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How to buy a digital camera Part 3: Bridge the digital camera divide

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Part 3: Bridge the digital camera divide

In the third part of our Christmas guide to buying a digital camera, BRIAN KOPING delves into the emerging world of Bridge cameras, also known as Prosumer cameras, because they bridge the divide between professional and consumer cameras.

Prosumer or Bridge cameras as the name implies fill the niche between consumer cameras and professional machines.

Until the advent of the Fujifilm FinePix 6900 ‚ a prosumer camera with 6 megapixel performance, a 6X zoom and an affordable price ‚ digital cameras were laughed off as a bit of a joke by the photographic fraternity.

Nikon were hot on its heels with their multi-button machine and Canon were soon in the arena with their D30 SLR. Digital photography had arrived.

Bridge cameras have two viewing modes, namely a choice between live view at the back of the camera, or battery saving eye-level viewing. Both images are electronic, viewed on full colour LCD screens.

The image on the screen is what you get: you do not have to look at the screen on the back of your camera after each shot to check exposure. There is no prism or flipping mirror as in SLRs. As opposed to the moving curtain of shutter blades in SLRs, Bridge cameras have a small, almost inaudible between-the-lens bladed shutter.

Apart from the weight advantage, this system offers full flash synchronization across the entire shutter speed range, as opposed to the usual 1/125 second upper limit of most SLRs. It also offers image stabilisation across the entire zoom range. This silence is a boon when photographing skittish animals and birds.

Lenses in bridge cameras are not interchangeable and, until recently, were limited to 10x or 12x zooms with a wide-angle length equivalent to 38mm in 35mm terms but this is changing at an amazing rate.

Currently Fujifilm and Canon have Bridge models with 30x zooms and more. The groundbreaking Fujifilm FinePix HS10 has a precise manual zoom from a 35mm equivalent of 24mm (80degree angle of view) to 720mm (Less than 1 degree angle of view) and a hot-shoe for external flash. This gives the ability to shoot everything, from tight interiors to wildlife with a machine slightly smaller than the average SLR with standard zoom lens!

All this and HD video capability as well.

To me, this is total freedom and no gadget bag to tote. By all accounts and tests, the image quality is very good across the range, and all this at a cost of less than an SLR lens of a fraction of the range.

This sounds too good to be true, so what are the drawbacks?

The cameras in general are not as robust as SLRs and tend to feel a little plasticky, for want of a better word.

Really high-speed still sequences cannot match the SLR. If this is the name of your game, these machines are not for you. Refresh rates between images also do not match those of SLRs.

The imaging sensor is usually of the ¬Ω inch type so, though very good, the images can fall a little short of what would have been achieved with an APS-C sized sensor as on SLRs. However if you are shooting for home consumption, the quality is more than good.

The final disparity is the viewing. Under harsh conditions, the viewfinder image is not as crisp as that of an SLR. But, if you have the parameters, this does not affect the quality of the final image.

My personal view? If I am shooting commercial subjects for advertising or publication, I will use my SLR equipment and lug along the gadget bag. For casual and semi serious photography, the SLR stays home and my little Prosumer comes along. When a good prosumer camera arrives with an APS-C sized CMOS sensor, my SLR may just gather dust permanently.

* For detailed information on Bridge Cameras, including brands and models, visit Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bridge_camera

Read the rest of the series by clicking on the links below:

How to buy a digital camera Part 1: No such thing as best

How to buy a digital cameral Part 2: The right type

* Coming soon in part 4: The SLR choice

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