Megazoom digital cameras group test

Introduction

If you don’t have the money for a digital SLR, but want to move beyond simple point-and-shoot photography, there’s a wealth of compacts available that let you capture high-quality images in a wide range of situations.

Here, we’re looking at ‘megazoom’ cameras. These offer lenses with zoom ratios up to 26x, allowing you to capture usable shots from quite a distance. These translate into focal lengths between 24-28mm at its widest angle setting and up to 676mm at its longest telephoto.

Their high-quality lenses are just as capable with traditional portrait or landscape shots, and even macro shots as close as 1cm from the subject, delivering photos that are much better than those you’d get from a pocket-sized compact. This is why camera makers also call them ‘bridge’ cameras – a clunky but accurate term. They bridge the gap between compacts and digital SLRs.

You won’t get the image quality or level of control of an SLR, but then even a modestly specced digital SLR will be twice the price of a megazoom model when coupled with standard and telephoto lenses.

Though many of these megazoom cameras use the same 1/2.3in sensors as high-end compact models, the higher quality glassware strapped to the front of them allows them to capture much less noisy images – especially in imperfect lighting as you move up the ISO-equivalent settings. This means that shots from a megazoom camera will be usable at much larger sizes without noise becoming apparent.

Megazoom cameras offer mechanical stabilisation to avoid camera shake, rather than using less effective electronic ‘anti-blur’ systems, as found on most compacts. Mechanical systems either smooth out shake on the lens (known as optical image stabilisation), or on the sensor (CCD shift). In the past, optical image stabilisation was better than CCD shift, but currently there’s little between them. Even if your hands are very steady, stabilisation systems become necessary at long distances.

Megazoom cameras don’t offer the true optical viewfinder of an SLR, and don’t allow you to see your settings on the LCD screen while using the viewfinder for framing. However, these cameras have excellent quality, high-res LCD screens – with some models placing them on pop-up hinges so you can see the screen from a variety of angles.

Control is key to getting the best shots, and – as with high-end compacts – these models feature a variety of modes, from full auto to manual. Like most compacts, these cameras have scene modes for particular circumstances – though if you’re buying a megazoom camera you’ve probably outgrown them.

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