Best compact cameras 2014: 21 we recommend

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What is a bridge camera
What is a bridge camera?

Sometimes you don't want to lug around a DSLR and an assortment of lenses - you want one camera and one lens that does it all.

This means a feature set that cherry picks the best that a typical DSLR has to offer, including manual control and preferably the ability to shoot in raw format as well as JPEG, along with a lens that offers a very broad focal range, so it won't matter that it can't be swapped.

Enter the superzoom camera, also known as an ultra zoom or bridge camera - so called because it bridges the gap between a point and shoot compact and an full bells and whistles DSLR, in terms of handling and feature set, at least.

Superzoom build

For this reason, superzooms tend to closely resemble DSLRs in terms of look, build and - to an extent - handling, but feature smaller image sensors and, partly because of this, afford physically smaller lenses.

While not a replacement for a DSLR then, the advantage here is that the cameras can offer a very broad focal range; one that, if you were to try and achieve similar effects with a DSLR, would make for a prohibitively expensive and awkwardly unwieldy combo.

The larger physical size of a bridge camera or superzoom when compared with a snapshot camera may deter some, but there's a lot more creative versatility here in terms of framing choices. A case in point: many models also offer tilt and swivel LCD screens as well as optical or electronic viewfinders. Again, with a bridge camera there is more choice and more options for the photo enthusiast.

So if you are after one jack-of-all-trades digital camera - either instead of a DSLR, or perhaps as a less expensive back up - and you value convenience and flexibility as much as image quality and pixel count, then a bridge or superzoom camera could be your ideal companion. So here we're shining the spotlight on the best of some recent releases.

Nikon Coolpix L820

Price: $280

Specs: 30x zoom NIKKOR glass lens, low-light CMOS sensor, 16MP , Full HD 1080p videos

Nikon Coolpix L820

The Nikon L820 is inexpensive, has a broad focal range and a sensor that's not over-burdened with pixels. Its images provide a good level of detail, unless you're shooting at maximum zoom, whereby results can be more hit and miss in terms of blur.

The plastic high gloss finish can be off-putting, as can the fact that it's powered by bog standard AA batteries. It also lacks a viewfinder, accessory shoe, integrated Wi-Fi connectivity, a touchscreen and a raw shooting option, which are features we miss.

While modest in comparison to some of the 42x and 50x zoom bridge cameras currently on the market, the Nikon L820 is priced sensibly to reflect this. And a broad 22.5-675mm focal range in 35mm terms is certainly of greater use for more creative endeavors than the fixed lens and digital zoom on your smartphone.

Fuji X-S1

Price: $630

Specs: 12MP CMOS sensor, 26x optical zoom,1080p video, 3-inch, 460k dot tilting screen

Best compact camera

Best compact camera 2013

Looking for the ultimate overall bridge camera, and less bothered about just grabbing the longest lens? Separating this 26x optical zoom model from the herd - its focal range running from 24-624mm in 35mm terms - is a rock-solid build reminiscent of the semi-pro DSLR it resembles in shape and form, plus rubberized body armor that aids a firm grip.

Oddly it not only looks gorgeous, but smells great too, as the zoom coming with a rubber surround to prevent slippage in the heat of the action. Given that this is a premium product in Fuji's pro/enthusiast photography range, the cost of the Fuji X-S1 is neither cheap nor prohibitively pricey, particularly when it's now being touted for $300 less than the original asking price.

The Fuji X-S1 wins our Best superzoom camera award.

Sony HX300

Price: $470

Specs: 20.4MP, 50x optical zoom, 1080/60p Full HD video, 3.0" tiltable LCD

Sony HX300

As you'd expect from a DSLR-styled bridge camera bearing the Sony brand, the HX300 comes across as reassuringly robust and built-to-last when gripped in the palm, particularly with the lens resting dormant within its protective housing.

Shooting at maximum ISO 12800 equivalent, images appear quite heavily processed and softened, so you'd probably want to avoid that option entirely.

However, it does actually achieve something that the majority of superzooms fail to do, and that's deliver sharp results even when shooting handheld at maximum telephoto. As a result, there will be an audience out there who feel that paying a slight premium for the Sony HX300 could be worth it.

Nikon Coolpix P510

Price: $400

Specs: 16MP CMOS sensor, 42x optical zoom, 1080p video, 3-inch, 921k dot tilting screen

Best compact camera

Trumping its wimpy-by-comparison 36x optical zoom predecessor the Nikon P500 with its new improved 42x zoom, the Nikon P510 is an amateur paparazzi's dream, courtesy of an ultra-wide 24-1000mm equivalent focal length. For that, the asking price doesn't feel too bad. Again, the build is "DSLR lite," the zoom supported by lens-shift rather than sensor-shift image stabilization, while a 16 megapixel 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor lies at its core. Performance is enhanced by an Expeed C2 image processor.

Slightly more exciting is, once again, a tilting LCD screen - this time of the 3-inch, respectably high 921k-dot variety, which can be angled up or down but not swung out parallel to the body. Naturally Full HD video shooting is also included, while like its Canon SX40 HS rival the ISO range tops out at a modest ISO 3200, and doing battle with the Sony HX200V, a GPS antenna sits over the lens barrel and pop-up flash. This means, unlike the Fuji X-S1, there's no space for a hotshoe. For sports fans, continuous burst shooting of up to 7fps is offered, which is better than most entry-level DSLRs at its price.

Canon Powershot SX50 HS

Price: $400

Specs: 12.1MP, 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, 50x optical zoom, 1080p video, 2.7-inch, 460,000-dot variangle screen

Canon SX50 HS

Best compact camera 2013

Although it has the same pixel count as the Canon SX40 HS that it replaces the Canon Powershot SX50 HS makes a huge leap forward with its focal length range as it features a 50x zoom lens. This optic has a focal length equivalent to a 24-1200mm lens on a 35mm camera, with a maximum aperture of f/3.4-65.

This lens means the camera is suitable for a huge range of photographic situations, from cramped interiors to distant wildlife, but if the telephoto range isn't quite enough it can be extended digitally to a100x zoom, giving the equivalent of a 2400mm lens.

As well as the ability to shoot in shutter priority, aperture priority and manual exposure mode the SX50 HS can record images in raw format, making it even more attractive to experienced photographers. Less experienced users are also catered for though as there is a host of automatic exposure modes as well as JPEG recording.

On the whole images from the Canon SX50 HS impress, having plenty of detail, good exposure and pleasantly vibrant colors.