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 a great bridge camera and highlight features for you to look out for.
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.
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.
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 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:
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.
Survey: 764 Which? members surveyed April-July 2019.