Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100
A retro design, 4K video and sharp photos make the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 a fantastic portable camera.
Canon PowerShot SX60 HS
With one of the longest zoom lenses available and solid image and video quality, the PowerShot SX60 HS is the ultrazoom to get.
Panasonic Lumix ZS200
Panasonic's advanced bridge camera is relatively pricey but offers a powerful 15x optical zoom and a large 1-inch image sensor in a compact body, which makes it great for traveling.
Bridge cameras are good all-in-one cameras that offer some of the high quality features and capabilities found on DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, but are typically lighter and more compact. Some of them include long zooms, which mean you can get closer to the action. They’re also great for family shots and video, particularly if you have kids that are involved in indoor activities as well, like in the theater.
Based on our extensive testing, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 is the best compact bridge camera for the money. It packs a sensor almost as large as those found on some DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. It also shoots 4K video in a body that's easy to carry. If you want to capture the action up close, our favorite ultrazoom is the Canon PowerShot SX60 HS. It has a 65x zoom lens and takes highly detailed photos. However, you may want to consider its successor, the SX70 HS, which can take 4K video.
Make sure you check out all of our top picks for DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and more on our best cameras page.
News & Updates (August 2019)
- Nikon has released version 2.6 of its SnapBridge app. Available for iOS and Android, improvements include a more intuitive design, the ability to download RAW images (on Wi-Fi-capable cameras only), faster image transfers, remote camera controls for DSLRs, and a faster pairing process.
- Sony's new RX100 VII ($1,200), the latest in its line of premium compact cameras, features a new 1-inch 20.1MP sensor, the latest Bionz X image processor, 357-point phase detection and 425-point contrast detection points, 24-200mm F2.8 – F4.5 lens, and can shoot 4K HDR video, as well as up to 20 fps when shooting still images.
- Canon is releasing new versions of two of its advanced compact cameras. The PowerShot G5x Mark II ($899) boasts a 20.1MP 1-inch CMOS sensor, 5X optical zoom, and optical image stabilization, while the G7x Mark III ($749) has a 4.2x optical zoom. Both cameras have built-in flashes and touchscreens that can flip 180 degrees, but only the G5x has an electronic viewfinder.
While its numerous dials give it a decidedly retro feel, the Lumix DMC-LX100 is packed with forward-looking features, including great 4K video and fast autofocus. It has a large 16.8 megapixel sensor and a sharp 3.1X Leica optical zoom lens that has an f/1.7 maximum aperture for very shallow depth-of-field photos, a quality found in many professional images. In addition, the LX100 has a rear LCD and an electronic viewfinder. All this in a sturdy, nearly pocketable magnesium alloy frame that makes the LX100 a pricey, but best all-around bridge camera.
While it doesn’t have the longest reach of the ultrazooms we tested, this Canon's 65X telephoto lens gets you very close to the action, and captures everything in sharp detail, whether you're taking photos or shooting video. It also has an external mic jack, and can shoot in RAW, something few other ultrazooms can do. Its very comfortable handgrip, swiveling LCD, and powerful image stabilization make it capable of capturing sharp photos or jitter-free video of hard-to-reach shots, such as shooting over your head. And, it does all this for less than $500, making the SX60 HS a great deal.
If you're looking for an even longer zoom, check out the Nikon CoolPix P1000, which is twice as expensive, but has a 125x (3000mm-equivalent) zoom lens.
Best For Travel
With a compact body an a 15X zoom (24-360mm equivalent), the Panasonic Lumix ZS200 is great for travelers who are looking for a small yet versatile camera. It's easy enough for beginners, but has an array of dials and controls for advanced amateurs to take command of all of the camera's settings. Although its rear display doesn't tilt, we also liked its sharp electronic viewfinder. Low-light shots were good, and also did great when shooting 4K video.
Looking to print out your travel photos into a memorable album? We've tested a number of the best photo book services; here are our favorites.
The two types of bridge cameras
Bridge cameras fall into two groups. The first group — advanced models — are primarily pocket friendly cameras such as Sony's RX100 series or the Panasonic Lumix DMC- LX100, which sport features such as large image sensors, very high-quality lenses, top-performing image processors — and sometimes, enthusiast niceties like a crisp electronic viewfinder (EVF). They also include powerful models like Sony's RX10 Mark IV ($1,699), which include a high quality lens that provides robust performance and versatility. You'll generally have to look for these advanced features, which are available in cameras that are priced from about $450 to over $1,000.
The other type of bridge camera is known as a long-zoom camera (what we call ultrazooms) — easily luggable models with built-in 30x to 125x zoom lenses. These cameras often give you even longer zooms than you would get from a traditional DSLR. However, they almost never have the ability to swap out lenses like you can on a normal DSLR or mirrorless camera.
Ultrazooms can range from under $300 to about $600. Canon's ultrazoom cameras, for instance, range from the 50x PowerShot SX530 at about $250, to the 65x zoom PowerShot SX60 HS, at around $430. Nikon's 83x zoom Coolpix P900 sells for about $600, while the upcoming P1000 will have a 125x zoom.
What to look for when buying a bridge camera
You could easily spend as much on an advanced bridge camera (about $400 to $800) as on a smartphone. So make sure it's worth it. Look for cameras with large image sensors, typically 1 inch or greater. (For perspective, a 1-inch sensor is almost seven times larger than a smartphone camera sensor.) The boost in quality is huge, especially when you're shooting in dim light. And in all cases, details will be crisper when you crop a photo (even online) or make a large print.
Look for a "fast" lens too, marked by a large maximum aperture of about f/1.8, or at least f/2.2 (smaller numbers denote larger apertures). The main benefit here is that these lenses let in more light for better low-light shooting. A similar-grade lens — just the lens — on a DSLR could cost more than the entire bridge camera.
Screens that tilt or rotate make it easier to capture shots from creative angles. Touch screens make changing settings and reviewing photos much easier, but they aren't as common as you might expect, so you may have to do without. And more models now include 4K video, something that's well worth having if you can get it.
With even pocket point-and-shoots boasting 10x or 20x zooms, you should expect a much longer telephoto lens from an ultra-zoom bridge camera. It isn't too much to ask for a 50x lens, and some cameras have zoom all the way to 80x or greater.
Don't worry about the sensor size in these ultrazooms. They are all pretty small — about 10 percent the size of an entry-level DSLR's; otherwise, the cameras would be several feet long. Most important are the features that make the long lens usable. Zooming in magnifies the effect of camera shake, so an ultrazoom needs to have excellent optical and electronic image stabilization.
A good electronic viewfinder is also important: Placing the camera up to your face allows you to hold it much steadier. You'll want an EVF that's very bright, with rich colors and decent resolution (at least 640 x 480 pixels or 921,000 dots).
What features are you paying for in a bridge camera?
Bridge cameras come in a number of shapes, sizes, and types. Some focus on conspicuous features like long lenses with lots of optical zoom, while others offer equally important, if not always as noticeable capabilities, such as large sensor sizes. Yet depending on what you’re looking for, it’s hard to know what feature you’re getting for the price. The following list is a general guide of what bridge camera features you’ll begin to see at particular price points:
$200: 20x optical zoom, handgrip
$300: 40x optical zoom, electronic viewfinder
$400: 60x optical zoom, RAW files, swiveling LCD, touchscreen LCD, manual focus, 4K-resolution video, full-manual controls
$500: 1-inch sensor
$600: Maximum aperture of f/2, micro four-thirds sensor
$800: Hot shoe; high-frame-rate video mode (for ultra slow-motion video)
$1000: 125x optical zoom
$1200: APS-C-sized sensor
How we test bridge cameras
As the name indicates, bridge cameras represent a "bridge" between casual consumer pocket cameras and enthusiast/pro models. We take that into consideration by shooting mostly in default settings but making a few judicious tweaks to settings such as aperture or ISO light sensitivity to test certain aspects of the camera.
Bright light is the main environment for these cameras, and they tend to perform similarly in this area. To look for fine detail and shading, we shot close-ups using shutter speeds of 1/100 second or faster and the lowest possible ISO to avoid motion blur or graininess, as well as an aperture of about f/8 or greater so that a shallow depth-of-field would not obscure detail.
We take wide shots of colorful scenes in order to judge overall color and exposure quality. To do so, we typically kept the cameras in their default picture style mode and with matrix/evaluative meeting that optimized overall lighting across the frame. We also photographed people, because after all, a lot of photos involve people. We also looked for accuracy and detail in skin, hair and eyes.
With the cameras steadied (on a tripod or placed on a table or railing), we shot in twilight conditions through the range of ISO settings, and noted the highest level before graininess became distracting and details were blurred out.
Autofocus tests were done in burst mode (with continuous AF turned on) so we could see how well the camera kept up with a moving subject such as a car, jogger or pet. With people, we often used face recognition, as it tends to be the best way to keep autofocus on a person.
We tested cameras' ability to autofocus during video recording (if the camera had this capability). To do so, we used the tracking-autofocus setting that allowed us to designate the subject on which to focus.
We also test the cameras' video capabilities by capturing scenes with minimal motion in bright and low light. It may not be exciting footage, but it's a good way to gauge detail and audio quality.