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.
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 1/2.3-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 and cost.
Or at least that's how it's been until now.
Bridge cameras: what to look for
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 and have really brought sensor size to the fore.
The Panasonic and Sony aside, this is a key 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. A massive zoom range is one of the key selling points for a bridge camera, but he 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 noticeably 'softer', and may see more distortion and chromatic aberration (colour fringing) than you get with shorter zoom settings.
This means that although these cameras look perfect for extreme long-range photography, this is where the picture quality is most likely to suffer. The autofocus system may struggle to keep up with moving subjects, and although bridge cameras come with image-stabilisation systems, the sheer level of magnification you get from a 50x or 60x zoom lens means this may not be enough to keep the picture steady.
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.
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.