If you're looking for a step up from a compact or phone camera, but you're not ready for an expensive DSLR or mirrorless camera, a bridge camera can be a brilliant in-between choice.
Bridge cameras are typically cheaper than DSLR and mirrorless cameras, which have interchangeable lens systems that can bump up the costs. Some bridge cameras even cost less than your average compact camera. That's not always the case, though – some models have large sensors and specialist lenses that can put them over £1,000.
Here, we look at what makes the best bridge camera and highlight features for you to look out for.
Best bridge cameras
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This is a fantastic camera and a worthy Best Buy. It's robust and fast with excellent image and video quality, but it comes at a price. It's worth noting that it's heavier than some DSLRS, so is maybe not the most portable, but you still have the convenience of not having to carry extra lenses.Sign up to reveal
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Cheaper and with better image quality than a lot of bridge cameras we've tested, this model is worthy of consideration. Sturdily built, with great performance and versatility, it only narrowly missed out on our Best Buy recommendation. Sign up to reveal
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Pricing, recommendations and test scores correct as of January 2021.
Not found the product for you? Browse all our bridge camera reviews.
What is a bridge camera?
Bridge cameras bridge the gap between compact digital cameras and high-end DSLR and mirrorless models.
Cheaper and easier to use than a DSLR, bridge cameras offer more advanced features and manual controls than you'll find on standard compact camera. They have versatile lenses with a powerful optical zoom capability – some models offer whopping zooms up to 50x.
This makes bridge cameras a good choice for photographers who like the simplicity of a compact camera, but want more scope in with their lens focal range and creative manual features without having to make the leap to a costly DSLR or mirrorless model.
Bridge cameras vary in size, but they're generally comparable to a DSLR camera. You'll need to operate the camera with two hands and put it into a bag that's big enough to carry it around.
Since they're much bulkier than compact cameras, bridge cameras are a bit more cumbersome to travel with, though not as much as lugging around the multiple lenses that come with a DSLR or mirrorless camera.
What makes a good bridge camera?
One of the best reasons to invest in a bridge camera is the generous range of features. 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.
- Image stabilisation – whether you’re using a long zoom or taking pictures or shooting in low-light, image-stabilisation stops hand shake from spoiling your photos, and keeps them sharp and blur-free.
- Wi-fi and geo-tagging – some bridge cameras include a built-in GPS to record where your photos have been taken. Others connect to your smartphone using wi-fi and take the information from your smartphone’s GPS. Wi-fi can also be used to transfer pictures to your phone or computer, or to preview and even take photos using your phone’s screen.
- Burst rate – the camera’s ability to rattle off a series of shots quickly, usually described in how many frames it can take per second (5fps, 7fps or 12fps, for example). A fast burst rate can help when you’re taking action or wildlife shots, as you have more chance of capturing the perfect moment.
- Superzoom – some bridge cameras have superzoom lenses, with a wide range of focal lengths (24 to 3000mm, for example). With a superzoom lens, you can start with everything in shot, then adjust the lens to draw closer to your subject. This mitigates against the fact that you can't change a bridge camera's lens. Instead, it makes the lens you do have more versatile.
Is a bridge camera the right choice over a DSLR or mirrorless camera?
You can find bridge cameras for less than £150, but spending more will get you a larger or more capable sensor and a longer or more versatile zoom lens. Our Best Buys range from £650 to £1,600, but we've also reviewed cameras that cost less than £300 and still score pretty well in our expert tests.
The rise of mirrorless cameras has had quite a big impact on the bridge camera market. We're seeing DSLR and mirrorless cameras that now cost as little as £300, and the opportunity to buy new lenses to customise them with makes this an appealing investment for people holding onto their camera for the best part of a decade.
Manufacturers are managing to cram bigger sensors into entry-level models, making professional-standard photography more accessible and less prohibitively expensive.
One of the consequences is that we're seeing fewer bridge cameras being released. So when you're considering how much to spend on a bridge camera, you should be thinking about what DSLR or mirrorless cameras of an equivalent price have to offer, and what the likelihood is that you'll want different lens options.
You can compare all the bridge cameras we've tested, from the budget to the premium – go to our expert bridge camera reviews.
Are bridge cameras reliable?
You should expect an expensive tech product like a bridge camera to last you for a good while. A bridge camera that breaks can be difficult and expensive to repair, and in many cases you'll have to buy a whole new camera.
We surveyed more than 700 Which? members who owned bridge cameras to find out how many remained fault-free after six years of ownership. We were pleased to see that bridge cameras proved a fairly durable purchase, with more than 85% of products from every major brand surviving the six-year mark.
The two most common faults that did happen were:
- 18% of reported faults - the control buttons breaking. A faulty control panel is either deeply frustrating or outright camera-ruining, depending on the severity of the problem
- 14% - issues with lenses. This included lenses sticking, jamming or malfunctioning. This is a major problem for a fixed-lens bridge camera, as you can't swap its lenses like a DSLR or mirrorless camera.
To protect your camera's lens, keep small particles like sand or grit away from it. Unlike a dustproof action camera, a bridge camera is vulnerable to physical damage from specks of hard material. You should also take care not to drop it when the lens is extended.
Need a camera that can stand up to dust and a knock or two? Go to how to buy the best action camera.
Which brands make bridge cameras?
- Canon has been invested in bridge cameras for a long time with its PowerShot series.
- Sony's Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 series runs from iterations I to IV. This series sits at the more premium end of the bridge cameras market, with prices ranging from £700 to more than £1,000.
- Panasonic's Lumix DMC-FZ series ranges from fairly cheap to mid-priced. The cheapest model costs £300; the priciest just under £800.
- Nikon's bridge camera series is represented by the Coolpix lineup, which is known for its zoom capabilities.
- Kodak still has a presence in bridge cameras with its budget Pixpro cameras.
Survey: 764 Which? members surveyed April-July 2019.
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Which? tests more than 100 cameras a year from brands such as Canon, Olympus, Panasonic and Sony. We put every model through our rigorous lab tests to make sure we can recommend the best camera for you.
There's nothing more important with a camera than the quality of the pictures it takes and that's why when we test cameras we take indoor shots, outdoor shots and put the flash and zoom through its paces. This lets us give you clear advice on which camera can take superb photos and videos, or which ones will give you blurred lines and sub-standard quality.
But we also go beyond picture quality. Will the automatic scene modes and auto-focus give you a decent snap? Can you see what you're shooting on the viewfinder and how easy is the camera to use? We have the answers to your questions.