Semi-Pro Compact Cameras Reviewed

Introduction

There comes a time when any digital compact camera starts to show its age, technological restrictions frustrate your ambition, and/or an ideal opportunity for that upgrade looms. Falling prices can ensure that you pick up a better-specified model for the same price, or less, than you paid for your earlier investment.

This has never been truer than with regard to the ‘bridge’ camera section of the market – so called because these compacts form a link between point-and-shoots and more professional digital SLRS (DSLRs).

Often described as a best-of-both-worlds solution, it’s certain that while they remain relatively compact in size, you’ll find more manual controls on offer with a ‘semi pro’ bridge model than a humble point-and-shoot.

These include the ability to switch from full auto mode to more extensively featured program, shutter priority, aperture priority or full-manual modes. Some models even offer the ability to attach a flashgun for more professional results than the built-in variety will deliver. Cameras such as Olympus’ SP-570UZ also borrow from DSLRs in allowing the user to shoot simultaneous Raw and JPEG files – the former being the unprocessed ‘digital negative’, which can be preserved and archived, the latter the compressed and less memory hungry processed file, which can be opened quickly for review.

Many such higher-end or ‘prosumer’ compacts additionally boast a stabilised optical zoom lens that on a DSLR would necessitate a large, hefty and prohibitively expensive optic to deliver as broad a range.

The models rated here provide up to an impressive 520mm equivalent. High-definition (HD) output is also among the latest offerings, so the camera can be hooked up to the latest TV sets or Blu-ray players via HDMI cable.

To keep costs down, many of the prosumer cameras on test come supplied with AA batteries, so budget extra for replacing these with a rechargeable variety at the earliest opportunity. Given the resolutions on offer – all of which will ensure prints up to poster size and beyond – you’ll also need to invest in a large capacity memory card, as it’s increasingly rare to find these supplied out of the box.

Finally, it’s should be noted that such compact cameras actually boast some features that DSLRs don’t – chiefly the ability to capture TV-quality video clips alongside stills. Which means that bridge models can provide good all-in-one options for those who don’t want to be weighed down by a ton of kit.

All prices quoted are those suggested by the manufacturers themselves, with the result that ‘street prices’ may be cheaper still.

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