Bridge camera reviews: Features explained
Bridge camera features explained
One of the best reasons to invest in a bridge camera is the generous range of features you'll be able to take advantage of. Bridge cameras have many more functions and settings than you'll find on a standard compact digital camera and these can help you take better photos.
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Superzoom bridge camera lenses
Many of the most popular bridge cameras offer huge superzoom lenses. These can be a huge benefit if you're looking to get up close to a distant subject.
There are bridge cameras available with zoom factors as large as 26x or even 30x magnification.
The only alternative way of getting such a generous zoom is to use a digital SLR and telephoto lens. However, because of the larger size of DSLR image sensors, the lenses have to be much larger to provide an equivalent zoom factor.
So despite superzoom bridge cameras being bulkier than pocket models, they actually provide a very compact zoom lens when compared to a DSLR.
Sometimes you'll even find lenses which have generous wide angles as well. A good wide angle, such as 28mm or the even wider 26mm, lets you fit much more into your shot without having to step further back.
Image stabilisation in bridge cameras
Because most bridge cameras have larger lenses than you'll find in a compact digital camera, they tend to have more effective image stabilisers.
The larger mechanical image stabilisers in superzoom bridge cameras tend to do a great job at countering trembling hand motions, preventing blurry images in the process.
By contrast, the small mechanical image stabilisers we've tested in compact cameras tend to do a less impressive job at effectively countering small wobbling motions.
Bridge camera viewfinders
One of the great advantages of bridge cameras over compact models is that nearly all bridge cameras feature a viewfinder that you can hold to your eyer to compose your shots. There are two different types of viewfinders:
Optical viewfinders can be found on bridge models like the Canon G10 or G11. These small window viewfinders are different to the optical viewfinders in DSLRs. They don't give you a 100% accurate depiction of the shot you're composing, as there's some cropping and the viewfinder isn't perfectly aligned with the lens.
However, when bright daylight makes the LCD screen hard to use, it's still a great advantage to have a small optical viewfinder to fall back on.
Electronic viewfinders are typically built into larger superzoom bridge cameras. They're located in the same spot you'd find an optical viewfinder on a DSLR, but work along a different principle.
With an electronic viewfinder, you get a mini duplicate of the camera's rear LCD screen. The advantage to this is you can preview picture settings on the viewfinder exactly as you can on the LCD screen.
The disadvantage to electronic viewfinders is that they can sometimes be grainy and slow to refresh when you're using them in low light situations.
Manual controls on bridge cameras
If you're looking to try out advanced manual controls, but you're not keen on the price and expense of a digital SLR, then a bridge camera is a superb option.
Bridge cameras tend to offer the same range of manual controls you'll find on a DSLR, and they usually have handy control dials so you don't need to delve into the menu system to change settings. Some of the controls include:
This changes the size of the aperture - the hole in the lens through which light passes to hit the image sensor.
- With the aperture at its largest, the camera is more sensitive in low light, letting you take faster shots. A large aperture also helps blur backgrounds for more artistic portrait shots.
- With a very small aperture setting, less light hits the sensor. This can be used in bright shooting conditions to let you capture detail across the whole shot - the background and foreground will both be in focus.
- In aperture priority mode, you can adjust the aperture to your own preferences, while the camera automatically changes every other setting to get the best results.
Shutter speed priority
You can use the shutter speed priority mode to capture fast-moving objects.
- A fast shutter speed will sharply capture a drop of water from a fountain, for example.
- A slow shutter speed will make the water appear blurred because of its movement.
- In shutter speed priority mode, you control the shutter speed only - the camera adjusts every other setting to help you get the best shot.
By adjusting the ISO level, you can make the camera more sensitive in low light conditions.
- A high ISO level lets the image sensor take in more light.
- The downside is that you lose detail with higher ISO levels. Often you'll see an increased amount of graininess, or 'image noise', at the higher ISO levels.
- Generally speaking, it's best to keep your ISO level as low as you can get away with, depending on the shooting conditions.
White balance adjustments
Bridge cameras allow you to adjust the white balance settings to achieve the colour tone you're after. Many photographers are happy enough to trust their cameras' auto white balance setting. However, if you find the colour tone to be off, it's worth trying out the white balance adjustments.
You can either opt for typical-situation white balance presets - natural daylight, or tungsten lighting, for example - or take a custom white balance reading from your actual conditions to let the camera make more precise colour tone adjustments.
Full manual mode
If you're a confident photographer, bridge cameras offer full manual control as well. This lets you select the aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance settings, getting precisely the shot you're after.
Shooting in RAW with a bridge camera
Almost all bridge cameras allow you to shoot RAW as well as with the traditional Jpeg format.
- The advantage of saving your images as RAW files comes when you're post-editing your shots. RAW capture uses much less in-camera processing, allowing you to take more precise control over your photos when you're editing them on your computer.
- The disadvantage to shooting RAW is that the file sizes are larger than the equivalent Jpegs, and you'll need a photo-editing software package that can convert RAW photos.
See our Which? reviews of the best photo editing software for more on processing your photos at home.
Bridge cameras with hot shoes
Some bridge cameras have hot shoe connections to let you attach an external flash, or in some cases, an external microphone.
Not all bridge cameras have hot shoe connections, and of course, not all users will want one. However, if you are likely to use an external flash gun, it's an advantage to have a hot shoe on your camera.
If you're still unsure about buying a bridge camera, see our guide to buying the best bridge camera.
- Best Buy bridge cameras - see the best bridge cameras from the Which? labs test and reviews
- Best Buy Digital SLR reviews - read our Which? Best Buy DSLR reviews to get the best digital SLR for you.
- Best digital camera brands - our guide to digital camera brands including Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Panasonic, Sony and Olympus.