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Bridge cameras are compact cameras with SLR-like styling and extra-long zoom lenses and they are the great survivors of the camera world. Back in the noughties they proved very popular with enthusiast photographers, and while many predicted they would be wiped out by the rise of affordable DSLRs (especially budget ones) and compact system cameras, this hasn't happened.
Actually it's not that hard to figure out why. Not everyone wants the relative bulk, faff and expense of an DSLR and a big bag of lenses, so it's the combination of power and portability, at an affordable price, that explains the enduring appeal of bridge compact cameras.
The best examples now offer DSLR-like levels of control and fast, wide-aperture lenses, along with raw shooting and other useful extras such as Wi-Fi and articulated screens. Bridge compact makers have been working hard to keep these cameras fresh and appealing to serious photographers, so read on to discover the best buys.
Panasonic Lumix FZ1000
Sensor size: CMOS, 1-inch | Pixel count: 20.1 | Screen type: 3-inch, 921,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 12fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p (4k supported too)
The Panasonic FZ1000 is the brand's flagship bridge camera, packing a 16x optical zoom lens (equivalent to 25-400mm) and a large, 1-inch sensor with 20.1 megapixels. Most bridge cameras have small 1/2.3-inch sensors, so this gives the FZ1000 a serious quality advantage. It can also capture raw files as well as JPEGs.
This is not just any old lens either, being Leica DC Vario-Elmarit glass with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 at the widest point and f/4 at the narrowest. It's a relatively short zoom range compared to other bridge cameras, but for quality-conscious photographers the larger sensor will more than make up for that. There is also a Hybrid 5-axis Optical Image Stabilisation to reduce the risk of camera shake when the lens is zoomed out.
The image processor is the updated Venus Engine that, according to Panasonic, will offer improved resolution, gradation, colour reproduction and noise control. What's more, the FZ1000 is the first compact or bridge camera able to record 4K (3840 x 2160 pixel) video at up to 25fps (PAL) in MP4 format. So, you can enjoy 8Mp still images on 4K televisions. Up to 49 AF points are available and a Custom Multi AF mode enables you to use blocks, rows or columns of AF points.
The Panasonic FZ1000 has a 2,359,000-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, and vari-angle rear LCD – but it's not touchscreen. You can't shoot raw in HDR mode and the camera is a bit bulky, but otherwise it's a very good buy.
Read our full Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 review
Sony Cyber-shot RX10
Sensor size: CMOS, 1-inch | Pixel count: 20.2 | Screen type: 3-inch LCD, 1,290,000 dots | Maximum continuous shooting rate: 10fps | Maximum video resolution: 1080p
This is another classy bridge compact, and like the Panasonic FZ1000 it has a relatively large (1-inch) 20.2 megapixel sensor. The zoom range is restricted to 8.3x, but it does have a constant wide aperture of f/2.8. Being able to access such a wide aperture is very useful in low light or for reducing depth of field for creative effect (especially when combined with that relatively large sensor).
Indeed, the sensor is the same as the chip inside the well-regarded Sony RX100 II premium compact, and if that wasn't tempting enough, Sony claims the redesigned Bionz X image processor will be three times faster than its predecessor. There is manual control and raw shooting too. The Sony RX10 uses a 1.4 million dot electronic viewfinder, which is a very decent resolution, and there is also a rear-tilting screen to aid composition. Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity comes as standard, and you also get a hotshoe for adding an external flash unit.