As smartphone cameras continue to improve, stand-alone compacts are starting to fight back with new functions like Wi-Fi and GPS—a trend we’re likely to see grow over the next few months. Indeed, some models have already gone as far as to adopt the Android OS! Smartphones are still a fair way ahead when it comes to screen quality (sharper high-def displays, touchscreen technology) but, here too, things are changing in the compact camera market.
Compacts and bridges are above all seeking to stand out with the kind of fundamental photography specs you won’t find in a phone (not yet, anyway!). For starters, zoom lenses are getting more and more powerful, reaching around 20x in pocket-sized compacts and up to 50x in bridges. Sensor resolution is also on the up—most of the market is generally at 14 to 18 Megapixels, with some cameras now sporting 20 Megapixels. However, this surplus of pixels is actually more useful for cropping shots than for improving general image quality. Manufacturers are slowly turning their backs on CCD technology in favour of backlit (BSI) CMOS sensors, which give much better performances in low light. COMS sensors are faster too, bringing burst modes of up to 10 fps (frames per second) and 1080p HD video at 60 fps. Plus, creative filters for fun effects (miniature, fish-eye, vivid, etc.) and sweep panorama functions are now a common feature of many compact cameras.
One thing we’re keen to see improve is responsiveness, with cameras that start-up and save photos more quickly. It’d also be nice to see camera-makers work on battery life, as some models still don’t hold out for long enough.
As for bridges, apart from their increasingly impressive zoom lenses, we should start to see electronic viewfinders getting revamped in higher-end models. With displays offering over a million dots, EVFs worthy of the name should finally be coming to the bridge market.
But as the camera market evolves, some features and functions are being phased out. For example, you’ll be hard pushed to find a compact with an optical viewfinder these days. Plus, 3D functions seem to be gradually disappearing.
Although its 24x (25 to 600 mm) zoom many not seem all that impressive in today's market, the constant f/2.8 aperture (all the way up to 600 mm) certainly is! In fact, the FZ200 lens lets in almost four times more light that competitor models. On top of that, it's the sharpest, most accurate lens in the bridge market right now. With a quality sensor and top-notch design and handling, the FZ200 may be little pricey for a bridge, but we think it's worth every penny.
Best of the rest
Experts and Pros
Although the 26x zoom may not seem all that powerful these days, this bridge boasts a mechanical lens ring, a nice viewfinder and plenty of advanced functions (high dynamic range, high sensitivity, etc.).
Canon PowerShot SX40 HS
Canon's bridge camera has a monster 35x zoom lens that's surprisingly good. It also sells for a slightly more reasonable price than some models. On the other hand, it has a lower-def screen than the Sony and Panasonic bridges, video is limited to 24 fps and it's not quite as responsive either.
Olympus SZ-31 MR
As well as an excellent lens, quality image processing and a good video mode, this camera has loads of original extra functions for things like shooting two videos simultansouely or taking a photo while filming.