As the market for semi-pro and digital SLR cameras continues to grow, we surveyed 10 models from the top brands. Our tests reveal the product that's right for you, whether you're a beginner or expert photographer.
Megazoom: best of both worlds
If you want a more capable compact rather than the costly option of a dSLR (with inevitable further expenditure on extra lenses and accessories), there's plenty to be said for choosing one of the megazoom models we've reviewed here.
These offer lenses with optical zooms of up to 26x, allowing you to capture usable shots from quite a distance. These translate into focal lengths between 24-28mm at the widest angle setting, and up to 676mm at the longest telephoto distance.
Their high-quality lenses are just as capable of coping with traditional portrait or landscape shots - and even macro shots as close as 1cm away - 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 dSLRs.
You won't get the image quality or level of control of a dSLR, but even a modestly equipped dSLR will cost twice the price of a bridge compact when coupled with standard and telephoto lenses. Another advantage is that megazoom cameras are usually much lighter than dSLRs.
Although many of these megazoom cameras use the same 1/2.3in sensors as high-end compact models, the better-quality glassware strapped to the front of them allows them to capture much less noisy images - particularly in imperfect lighting as you move up the ISO 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 ‘antiblur' systems. 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, these days, there's little between them.
Such cameras tend to be larger and less pocketable than a standard point-and-shoot compact, but their additional heft lends itself to better stabilisation and ergonomics, meaning they're more comfortable to use. As well as a large LCD, you also get a proper viewfinder on which to compose your shot.
NEXT PAGE: top 10 digital cameras reviewed