Big superzoom cameras are still referred to as bridge models in many circles. It’s a vestigial term carried over from the days when the large body style was aimed at photographers who wanted to move up from a pocket point-and-shoot (which, at the time, had limited zoom ranges as a rule), but weren’t quite ready for interchangeable lenses. The idea was that a camera like this would bridge that gap, and perhaps encourage the same photographers to eventually move to an SLR.
In the 2020s, the term makes less sense, but it’s stuck around. Modern bridge models can vary greatly in features and capabilities. Models with smaller image sensors boast incredibly long zoom ranges, while cameras with larger sensors can’t keep up with 30x pocket zoom cameras like the Panasonic ZS50 in terms of absolute zoom range, but deliver images that truly bridge the gap between compact and SLR quality.
Small Sensor, Big Zoom
Some bridge cameras pack the same size sensor that you’ll find in a pocket point-and-shoot or a premium smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy S21. You’re not going to see a significant jump in image quality when compared with a pocket model, but you’ll be able to enjoy zoom ratios in excess of 50x power. Our favorite model, the Canon SX70 HS, sports a 65x lens that covers an ultra-wide (21mm) to an extremely narrow telephoto (1,365mm) angle. It also sets itself apart from many pocket models and smartphones by offering Raw capture, a very solid optical stabilization system, and an electronic viewfinder.
You can go longer when it comes to zoom—the Nikon P950’s 83x zoom lens covers a 24-2,000mm range—but image quality at the extreme telephoto isn’t as good as it is at wider angles, and autofocus definitely struggles with tiny, quick subjects.
Nikon also has the P1000, with a one-of-a-kind 24-3,000mm (125x) lens, Raw image capture, and 4K video recording. It’s huge, heavy, and priced on the high side, so it’s definitely not a camera for everyone.
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Going in the other direction, the Panasonic FZ300’s lens is a mere 24x power (25-600mm), but it maintains an f/2.8 aperture throughout the entire range, and features one of the best EVFs in its class, along with a weather-sealed design and 4K video capture.
Big Sensor, Shorter Zoom
Sony started putting 1-inch sensors into cameras in 2012 with the pocketable RX100. It didn’t take long for it to follow with the RX10. It’s upgraded the RX10 over the years, and currently sells two editions, the RX10 III and RX10 IV, each with an excellent 24-600mm f/2.4-4 zoom lens and pro-grade build. The RX10 III is more than enough camera for most families and backyard wildlife; the RX10 IV adds much faster autofocus and burst capture, giving serious photogs a reason to spend more.
Other 1-inch models to consider include the FZ1000 II and Leica V-Lux 5. They’re the same camera inside, but the V-Lux matches other Leicas in design and comes with a longer warranty. Both sport lenses that cover a 25-400mm range, a little short for some wildlife, but great for backyard birders and trips to the ballpark.
Choosing the Right Bridge Camera
The bridge camera that’s best for you depends on your budget, your image quality demands, and just how much zoom range you want. Our top pick for backyard wildlife spotters and family vacationers is the Canon SX70 HS. It has an ultra-wide lens, great for landscapes and snapshots in front of famous landmarks, and enough zoom power to snap a shot of a songbird dining at your feeder. But it has its limitations—it’s not the best tool for working in dim light, doesn’t offer weather protection, and isn’t great at focusing on fast-moving subjects.
More serious photographers—or families that don’t mind spending a bit more for better image quality—will want to think about a 1-inch sensor model. The lenses don’t wow us with a big zoom factor, but the larger sensor area means you can crop when needed. The Sony RX10 III is our top pick here. It has a phenomenal lens, reaching 600mm at a relatively bright f/4 aperture, and does 4K video, slow-motion, and shoots at a speedy 14fps. The RX10 IV is a premium upgrade, with a faster 24fps shooting rate, and a much more advanced autofocus system to go with it. If money is no object, it’s the bridge camera to get.
And for the edge cases—photographers who just want as much zoom power as possible—there are a pair of models from Nikon that utilize the smaller 1/2.3-inch sensor format, but reach 2,000mm and 3,000mm. The P950 and P1000 are both niche options, but you may find yourself right in that niche.