Buying a camera for the first time can be a daunting task. There are so many choices. What kind of camera should you get?  The answer is it depends on what kind of photos you want to take and the features you want your camera to have. You may need something easy to use so you can take holiday snaps that are of acceptable quality, or you may require professional, high definition photographs for an event, headshot or an art project.

For these differing demands cameras fall into three broad categories: compact, SLR and bridge cameras.

SLR vs Compact vs Bridge

Compact Cameras

Olympus Tough TG4 topOn one end of the spectrum, compact, also known as ‘point-and-shoot’ cameras are simple to use and have either autofocus or focus free lenses. As the name suggests, you can use them to take shots with little preparation or adjustment. They are also cheaper (sometimes), smaller and easy to fit in your pocket.

If you think you might prefer a compact camera over a bridge or DSLR have a look at three top compact cameras for 2016 that we have recently reviewed.

SLR Cameras

canon eos 1200DOn the other end of the spectrum, SLRs use a system of mirrors and prisms to show the photographer the image that will be captured as opposed to viewfinder cameras where the image viewed is different from the end product. You can change lenses on an SLR depending on the zoom range you want and how close up or far away the shot will be.

Some SLRs use a digital imaging sensor, and so are called dSLRs. They offer live previews and don’t use film, so they have the bonus that you can upload them directly onto your computer. SLRs tend to be a lot heavier than compacts, as well as more expensive. But they have better quality of colour, tone and contrast.

Bridge Cameras

Best Sony Bridge CameraBridge cameras are a cross between Single Lens Reflex (SLR) and compact cameras. Hence the name; they bridge the gap between these two types of cameras. A bridge camera combines the best of both worlds. They are comparable in size and weight to some smaller dSLRs, so much so that they can be mistaken for one another. However, bridge cameras don’t have interchangeable lenses, so a dSLR camera case will have compartments for the lenses, while a bridge camera case won’t.

Most bridge cameras are digital and have manual controls for shutter speed (how quickly the image is captured), color balance, ISO sensitivity (the amount of graininess or ‘noise’ in the image) and focal size. Bridge cameras also tend to have long zoom lenses with up to 60x optical zoom. For this reason, bridge cameras are also called “superzoom cameras”.

Whether you’re a budding camera enthusiast or a professional photographer on a budget, learning how to use a bridge camera can help  strike a good balance between price, function and usability.

Main Advantages of a Bridge Camera

  • Their main advantage is the large zoom, meaning that you can take far away shots with great precision. A camera like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72 has a really great lens and a 60x zoom if this is the main feature that you want.
  • Also, the manual controls give you freedom of choice to change the image depending on what type of photo you want. The photographer Ansel Adams said that you don’t take shots, you make them.
  • Bridge cameras give you the ability to be creative, although they also come with an automatic function if you’d prefer. A camera like the Fujifilm Finepix S9900W offers 10 preset scene modes to help you get the perfect shot if you prefer to take the hard work out of your photography.
  • They’re also easier to handle than SLRs which are heavier, while being chunkier than flat-bodied compacts.
  • Bridge cameras can record video as standard. Videos taken on a bridge camera are of relatively high quality in the main, but one of the newest  models, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ330EBK, caters for top end 4K video recording at a mid range price. If you want one camera to do it all for you maybe this is it.
  • Nowadays many bridge cameras include built-in wifi, allowing you to share images wirelessly via a mobile device, as well as GPS to register where the photo was taken. These additional features are great for if you like to share photos on social media.   If that is something you would like to do really well, then I would highly recommend the Sony DSCH400V which is superb at delivering these types of images.

There are a number of good value bridge cameras on the market. Some respected brands to look out for include Canon, Sony, Panasonic, Nikon and Fujifilm. While some have a more extensive range than others they all cater for the beginners market too with good quality budget bridge cameras.

One downside is that bridge cameras tend to have a slightly smaller image sensor than dSLRs, meaning that they have less ISO sensitivty, but if this is important you can find bridge cameras with a larger sensor, such as the Sony DSC Cyber-shot RX10 or the Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ1000EB. Both cameras incorporate the larger 1inch sensor more usually found in Digital SLRs.

The following video demonstrates a range of photo styles achieved with a Fujifilm Finepix bridge camera.

Tips for Using a Bridge Camera

Bridge cameras are good for amateur and professional photographers alike. Here are some tips for making the most of your bridge camera.

Image Stabilisation

This feature reduces blur and helps to frame your photos at long distances. It also helps with hand shaking, if you aren’t using a tripod. Image stabilisation isn’t always turned on as a default in bridge cameras, so you might have to go to the menu to find it.

Optical Zoom

Bridge cameras offer the choice between digital zoom or optical zoom. Optical zoom uses the lens, while digital zoom uses the image sensor to magnify the image. Digital zoom reduces the image’s quality, so you should only use it if you need the extra magnification on top of optical zoom.

Manual Control

The manual controls of bridge cameras are the main reason for buying them, so don’t hesitate to make the most of them! Often the controls are on handy dials, meaning you don’t have to root around in the menu to find them.

The shutter speed setting will allow you to vary how much time is captured in the photo. So a high shutter speed will allow you to capture the wings of a hummingbird in flight, while a low shutter speed will create motion blurs.

Adjusting the ISO setting will vary how much light the image sensor takes in.  A high ISO produces grainy, noisy pictures, while a low ISO produces clearer, better defined pictures.

Aperture size will vary the size of the whole through which light passes to the image sensor. A high aperture will blur the background of an image, while a low aperture will bring the background into greater focus.

You can vary any one of these controls in priority mode, or vary all of them in full manual mode.

Tripod

A tripod is essential if you want to take blur-free long distance shots. This is particularly important if you are shooting in low light. A small, lightweight tripod won’t add too much to the bridge camera’s size and weight. Check out this page where highlight some of the top rated tripods at Amazon UK .

 

Protect your camera

While the modern digital camera is built to last it makes sense to buy a good quality dustproof and waterproof camera bag to protect your investment. The last thing I want to see is for some fine sand to get into the lens mechanism and make everything sticky. Keep your bridge camera in good working order with one of these camera bags.

Summary

With the overall ease of use and an abundance of the most up to date technology it is easy to see why bridge cameras are becoming an ever more popular sector of the digital camera market.  If you want further information on how to choose the right camera for you then why not look at our bridge camera buying guide.