Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Bridge Cameras

This post is almost entirely inspired by my bestest friend Imogen, who yesterday emailed me saying her future father-in-law offered to buy her a camera. I love that my geekery is rubbing off on her. The Fuji Finepix range came up as a possible choice, prompting me to research the concept a little for my own education and nosiness.

The term "bridge camera" (aka "megazoom", "superzoom") is kind of an unofficial term used in the photography community to describe cameras which "bridge" the gap between compacts and DSLRs. Key differences between a bridge camera and a DSLR:

- No internal reflex mirror (this one is key! DSLR stands for Digital Single-Lens Reflex)
- No optical viewfinder (due to no reflex mirror) - what you do get instead is an electronic viewfinder
- No interchangeable lenses
- Typically smaller image sensor (not to be confused with megapixel size)

It seems that not all bridge cameras lack the above features though - for example the Samsung NX10 has interchangeable lenses and an APS-C (crop) sized sensor (same as my Sony A230) but is still considered a bridge camera due to no reflex mirror.

Bridge cameras nowadays will appeal to people who want more quality than a compact camera without all the expense and jiggery-pokery of a DSLR. Today's bridge cameras often come with INSANELY long optical zoom lenses - take the Fuji Finepix HS10 which comes with a 24-720mm optical zoom. To put it in perspective, a Nikon 500mm VR lens will set you back at least £5000. That's FIVE THOUSAND POUNDS, folks. As I mentioned in a previous post, optical zoom is much better quality than digital zoom so immediately the HS10 stands out as offering something pretty outstanding for the price.

Now, I can't get into the specific calculations and stuff because, well, it's way beyond my capability, but one of the perceived downsides of a bridge camera is that, even though they do tend to have wide apertures at the wider angles of the lens, the depth-of-field available is not great due to the smaller sensor. This means that unless you specifically position your subject close to the camera and far away from the background, you won't be able to get the blur or bokeh that a DSLR would give you. A shot like the below would not be possible with a bridge camera; the foreground and background flowers would be much more in focus, which means the main subject wouldn't be as well defined:


Some of the reviews I have read of a few bridge cameras also have it that the overall image quality is not as good as with a DSLR, as well as there being a little time lag with the scene on the LCD or electronic viewfinder updating with what's actually happening in front of you - this can make a major difference in sports or any shooting where your subject is moving fast.

My personal opinion is that a bridge camera has a very specific niche market -- someone who wants more versatility than your standard compact camera but isn't interested in or ready to get into the real detail and perfectionism of DSLR shooting. If this is you then a bridge camera is a great and affordable choice, but if you do end up really getting into photography and wanting something that delivers a little more, you'll inevitably make the leap into the full DSLR market.


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