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So, being what you would call an "amateur" or "hobbyist" photographer, I don't have the money to be spending on a DSLR and lenses.

However, I am now taking photos for my local rugby team's website, and I want these to look good. So I've done some research and invested in a Fijufilm FinePix S4700 bridge camera.

My question is, with the right combination of settings, timing, and composition, will I be able to take photos that look, to the non-photographer's eye, like they were taken with a DSLR? By which I mean, for example, a super-sharp photo of a player running with the ball, and a decent bokeh effect?

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Maybe.

One of the problems with this comparison is that "DSLR" really covers a ginormous range of equipment. I just saw a refurbed Canon T3 with kit lens offered on sale for $300. Can a (good) bridge camera perform as well as that? In a lot of cases, yes. Many bridge cameras have (reasonably) fast lenses and great reach -- both important in sports photography, and that kit would be a real challenge for sports photography.

Inevitably, however, when we think about DSLRs and sports photography, we wind up thinking about the rigs pros use for sports -- typically full-frame sensors and 300+ mm f/2.8 lenses. A typical setup like this starts around $10 grand. Images with that sort of setup are going to look better to trained and untrained eyes alike -- not only because the instant response time stops action, but because the phenomenal low-light capabilities, DOF control, and razor-sharp lenses give the photographer the ability to stop action and isolate subjects much more than you can with a bridge camera.

You won't be able to replicate the isolation & bokeh of a top-notch rig with your bridge camera, but if you learn to use it to the best of its capabilities, I think you'll be able to produce some effective images. Pay attention to shooting positions that let you put distance behind your subject, for instance, to help the camera make the most of its performance envelope. Bonus: the work you'll do to learn composition and technique translates very well to a DSLR if you wind up upgrading at some point.

  • Now that I have had time to experiment with my new camera, I can say that your answer matches up with what I discovered. I cannot seem get the shallow DoF even at the widest aperture, so that counts out the bokeh effect. However, I can get a nice "blurred background, sharp subject" effect with a good panning technique. Also, in gym lighting the shutter speed can only go as fast as 1/50s without having to crank the ISO to beyond-repair noise levels. Outdoor however, after using my dog as a test subject, I discovered that I can get really clear shots with 1/1000s and ISO 100. – SHNC Apr 15 '14 at 20:39
  • FWIW, I had a Panasonic FZ-28 a few years ago, and I was able to produce some DoF separation if I positioned subjects with a lot of distance between them and the background. The technique works just like a DSLR, but it's nowhere near as pronounced. – D. Lambert Apr 16 '14 at 3:23
  • You can see some additional discussion of this (with example images) here: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/9980/… – D. Lambert Apr 16 '14 at 3:27
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If you can get minimal depth of field (what you're referring to as 'bokeh effect'), then almost certainly the camera's AF system isn't capable of focusing fast enough on a moving player to achieve that effect while still having good focus. Many DSLRs even struggle with that.

However, its unlikely given the size of the sensor and relatively slow aperture of most (no, not all) cameras in the range of the S4700 that you'll be able to achieve sufficiently small DoF to achieve a significantly blurry background and an isolated subject. So you may be able to get some in focus pictures simply because nearly everything will be in focus. They will not likely have a blurry background however.

Also, many cameras in that range suffer from very slow shutter lag. You can compose the frame and the AF system can lock on, but by the time the shutter fires - the whole picture may be different in a fast moving situation like sports.

In addition, a camera like the Fijufilm FinePix S4700 only shoots at 1.2 frames per second. That can be the difference between getting 'the moment' and not.

Basically...no, you can't replicate a DSLR (even a relatively starter one) with most cameras like the S4700 for sports.


That's not to say you couldn't get some decent pictures with the camera in contrived situations. If you can get the players to pose or a you're willing to accept less 'action' shots, then you can certainly get acceptable photos with it.

It's also not saying that there doesn't exist a top end bridge camera with a killer AF, super fast lens, and no shutter lag - but its certainly not indicative of the group of cameras as a whole.


There's a bit of a confusion here - I wrote my response around a camera like the Fuji S4700. But its a 'superzoom' - not a 'bridge' camera really.

  • Thanks. It's worth noting that the S4700 can do 8fps at a smaller image size, that isn't really highlighted but it does. And those so-called "small" photos are perfectly fine for my intended website use. What exactly is the S4700 missing that would make it a "true" bridge camera? It has manual controls, and a pretty wide range of them. – SHNC Apr 11 '14 at 17:37
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One of the downsides of this type of bridge camera for capturing action is the lack of a viewfinder. By "viewfinder" I mean something that bring up close to your face to see the image with one eye - this could be either optical (traditional SLR mirror/prism) or electronic (EVF). It's much harder to keep up with action and frame it when you have to hold the camera away from your face and compose on an LED screen.

The other major downside with these lower tier cameras is that the zoom is controlled by buttons, whereas a DSLR the zoom is usually a direct mechanical mechanism. Direct mechanical zooming (or an electronic system that mimics it well) makes framing/capturing action easier than push button zooming.

I think those would be the 2 main problems with a lower tier camera, so you might want to see if you can find an inexpensive camera that minimizes the impact of those issues. But the inexpensive camera is going to be inferior to a DSLR in many ways, including image quality, autofocus accuracy and speed, all around responsiveness, etc.

Bottom line, for sports on a limited budget (that can't afford a used DSLR) I'd recommend trying to find a super-zoom camera with an electronic viewfinder.

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