Almost every photographer gets asked this question at least once a week (and often much more). “What camera do you recommend for somebody who is into photography, but doesn't want a full DSLR?” There are a huge group of aspiring photographers who are into photography enough to want professional looking images or a bit more control over their camera, but who don't want to spend the money, or carry the heavy load required when you get a DSLR. There are also a lot of former DSLR lovers who just want something a bit smaller to carry around.
Spotted Eagle Ray formation, Keauhou Bay, Big Island, Hawaii. by SteveD., on Flickr taken with a Canon G12 Bridge Camera
So what are they all to do?
Introducing Bridge Cameras
Now usually there will be a slew of reasons that a person might like a camera somewhere between a DSLR and a point-and-shoot compact camera. Weight, quality images, more control, price – these are all reasons that crop up time after time.
Bridge cameras (cameras that “bridge the gap” between compact and DSLR), by-and-large, cover most of these issues well. With smaller cropped image sensors which allows their lenses to have a shorter focal length (than most DSLRs), the zoom range of most of them is great (often up to and over 400mm equivalent).
Key benefits of a bridge camera include:
- size – most are small enough to fit into a handbag snugly
- weight – they're almost all a lot lighter than any DSRL
- quality – many bridge cameras shoot RAW and have excellent sharpness
- versatility – most don't require you to have any camera knowledge, but if you'd like full manual control and even the
- lens versatility – while the huge focal range of default lenses on a bridge camera are great, some even offer the ability to fit lens modifiers to the front for macro, wide(r) angle or even more telephoto.
I have several professional photographer friends who carry around one of these when they're out and about their daily activities – you know – in case “that shot” presents itself as an opportunity.
It's not necessarily all up-side though. If you are used to the control offered by a DSLR then you might find the control functions of a bridge camera a little limiting (some might actually enjoy this – it really depends on what you're after).
Limitations you will run into include:
- usually have no optical view finder
- limited iso settings – usually a minimum of 200ISO (comparable to low end DSLRs)
- shutter lag – the time between when you press the button and the shutter goes off can be a little delayed
- low light – if you want great images in low light, then the sad fact is that you will get much better performance from DSLRs (and higher-end ones at that!)
Some popular bridge cameras include these: Nikon P90, Canon Powershot S and the Fujifilm Finepix-S series. There is a good comparison of some of the better bridge cameras available here.
Now, a bridge camera isn't always for everyone. They are getting squeezed by low-end DSLRs and high-end compacts (which are all improving with time). But they can be a nice half-way point for a band of photographers who don't want either of those. And, if you get the camera that suits you, it's personal preference that wins every time.