Ultra zoom, or super zoom, cameras are a type of bridge camera. They are ideal for those wanting excellent image quality combined with flexibility.
About Ultra Zoom Bridge Digital Cameras
Ultra zoom bridge digital cameras have several benefits over digital SLRs, or DSLRs. While DSLRs can produce the highest image quality possible, as well as having the highest functionality of any camera type, they can also be bulky, inconvenient and expensive. Interchangeable lenses are great in that they allow many different styles of photography, all at optimum quality, but changing lenses can be fiddly and time consuming. Carrying around a variety of different lenses also makes DSLRs less portable.
Ultra zoom bridge digital cameras solve these problems. The single integrated lens means that no lens changes are required and no extra lenses need to be carried around. Additionally, it also means that the camera sensor is never exposed to the elements, with any risk of moisture or dust damaging it. There is just one lens that can handle different focal lengths and effects.
The single lens is a typically a very powerful zoom that has capabilities far beyond standard bridge cameras. This is what makes ultra-zooms so attractive. They are capable of shooting ultra wide angle shots and long telephoto shots with the same lens. This makes them suitable for various styles of photography, from landscapes, architectural photography and interiors to portraiture, wildlife photography and events.
Compared to standard bridge cameras, ultra zoom bridge cameras are slightly more bulky. They also often have smaller image sensors, which can impact on image quality, especially in difficult light conditions. However, when weighing up these disadvantages many photographers find the versatility and capabilities of ultra-zoom bridge cameras to more than compensate.
Choosing an Ultra Zoom Bridge Digital Camera
All ultra-zoom bridge cameras offer excellent facilities for manual control as well as their powerful zoom. Other features, such as viewfinder type, image stabilisation, and video recording capabilities can vary.
Zoom Capability and Focal Range
The primary reason for buying an ultra-zoom bridge camera is to approach the quality and versatility of a DSLR without any need to change lenses. Having one device that can perform all functions is what ultra-zoom bridge cameras are all about. With this in mind, the zoom capability on the fixed lens needs to be great enough to suit the photographer’s particular requirements.
When talking about zoom capabilities, it is necessary to understand the difference between optical zoom and digital zoom. Optical zoom is true zoom, which displays more detail as an object is brought closer. Digital zoom is the same zoom mechanism found in photo editing software. It enlarges images, but it cannot add detail. This is something to be aware of as a review may state a camera has a 20x zoom, when this actually means the optical and digital zoom combined. A camera with a 20x optical zoom will have superior capability.
It is possible to find ultra-zoom bridge cameras with optical zooms of around 24x fairly easily and, combined with digital zoom, the combined zoom is far more. Some models have over 30x optical zoom, and even over 40x optical zoom can be found. This gives ultra-zoom cameras an excellent focal range. It can be greater than that of the lens usually supplied with a DSLR.
The Focal Range
The focal range is the range within which lenses can focus and take images. It is divided into sections, known as wide angle, standard, and telephoto. Wide angle focal range is anything under around 35 mm, standard focal range is about 35 mm to 80 mm and telephoto range is above about 80 mm. Within these categories, wide angle and telephoto are sub-divided into wide angle and ultra wide angle and short or medium and long, sometimes also super or ultra, telephoto. Ultra wide angle is below about 20 mm, while long telephoto is above about 300 mm and super telephoto is towards the far end of the telephoto scale, which can extend to about 1200 mm.
Ultra zoom bridge cameras have varying focal ranges, which should be stated in the specification. Look for maximum wide angle and telephoto focal lengths. Between around 24 mm and 300 mm is fairly typical, but longer telephoto lengths are certainly possible. This does mean the range is usually more limited than is possible on a DSLR, but compared to standard bridge cameras it is excellent. It is also impressive considering that super zoom bridge cameras are able to take telephoto shots with the same lens, as DSLR telephoto lenses are especially bulky.
Image Sensors and ISO Range
The size of image sensors and magnitude of ISO range are two important factors that determine a camera’s ability to produce sharp images, especially in low light. Sensor sizes are given in a non-standardised format, so it can be difficult to compare models exactly, but smaller numbers after the initial 1 basically mean a larger sensor. For example, a 1/4” sensor is smaller than a 1/2.5 sensor. Sensor size is correlated to the amount of light that is captured and, therefore, resolution, but it cannot counteract image noise. Sensor sizes from around 1/2.5 to 1/1 are fairly typical on ultra-zoom bridge cameras.Either the ISO range or a maximum ISO setting may be given. Higher maximum ISOs mean that the camera can capture more light and therefore produce clearer images in low light. Maximum manual ISO speeds of around 3200 up to 12800 are typical, which shows a high amount of variation.
Most ultra-zoom cameras offer a good resolution, with around 12MP to 20MP quite representative. 16MP is about the minimum resolution required to print images to A4 size, but for everyday shots and standard size printing 12MP is more than sufficient.
Most viewfinders on ultra-zoom cameras are electronic. Electronic viewfinders allow picture settings to be previewed but they are not as good as optical viewfinders, as found on DSLRs, in bright sunlight. Some ultra-zoom cameras do have optical viewfinders, and the quality of electronic viewfinders varies from camera to camera.
Most ultra-zoom bridge cameras incorporate image stabilisation to counteract camera shake, but some do not, so this is worth checking out, especially on cheaper models. Image stabilisation is fairly essential on telephoto shots. Image stabilisation may be either lens or sensor based, with lens based stabilisation often preferred for long telephoto ranges and in darker conditions. Even cameras with image stabilisation can benefit from the use of a tripod.
Other considerations when purchasing an ultra-zoom camera include its burst mode, or the number of frames it can capture per second, as well as special features such as scene modes, face detection and adjustable flash. Video recording capabilities vary, with some models offering higher resolution as well as video zoom. Many ultra-zoom bridge cameras give the option to shoot and process images in RAW mode, as opposed to the compressed JPEG format. RAW files save more information, which may be important for photo editing at a later stage.
Benefits of ultra-zoom bridge digital cameras over DSLRs include their convenience, portability, and price. The single integrated lens is a powerful zoom lens with an optical zoom of up to 40x or more, though it is less in most models. However, even less powerful ultra-zooms can handle a decent focal range from wide angle to telephoto, with between around 24 mm and 300 mm fairly typical. Ultra zoom cameras also have excellent options for manual control. Image sensor size and ISO range affect light capture and therefore performance in low light, and maximum ISO settings vary from around 3200 to 12800. Resolution varies from around 12MP to 20MP, with 12MP sufficient for standard size printing. Most viewfinders are electronic, though some are optical. Optical viewfinders are preferable in bright light. Most cameras have in-built image stabilisation, which may be either lens or sensor based, though a few models do not have either. Other considerations when purchasing an ultra-zoom include burst mode, video recording capabilities, special features and RAW image capture.