I was recently asked what I thought about bridge cameras. To be honest I hadn’t really heard much about them before but when shown what they could do I was amazed.
A few days later I was packing my camera backpack for a day out down to Snowdrop Valley. Having not been there before I wasn’t sure about which lenses I might need so I took all three of the lenses I currently own, a wide-angle zoom, a prime lens and a telephoto zoom. (You can see more details of the lenses I use on the new Gadgets page I have set up listing all my gear)
I did in fact use all three lenses but they make the bag quite heavy and the constant switching of lenses is really starting to bug me. Sometimes I end up taking all three lenses and only using one of them…
As they were fresh in my mind this got me thinking about bridge cameras. Should I replace my dated DSLR with a bridge camera?
What Is A Bridge Camera?
OK so what exactly is a bridge camera? The basic idea is that they are in between a compact camera and a digital SLR, bridging the gap.
This means that they are much bulkier than a compact but have some of the advanced features of a DSLR. One of the most exciting features, from my point of view at least, is the large zoom range. Bridge cameras come equipped with a zoom reaching up to 35x compared to a compact camera which is usually around 3x.
Most bridge cameras also allow for some of the advanced options only usually available on DSLRs like shooting in RAW or fully manual allowing aperture, exposure and ISO levels to all be set manually. Some cameras also allow for manual zooming and focusing giving a much more SLR experience.
To try and act like a SLR bridge cameras tend to have a viewfinder. Due to the way they work though the viewfinder is electronic rather than purely optical. This means you are basically looking at a little screen rather than through the lens. This is still useful when the sun is very bright making the LCD display pretty hard to see.
Why Would You Want One?
I have been thinking about upgrading my Canon EOS 350D for a while now. One of the main reason is that I would like the ability to record video through the camera. I am sure that the quality of pictures would also be improved with a body upgrade.
One thing holding me back is the cost. My 350D is starting to look a bit worn around the edges as the body is all plastic so I was thinking about jumping up a model to a 60D rather than the 600D, which is the latest upgrade in the same class as the 350D. At over £700 though, just for the body, the 60D would be a pretty hefty outlay and not something I am ready to splash out on right now.
The cost is the first major difference from a DSLR. The majority of bridge cameras appear to be under £400 and there is no need to add any lenses to this cost. Some are closer to half that!
Pretty much all cameras nowadays are capable of recording full HD video as well so this may remove the need for a second video device. You must bear in mind though that they probably are not as comfortable to hold as an actual camcorder.
My passion seems to be for wildlife photography and when trying to catch animals out in the wild they are inevitably are at distance. The 70-300mm lens I have is much better than the small zoom on the point and shoot camera, like the IXUS Shirley tends to use, but it still doesn’t always get close enough, sometimes by a long way…
Another benefit of a bridge camera is the huge zoom range, which is equivalent to roughly 24-600mm, depending on the model. And don’t forget this is included in the price! Getting a telephoto lens up near the top end of this range is likely to set you back thousands on it’s own!
Check out this video for an idea of the differences:
What Are The Options?
OK, so I am starting to like the idea of bridge cameras so I decided to look into the possible options out there. After a lot of research I decided that the best options currently available are:
I did look at the Fujifilm X-S1. If I am serious about replacing my DSLR then the extra cost should not be too much of an issue but I just didn’t see much justification for the huge step up in price…
Anyway each of these three cameras have some good and bad points. So lets look at them one at a time.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ150
This has the smallest range out of the three with on 24x zoom. The camera does feel quite nice though and the image quality is supposed to be pretty good.
The auto focus is supposed to be the best out of the three though being much faster than the other two. This camera also include optical image stabilisation to help reduce blurry images and also has RAW option.
A fully articulated LCD screen allows you to see what you are shooting from pretty much any angle. Unfortunately this is also the most expensive one of the bunch at around £400.
Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR
This is by far the cheapest out of the three at around £235! With a 30x zoom this camera also shoots RAW images but supposedly they take a long time to write to the card making you have to wait before you can take the next shot.
The manual zoom works in a similar way to a DSLR, using the barrel of the lens to zoom in and out. There is also a manual zoom ring underneath the manual zoom but I must admit I found this a bit fiddly to use. To be honest even the zoom didn’t feel comfortable as the housing for the flash can get in the way a bit.
One thing I couldn’t get my head around though is the on/off switch. This looks just like the zoom button on most compact cameras, and actually the other bridge cameras as well. I can understand not having the digital zoom button as the camera employs a manual zoom instead but using the button as the on/off seems very counter-intuitive. In fact during the brief play I had with the camera I kept finding myself trying to zoom in with the on/off switch…
The screen is also not quite as good as the other two as it only allows you to angle it up and down. This does allow for above head or low down shots but doesn’t allow for self portraits. Lastly there is no optical stabilisation on this model but it does employ a digital stabilisation to help the images.
Battery life is also a concern though as it only takes ordinary AA batteries. This may seem like a good idea but the price of batteries could soon mount up so it may be a good idea to get some decent rechargeable batteries…
There is a new model on the horizon, the Fujifilm FinePix HS30EXR, which is due out shortly. This looks very similar but has a proper rechargeable battery. The price is likely to be a fair bit higher though…
The HS20 seems like a great camera and I loved the idea of the manual zoom. Couple that with the price this has to be a contender.
Canon PowerShot SX40 HS
Having used Canon cameras, pretty much exclusively, for a long time now I am glad to see that there is a Canon on my shortlist. Not only that but it boasts the largest zoom range of 35x!
The screen is fully articulated and so allows for self portraits as well as high and low shots. As this camera also includes optical image stabilisation the image quality is supposed to be one of the best in it’s class. Until I get my hands on one I cannot say for definite one way or the other how it would compare to an SLR.
On the down side the camera doesn’t allow for shooting in RAW, the auto focus can be a bit slow and the resolution on the LCD screen isn’t as detailed as the other two.
This camera is currently available for around £365 so it comes in under the Panasonic but it’s quite a step up from the Fuji.
I have started to get disheartened with lugging around my Canon EOS 350D and cannot afford the big zoom lens that I would so dearly love to get closer shots of wildlife. So I think I am going to get one of these bad boys. The big question is which one…
The price of the Fujifilm FinePix HS20 was very enticing but after playing with it in a shop I found some of the buttons a bit frustrating and I have read a lot about image quality not being great.
As you may have guessed by the title image of this post I have settled on the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS. I have a bias towards Canon as I have a lot of experience with Canon cameras and the controls just seemed intuitive to me. The lack of RAW shooting is the only thing I think I am going to miss but to be honest at least with jpegs editing is optional…
OK so now I’ve just got to get the money together to get it. I’ll let you know how I get on with it once I have had it for a while.
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