Monday, December 10, 2012

Bridge Cameras, the alternative to DSLRs

Modern point-and-shoot camera can take quality pictures that are suitable for printing and posting in blogs and social media site such as Facebook. The good thing about most of that kind of cameras is that they are cheap, compact and light so that they can fit in one’s pocket. Because it is compact, it can be easily brought anywhere when one wants his activities to be taken picture of. Point and shoot cameras are ideal for taking family, landscape, portrait and other pictures. However, they have limitations such as having a small sensor and a small, fixed all-around lens. Digital Single-Lens Reflex Cameras (DSLRs) can take better quality pictures than point-and -shot in different shooting situation such as the brightness of light and the distance of subjects from the photographer. To satisfy his desires, a DSLR user should have an array of various lenses such as prime and zoom lenses that can take wide angle, macro and telephoto shots. But DSLRs are not for everyone because they are more expensive, bigger and heavier. Some camera lenses are even more expensive than a DSLR body. Moreover, it will take a little longer for a total beginner to familiarize himself with the use and operation of a DSLR than he does with a point-and-shoot camera.

In between the point-and-shoot and the DSLR is the bridge camera. However, there is another camera type which is called hybrid or Mirrorless, Interchangeable Lens Camera (MILC). But like DSLR, MILC uses interchangeable lenses. Maybe bridge cameras are called as such because it is some sort of a “bridge” between a point-and-shoot camera and a DSLR. The main characteristics of bridge cameras are that most of them have a DSLR-type body with no viewfinder, and a fixed all-around lens. Because of its powerful lens the term bridge camera is often used interchangeably with mega zoom, super zoom and ultra zoom. Bridge camera’s image quality may not be on par with the DSLR’s because of its small sensor size. But its small sensor size enable it to have an extremely high crop factor, thus allowing it to achieve zoom range that are physically impossible on DSLR cameras utilizing large sensors. This makes the bridge camera much more compact and versatile than either DSLR or MILC.

I have a bridge camera which is an Olympus SP-800UZ with a fixed lens of 4.9-147mm and maximum apertures of f1:2.8-5.6.  This is equivalent to 28-840mm in a 35mm film lens. It has a very powerful 30x zoom lens that is indeed very effective in taking photos of distant subjects.  Its drawback is that it is weak in taking pictures in low light so that at ISO 800 or higher the pictures are noisy. Another problem is that it has no built-in viewfinder so that it is difficult to see the subject on the LCD screen on a bright sunlit day. I like my camera for its small, light and sturdy body and its powerful fixed all-in-one lens which is highly effective in taking pictures of distant subjects. I also use that camera as a backup to my entry-level Pentax K-r DSLR. 

Above are sample pictures taken with my Olympus camera
Over the years camera companies have made improvements on the features of some of their bridge camera models. These include having an electronic viewfinder, a sensor size similar to entry level DSLRs, a hot shoe for external flash, and a PSAM mode (program, shutter, aperture and manual) in addition to the auto. The PSAM mode means that the photographer can manipulate a bridge camera to take picture similar to a DSLR. In addition latest model bridge cameras have the ability to enhance the macro, telephoto and other features of the primary lens by attaching secondary lens to it. This can be done by screwing the secondary lens onto the front of the primary lens either directly or with the use of an adapter.

There are many good bridge cameras available in the market that the buyer can choose from. And the good thing is that their price has gone down and their qualities and features have improved because of the competition of camera manufacturers. Some examples of bridge cameras are Nikon Coolpix P500, Canon PowerShoot G15, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, Fuji Finepix HS20 EXR, Sony CyberShoot DSC-HX100V, Olympus SP-820UZ and others.     

With a bridge camera a photographer can take some pictures that are beyond the capabilities of a point-and- shoot without spending much money on different lenses and other camera accessories.      

Related post:

Are Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras (MILCs) the Wave of the Future in Digital Photography?