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Superzooms and Bridge Cameras for wildlife photography

Superzooms and Bridge Cameras for wildlife photography

Let me start by saying I am not a fan of this style of camera for wildlife photography and I doubt you will catch any pro photographers using them. You really cannot compare bridge cameras with a DSLR setup, otherwise why would anyone carry around heavy equipment or spend thousands of pounds on photography gear, but there is no doubt they are good Cameras for the purpose they are intended.

Fujifilm FinePix HS20EXR Digital Camera - (16MP, 30x Optical Zoom - 24mm-720mm)
There is no doubt Superzooms and Bridge Cameras do have a place in some peoples kit back or pocket and I do understand that for those people who don't want the hassle of carrying heavy gear, can't afford a DSLR, need a small camera when travelling for example or are happy with a record shot and aren't particularly fussed about pin sharp feather detail, flight shots and so on, then these cameras fit the bill and fine. I also appreciated the versatility of a big zoom range from wide angle to telephoto and i also except that as these cameras get better and technology advances the image quality and noise reduction at high ISO's achievable with these portable powerful little cameras continue to improve.

What I don't like is the way they are sold, 50x zoom, wow amazing right…..?
Well no…!


I do not have a large degree of experience with these cameras but for a while I have owned a Fuji Finepix HS20 EXR (16MP, 30x Optical Zoom) on which i can base some experience. At Arundel Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust I gave it its first proper outing with wildlife in mind the birds in the collection here are at close range which wasn't particularly realistic in wildlife photography terms but testing this camera in various situations here gave me a good idea of its capabilities.


Passable image of a male Eider
(Somateria mollissima) at close range, FinePix HS20EXR, F/6.4, 1/280sec, ISO100

I am a DSLR owner and obviously this will never be my first choice for wildlife. However the results at close range and in ideal shooting conditions are comparable with DSLR images when pixel peeping at 100%, not surprisingly it struggles in poor shooting conditions and that's when differences become obvious. It is noisy at high ISOs but technological advances will no doubt continue to combat this across all styles of camera; however it does have lots of bells and whistles to deal with these kinds of issues and some interesting and potentially useful features for wildlife.

It does serve a purpose on a day out when perhaps you don't want the hassle of carrying all the DSLR gear but you do want the ability to capture a record shot or if you are lucky a good quality image, after all at close range in good light it's capable of producing a decent image. Full HD Video is ok quality but it hunts wildly to find focus rendering video unusable as far as I'm concerned. With16mp there's plenty of scope for cropping to enlarge and still retaining enough detail for large prints. A newer more expensive bridge camera would I'm sure take this even further and combat some of the issues I have with this one but I had set a budget of £250 and this fitted all the specifications I required.

Male Mallard at close range (Anas platyrhynchos), Finepix HS20EXR, f/5.6, 1/40sec, ISO 100

I can't help but compare the results with the high quality DSLR images I am used to viewing on my computer; yes if you are a few feet from your subject you will get good shots with any set-up. My guess is that as soon as you start to test one of these super-zoom cameras with bad light, distance, fast moving subjects, and so on, that's when you'll notice a big difference. So yes, at your local park taking pictures of Canada Geese, Ducks, Pigeons, Gulls and Robins the results from these kinds of cameras can be ok. There is no doubt these cameras have a place in modern photography and for the average Jo taking holiday snaps and pictures of the kids or even the birder/photographer not looking for high quality images a bridge camera may be all you will ever need, after all there is no doubt you can crop to enlarge and produce a canvas or poster with a picture from one of these style of cameras. Wildlife photography as you'll no doubt know will test you and your camera to its limit and there'll be many situations when a superzoom just won't cope.

A very sharp good quality Lichen image at very close range
Finepix HS20EXR, f/4.5, 1/56sec, ISO 100


My problem is that what these cameras are claiming they can do is in my view unrealistic, superzooms claiming a telephoto lens of 1200mm equivalent magnification! Well be honest, stabilised or otherwise, we all know that taking a photo at that sort of magnification is going to be hard to eliminate camera shake with any setup not on a tripod.

Would you hand hold your Telescope...? No...

You will need a high shutter speed to freeze any movement of the camera or subject and to get one you will need a lot of light, yes you can up the ISO to help you out but at what cost, the chances are if you get a sharp image it'll be noisy. What you are most likely to get, due to the low shutter speed that's not fast enough to freeze the action, is a blurred image!

I'd expect most of these cameras to be virtually unusable at the higher half of their claimed range on average uk light conditions, I'd expect to be better off getting a good quality camera with a realistic zoom and cropping the picture. It's clearly better to have a sharp image you can crop than a frame filling blurred image because you cranked the zoom up to 50x and couldn't hold it still in a light breeze.

Having said that if a bridge camera / superzoom is for you then there is an extensive range these days. The Canon PowerShot SX50 HS (12.1 MP, 50x Zoom) seems a popular choice. My advice would be not to go for a something like a 50x zoom and instead go for something less than half that magnification with a higher pixel count giving you more scope to crop the image.

I hope you have found this article useful

Richard Ford