Best compact camera 2015: which should you buy?

Get the best compact digital camera for your needs

So-called 'bridge' cameras have been around almost as long as regular point-and-shoot models. They're designed to 'bridge' the gap between compact cameras and digital SLRs, by providing many of the manual controls you get on a digital SLR with huge zoom ranges, so that this one camera can shoot almost any kind of subject, from wideangle landscapes or interiors to long-range telephoto or sports shots.

Superzoom bridge camera
Bridge cameras are sometimes called 'superzooms' because the lenses cover a huge focal range, the Canon PowerShot SX60 HS, for example, has a 65x zoom.

This kind of camera is ideal as a kind of do-it-all solution, but only if you're prepared to accept some compromises.

For a start, bridge cameras aren't small. They have the body shape and styling of a digital SLR, and in some instances they're almost the same size. These are no longer pocket-sized cameras! At the same time, though, most have the same ½.3-inch sensors as regular point-and-shoot compact cameras. This is because the size of the sensor and the size of the lens are closely related. You need the small sensor size to get superzoom lenses of a manageable size.

Or at least that's how it's been until now. Panasonic and Sony have broken the mould with the FZ1000 and RX10. Neither can quite match the zoom range of the Canon SX60 HS or other traditional bridge cameras, but both have far larger 1-inch sensors which deliver a big boost in picture quality.

Bridge camera big sensor
The Panasonic FZ1000 raises the bar for bridge cameras, with a much larger 1-inch sensor than the small 1/2.3 inch sensor in most rivals.

The Panasonic and Sony aside, this is another area of compromise with bridge cameras. Small sensors deliver decent enough results within their limits, but the quality plummets at high ISO (sensitivity) settings, and you'll never get the same level of quality as an SLR or compact system camera, or even a high-end compact.

The lens can be a weakness too. The longer the zoom range, the more complex the lens – and compromises can creep in with the quality, too. At full zoom, the lens will generally be noticeable 'softer', and may see more distortion and chromatic aberration (colour fringing) than you get with a regular lens.

This means that although these cameras look perfect for extreme long-range photography, the quality may not be quite what you're looking for. The autofocus system may struggle to keep up with moving subjects, and although bridge cameras come with image-stabilisation systems, the level of magnification they're capable of will still amplify any camera shake.

Don't let this put you off buying a bridge camera, but do keep these limitations in mind. If versatility is more important to you than outright quality – or if you've seen the results from a bridge camera and you're perfectly happy with them – then a bridge camera can offer an unbeatable combination of versatility and value.

Bridge camera size
Bridge cameras aren't small! Most are the size of a digital SLR and, once the lens is extended, they're larger still.

There are other features which can make them more useful still. Bridge cameras usually offer the PASM exposure modes you need to take control of the camera's shutter speed and lens aperture, but some also offer the option of shooting raw files as well as JPEGs. This offers the opportunity to process the files yourself to eke out a little more image quality.

Some bridge cameras have articulating rear displays, and these are extremely useful for shooting at low angles, in confined spaces (where there's no room to get behind the camera) and maybe for grabbing the odd selfie!

Wi-fi and touch-screen control are also worth having – it's especially useful to be able to control your camera remotely using your smartphone, and wi-fi enabled cameras will have free apps for this.