I've decided that I need a bridge camera. I wanted one with interchangeable lenses but discovered that those don't exist. I can't afford a really good camera; my budget is around 250 Euros.

I love to take shots of nature, and day and night sky, and of my friends engaged in various sports. Also some animals and flowers are beautiful to take some pictures of.

How do I decide which bridge camera to get?

Also asked by the good giant

I have to buy a new camera for my brother. He's not such as a expert to buy a reflex, I mean... not yet. So I'd like to buy a bridge camera, just to give him the possibility to do a little practise.

I have a Fuji s5700 and for me (I'm not a expert either.. it's just a passion by now) and I found it great... so I thought the Fuji s1900 could be ok for him. I'd like to ask you which are the features to look for in a bridge camera, and which one you can suggest for me.

  • and i also make some shoots of some of my friends that are freerunners and of tabletennis matches – Théo Bonte Dec 2 '11 at 15:36
  • and should there be any steady shot things in the camera or things like that cauze i am not realy good at staying steadymyself (or some self focus thinks) – Théo Bonte Dec 2 '11 at 15:39
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    Seriously consider getting an SLR instead. The price for a decent bridge camera is hardly less than an entry-level DSLR, the quality is superior, and you'll only be paying for one camera rather than getting two when you eventually decide you've outgrown the bridge. – ElendilTheTall Dec 2 '11 at 18:45
  • yesterday iwent to the shop and i bought a fujifilm finepix S 2950 its a beautifull and god camera thanks to al of you who helped me making my choice – Théo Bonte Dec 3 '11 at 12:22
  • Possible duplicate: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/3418/… – Rowland Shaw Dec 7 '11 at 9:02

A good bridge camera is one that allows for the user to grow and stretch into a deeper understanding of their craft. It should have the functionality to control light through ISO, aperture and shutter speed. It should have instant shutter release (you push the button and it goes!) and a hot shoe (for flash).

I suggest a hot shoe because built in pop-up flashes are really good for two things: triggering other strobes (good thing) and washing your subject in a nuclear blast of FOC (Flash On Camera, bad thing). As the hobbyist gains confidence and skill, they will want to create more dramatic and balanced images with an off camera strobe of some sort, and thus will need a hot shoe mount on their camera.

Other than these basics, the truth is Nikon, Canon, Panasonic and Sony all have banging models with tons of groovy gadgets. The extras are just that, extras, and most of what they offer you'll never ever use. I know you're shopping for your brother, but think about ergonomics. What feels right? Can you change lenses?

For my vote, I've talked several friends into the Nikon Coolpix P100. Huge CMOS chip. Fast shutter. HD Movie. Gorgeous body. Classic Nikon durability. AND the controls feel more like a true SLR, so your fingers begin to learn what is required of them in high speed, high stress situations. It is my favorite.

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    The P100's CMOS chip is the same size as everyone else's among ultra-zooms. A few more compact cameras use larger chips, sometimes even larger CCDs (Nikon P7000, Canon S95). – Itai Feb 23 '11 at 20:18

They is not that much difference between them, to tell the truth -- not enough to make a specific recommendation for a single make/model. You are going to want to get something that's right at the top of the range you can afford (and may have to rely on a sale price to get what you want), but Canon, Nikon and Fuji/Fujifilm each make a decent-enough camera that has the two features you want to look for:

  • a viewfinder you can bring to your eye; and
  • a threaded mount for a polarizing filter.

You want a proper eye-level viewfinder, rather than just an LCD screen on the back of the camera, so you can hold the camera stably. The electronic viewfinders in bridge cameras are not quite the same thing as the optical viewfinders on a standard DSLR, but they sure beat holding the camera a foot or two away from your eyes when you want to hold the camera steady. (The fact that anybody makes an "ultrazoom" camera with a 500mm-equivalent lens and only an LCD panel for viewing is baffling to me -- any long-zoom pictures you get will almost be accidents.)

You said in your first question that the sky would be an important part of some of your pictures, and you really can't get good skies without a polarizer (and, perhaps, a split neutral density filter). While you can bodge up a filter mount for almost anything, a camera that actually has a threaded filter mount will save you a lot of cardboard and duct tape. You may have to go searching for a step-up ring (a filter adapter) to allow you to use cheaper filters in a more common size (to suit your ongoing budget), but just having the filter thread available will make a lot of things possible that wouldn't otherwise be possible.

Megapixels don't matter. All of the cameras in this range offer too many megapixels for their sensor size (1/2.3" or 1/2"); you will almost certainly have to run a noise-reduction program over your images to make them look their best. Go to a store and experience the cameras in your hand before making a choice -- ergonomics and "feel" are as important as anything else.

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    Isn't the LCD panel more useful than a to-the-eye viewfinder on a tripod, which seems like a food idea at 500mm-e even on a P&S camera? – mattdm Dec 2 '11 at 15:49
  • Anyway +1 for a good general answer. – mattdm Dec 2 '11 at 15:49
  • superbe answer thnkyou it helped me a lot now i just need to find a camera shot in my region – Théo Bonte Dec 2 '11 at 15:51
  • @mattdm: They all have the LCD anyway if you're shooting from a 'pod, and handholding at 500mm is neither impossible nor undesirable all of the time. What about monopods? And the EVF doesn't suffer from glare and washout, even on a tripod -- you'd need a HoodLoupe or equivalent otherwise, since merely shading the panel doesn't do the trick (unless you do the whole "dark cloth" thing like a view camera user). – user2719 Dec 2 '11 at 16:19

The traditional bridge camera is the ultra-zoom as you have been looking at. However, there are now more compact models with advanced photographic controls that work even better (Well, they did exist for a while but until recently there were not much choice).

The trade-off is the more compact models actually use bigger sensors. This makes their image quality noticeably better. Ultra-zooms use small sensors to achieve such long zooms with such small lenses :)

The Canon Powershot S95 and the Powershot S90 are really awesome in this category. They are small but use a bright lens and have the most comfortable easy to use manual controls. You'll get the S90 for cheaper, since it shoots VGA movies compared to HD videos as the S95.

Canon also has a G-series (Currently G12) that some people prefer simply because it looks more serious. It has a hot-shoe, in case you care about external flash, but the lens is not as bright and the controls are not as ergonomic.

Nikon has the Coolpix P7000 which is a big bigger but very nice to use. It has all the photographic controls and better image quality. The lens is not bright like the S95/S90 but has a longer zoom, if that is important to you. It also supports an external flash via a hot-shoe.

Those are not the only ones but I can tell you that these are excellent cameras for being creative with photography without going towards interchangeable lens cameras (DSLR/SLD).

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I've got a Panasonic FZ28, and I learned a ton from that camera. The feature list Rob put together is about right, though both the FZ38 and the P100 lack a hot shoe. Using that camera, I was able to learn about the exposure triangle, quality trade-offs of different ISO settings, RAW processing, stop-action techniques, and so on -- just the sort of thing you're looking for, I believe.

By the time I upgraded to a DSLR, I was already quite comfortable shooting in all the manual and semi-manual modes, and my learning curve with the DSLR was fairly short. I'm keeping the FZ28, by the way as a lightweight substitute for my full DSLR setup.

There's enough room to grow with most of these cameras that if your brother wants to invest the time and energy needed to learn how to take good photos, he'll find a camera like the FZ38 or the P100 to be a worthwhile tool, and if he turns out to be a "leave it on auto" kind of guy, these cameras can still produce good results with a very reasonable investment.

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I'm not going to compete with the experts already answering here, but I wondered why you thought your brother was not such an expert as to buy a DSLR? You don't HAVE to ever change the lens, and entry-level DSLRs all have 'easy to use" modes that are essentially the same as the compacts from the same manufacturers. Using a DSLR isn't much harder than a compact if you ignore the advanced features; plus he'll have a lot further to grow before he needs a new camera.

Of course there are other disadvantages apart from ease-of-use, mostly price and weight.

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As an SLR shooter looking at bridge camera features, the ones I'd look for that indicate an enthusiast's bridge camera vs. a lower-cost consumer bridge:

  • RAW capability (for the most latitude in post-processing)
  • Full Manual mode (if not all the PSAM modes; for the highest level of exposure setting control)
  • Flash hotshoe (for Strobist fun'n'games)
  • Larger sensor (anything bigger than 1/2.3" format is rare with bridge cameras)
  • Fast lens (anything wider than f/2.8 is rare)
  • Capability to add filters/converters

You are, btw, highly unlikely to get all of these in any single camera. And note how megapixels, zoom factor, and stabilization aren't in that list. :D Nearly all of the 1/2.3"-format sensored bridge cameras are much of a muchness on those things.

Be aware, however, that what you give up going with a bridge camera is likely to be dynamic range and low light capability because the very large zoom range is reached by using a very small sensor (typically a 1/2.3" format one). Longer reach means you need a faster shutter speed to avoid camera shake blur, and that you'll typically have less max. aperture to get it with. Responsiveness, too, may be an issue. Sports or wildlife shooting may not be the piece of cake you think it will be from the reach if that sport or wildlife is fast-moving or in low light A used dSLR may still be a better purchase for those subjects, despite the added cost.

The other type of enthusiast camera you may want to consider would be the kind that trades off reach for low-light capability. Many of these have much larger sensors and shorter lenses that are going to be better at gathering light. Some of those lenses may not even zoom. "Enthusiast compacts" and "large-sensored compacts" are two other classes of fixed-lens camera that can be worth looking into if the camera is more than a casual hobby purchase.

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One other option is the Fujifilm FinePix HS10, which has RAW support.

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    It may be helpful to also say why you think this camera is ideal for an aspiring photographer... – Rowland Shaw Feb 23 '11 at 20:49

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