camera positions. And for all you speed demons out there, the Lumix DMC-FZ150 can snap up to a dozen full-res stills per second. Gentlepeople, start your image-processing engines.

Fujifilm

From Fujifilm we have a trio of bridge-style contenders starting with the Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR.The slightly rounded and somewhat pumped-up body panels on the FinePix HS20EXR make it look like it starts each day at the gym. Muscles notwithstanding, the FinePix HS20EXR features a 16MP backlit CMOS sensor that can capture JPEG or RAW stills at burst-rates of up to 11 frames per second or 1080p full HD video with stereo sound.

The lens on the FinePix HS20EXR is a 30x, 24 to 720mm equivalent Super EBC Fujinon zoom that features macro focusing down to one centimeter from the front element of the lens. In addition to an electronic viewfinder, the FinePix HS20EXR has a 3.0", 460,000-dot tiltable LCD. If shooting under low lighting conditions is something you tend to do a lot, the ISO sensitivity levels of the Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR can be tweaked up to 12800. And if that’s not good enough for your needs, the FinePix HS20EXR can be programmed to throw CMOS-shift image stabilization and an HDR-based Pro Low Light into the mix that all but guarantees sharp imagery regardless of how dim the ambient lighting gets.

Other features found on the Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR include an Advanced Scene Recognition system containing 27 categories of scenes; in-camera panoramas; dual CPUs; Sky & Greenery x HR, which boosts saturation levels for vivid landscapes; a Tracking AF system; full manual controls; an Intelligent Flash system; and a Face Detection system that even recognizes dogs and cats.

Next from Fujifilm is the Fujifilm FinePix S3200, which is slightly smaller than the FinePix HS20EXR and features a 14MP CCD, a 24x, 24 to 576mm equivalent zoom lens and a 3.0", 230,000-dot fixed-position LCD. The FinePix S3200 can capture JPEGs at burst rates up to 1.2 frames per second and has a top ISO sensitivity of 6400.

Other imaging features include dual image stabilization, in-camera panoramas, 720p HD video capture, a Tracking AF system, full manual controls, and an easy-to-use Facebook and YouTube upload feature.

A bit more modestly endowed (optically speaking) but equal as a quality shooting machine is the Fujifilm FinePix S2950, which sports an 18x, 28 to 504mm Fujinon zoom lens and a 14MP CCD imaging sensor.  Like the FinePix S3200, the FinePix S2950 features a 3.0", 230,000-dot fixed-position LCD; 720p HD video capture; still (JPEG) burst rates up to 1.2 frames per second; a top ISO sensitivity of 6400; dual image stabilization; a Tracking AF system; full manual controls; in-camera panoramas; and a Facebook and YouTube upload feature.

Kodak

Last but feature-wise not least is Kodak’s EasyShare MAX Z990. The EasyShare MAX Z990 features a 12MP BSI CMOS imaging sensor and a 30x, 28 to 840mm equivalent zoom lens. Stills can be captured as JPEG or RAW, and video can be captured at a high-def 1080p @ 30/60 frames per second. For low-light shooting, the EasyShare MAX Z990 features ISO sensitivity levels up to 12,800, which is complemented by an advanced HDR based low-light shooting mode.

For composing and reviewing stills and video the EasyShare MAX Z990 features a fixed 3.0", 460,000-dot LCD, and as with all but one of the above-mentioned cameras, an electronic viewfinder for times you find yourself shooting under bright lighting conditions.

Other features found on Kodak’s EasyShare MAX Z990 include a gaggle of Creative modes and Scene modes, film emulation modes (Kodachrome, Tri-X, etc), and an Easy-to-Share Internet mode.

Whichever of the current crop of bridge cameras you choose, there’s a model that will conform to your specific needs and perform to your satisfaction.

  Sensor Zoom Range (equiv.) EVF LCD Stills Video Max FPS Max ISO
Nikon CoolPix L120 14.1MP 1/2.3" CCD  21x  25-525mm None 3" 921,000 - dot JPEG 720p 0.7 6400
Nikon CoolPix P500 12.1MP 1/2.3" CMOS 36x  22.5-810mm 230,000 - dot 3" 921,000 - dot Tilt JPEG 1080p 5 3200
Canon PowerShot SX40 12.1MP 1/2.3" CMOS 35x  24-840mm NA 2.7" 230,000 - dot Swivel JPEG 1080p 10.3 3200
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX100V 16.2MP 1/2.3" CMOS 30x  27-810mm NA 3" 921,000 - dot Tilt JPEG 1080 / 60p 10 3200
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ47 12.1MP 1/2.3" CCD 24x  25-600mm 201,600 - dot 3" 460,000 - dot JPEG 1080 / 60i 3.7 6400
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150 12.1MP 1/2.3" CMOS 24x  25-600mm NA 3" 460,000 - dot Swivel JPEG / RAW 1080 / 60i 12 3200
Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR  16MP 1/2" CMOS 30x  24-720mm NA 3" 460,000 - dot Tilt JPEG / RAW 1080p 11 12,800
Fujifilm FinePix  S3200 14MP 1/2.3" CCD 24x  24-576mm NA 3" 230,000 - dot JPEG 720p 1.2 6400
Fujifilm FinePix S2950 14MP 1/2.3" CCD 18x  28-504mm NA 3" 230,000 - dot JPEG 720p 1.2 6400
Kodak EasyShare MAX Z990 12MP 1/2.3" CMOS 30x  28-840mm NA 3" 460,000 - dot JPEG / RAW 1080p 5.6 12,800

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I have been thinking about moving from a pocket mega zoom to a bridge camera. Been collecting and putting together information and data. This article put everything together for me. I'll have a lot fewer questions when I come in to B&H to purchase my bridge camera. Wouldn't think of moving up the camera food chain without going to B&H.