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Choosing a bridge digital camera

Looking to buy a bridge digital camera? Here are a few features that you may want to look for.

A bridge digital camera is a popular choice for anyone that wants to achieve better results than a point and click camera, but doesn't want the size and complexity of a D-SLR camera. I bought one for myself a couple of years ago so that I could have a camera with me at times when the D-SLR is just too much to carry (including during some of my days out with the family).

Nikon Coolpix bridge digital camera

Bridge cameras are usually considered in two categories depending upon whether they have a superzoom. Those with super zoom are generally larger due to the large used to zoom in on distant objects.

They do not have the same quality as a full D-SLR, but that is really the compromise on size. Whilst you can't change lenses on a bridge camera that also means it doesn't suffer from the same problems of dust on the sensor which is a real problem with DSLR cameras.

Resolution

At the time of writing most bridge cameras have a resolution between 9 and 14Mp (mega pixels). 9Mp should be as good as most need (my SLR is only 6Mp, but is excellent quality – due to the size of the sensor).

The higher resolution is better if you need to crop down, which is particularly useful if you don’t spend too long framing the subject and instead do that at the PC, but cropping is not going to have the same quality as framing correctly in the first place.

I find that cropping is useful for getting photos of kids that don’t stay still, but also useful if you want to get off a few shots without stopping and don’t want to spend too long checking for things that look out of place. Thinking along the lines of that well heard phrase “Are you on holiday with your camera or with your family?”.

Zoom / angle

Large zoom is useful to get up close, but when you zoom in a long way then you have a job keeping it steady (although image stabilisation should help).

I think the wide angle is just as important if not more so as it means you can get more in when it’s close to you; you can usually crop a zoomed image to cut some of the background out (within reason), but you can’t uncrop an image that’s too close.

Hotshoe

If you ever think, you may possibly, at some stage, want to add an external flash then I’d definitely get one with a hot shoe.

Pop-up flash is usually reasonable as long as the subject is optimal distance away (think standard distance for shooting family photos). But move too close and it’s too harsh – too far and not effective. An external flash is completely different with options to bounce / reduce power / soften.

You may not have any intention to fit an external flash at the moment, but if you ever did then a hot shoe is worth having.

I have a very large flash which does look a bit out of place on the camera, but is much better than the built in flash. You can of course buy smaller flash guns. I find that the flash on my bridge camera is almost guaranteed to give red-eye even with the red-eye reduction setting, whereas a flash bounced from the ceiling does not.

Nikon SB-600 flash gun.

Battery

Before I got a camera with a proprietary battery I thought AA was the way to go. Now I’ve got a camera which uses a proprietary battery I wouldn’t want one that uses AA.

Standard batteries are useful if you’re camera runs flat as you can just buy batteries from anywhere and use them.

But buying Lithium camera batteries is very expensive and Ni-MH batteries do not hold their charge (so need to remember to charge the day before). I found that I’d try and use Ni-MH which I’d have to charge each day, but make sure I had a Lithium in the bag as well. You can now buy "Stay Charged" rechargeable batteries that may help.

A dedicated camera battery will normally hold its charge for a long time and will typically last for a week’s worth of heavy use before running flat. You will need to factor in getting a second battery to make sure you don’t run out at that crucial moment, but then that’s all you’ll ever need (at least for a few years before the battery starts to deteriorate and I've got some that are still going strong after about 5 years).

This review may help decide whether to buy a genuine battery or a replica (review based on camcorder battery).

There is still one big advantage of AAs in that you can buy them everywhere, whereas if you put your camera away and forget to charge the spare battery you could end up with a camera and no way to take any photos, but that’s not very often that happens. I’ve only had it happen once in several years of use; it was on a 2 day trip to London. My low battery indicator came on, but I still had just about enough battery for that days photos and bought a charger so that I could charge up that evening. Should have taken the charger with me.

RAW

RAW is a way of storing images with the maximum possible information allowing more flexibility when editing in the computer.

You can probably ignore whether a camera has RAW or not. Some do and some don't. It can be very good on professional SLRs if you spend a lot of time getting the best possible shot - but the hassle of having to convert the file (and to a less extent the extra space), means that I hardly ever use RAW on my bridge camera.

Adjustable viewscreen

I can see that it would be a useful feature, but they've only really become popular in the last couple of years and mine doesn't have one.

Overview

Some of the features are down to personal preference and some of it is down to size / feel / ease of use which it’s not really possible to tell by just looking at a website.

A bridge camera will give better results than a compact and doesn't have the bulk associated with the D-SLR. They also fit quite nicely price wise being more expensive than a compact, but less than a D-SLR camera.

A good way to capture those lasting memories of holidays, days out and kids growing up without having a bulky SLR.


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