Just what is a super zoom compact camera? This class of digital camera comes in a few different configurations but what they all have in common is zoom lenses of at least 10X. Some will look just like other pocket friendly digital cameras but they will be a little thicker to contain the long lens. Others will resemble a pro camera complete with a hand grip and a lens that doesn’t retract flush to the body. We call these latter cameras “bridge” cameras because they aren’t really compact cameras nor are they big DSLR style cameras, they bridge between those two popular groups.
The super zoom cameras are often called “sports zooms” because they are favored by soccer, football and baseball parents ten to one. Parents of children playing organized outdoor sports are the number users of super zoom cameras. They can’t get any closer to the players than the sidelines but a super zoom can put them in the middle of the huddle.
There are a number of super zoom cameras available but for our purposes we will look at six models as representatives of the group. Canon, Fuji, Olympus and Nikon set the standard in this class and each has a model in our discussion.
The easiest way to divide up the super zoom class is by price. With our chosen samples the price break is at $300.00, there are three models above this price and three below it. We will start with the lower priced group first.
Our under $300 super zooms are the Nikon L110, the Canon SX130 IS and the Fuji S1800. All three cameras offer 12 megapixel resolution, image stabilization and all three capture 720p HD video – but the Nikon L110 is the only model with an HDMI port for direct HDTV connection. One other interesting trait is that all three are powered by AA batteries, something increasingly rare in digital cameras.
Starting with the Fuji S1800 we find a surprisingly well equipped camera for about $229.99. In design it is a bridge camera with a pronounced grip and lens housing. The camera features an 18X zoom lens and fast 8 frames per second image capture. The 3 inch LCD viewscreen is clear and bright, the controls are easy to understand and use. We recommend this camera for both its price and its high image quality.
The middle child of this price range is the Canon SX130 IS. The SX130 looks like a standard compact camera but chunkier. Tucked inside is a powerful 12X zoom lens and Canon’s new SMARTAuto mode that takes most of the guesswork out of taking pictures. Priced at $249.99 the SX130 IS is perfect for the family photographer who needs more lens length.
The last of our under $300 super zoom cameras is the Nikon L110. And talk about great for sports, the L110 can capture 11 images per second for up to 20 consecutive shots. The 15X zoom lens is backed up with 5-way image stabilization unique to Nikon. The L110 is the largest of this first trio of cameras, but it is still a compact handful. At $279.99 the Nikon L110 offers some serious features normally found on much more expensive cameras.
Other cameras that fit in the under $300 group are the Fuji JZ300 with its 10X zoom lens and very compact body, the Nikon S5100 with blazing speed and a 5X zoom, the Canon SX210IS that features an amazing 14X zoom lens in a shirt pocket sized body, and the Nikon S8100 with a 10X zoom. These alternate cameras provide many of the features found on our super zoom class but they aren’t quite as fast or as powerful.
Now for the over $300 super zoom crowd. The three cameras we have chosen to feature in this group are extreme in many respects. All feature 25X zooms or longer, two feature 720p HD video capability while the third has 1080p HD. All models have HDMI ports for direct HDTV connection.
The Olympus SP-800UZ offers a 30X wide angle zoom lens. One button starts movie recording ion 720p HD. Internal enhancements provide excellent face detection and tracking, creative filters and more. At $349.99 the Olympus SP-800UZ is one of the lowest priced cameras with a lens longer than 25X.
Nikon offers their P100 with 26X zoom lens. In the hand a Nikon P100 feels solid and substantial, the hand grip fits into your palm like it was tailored just for you. 10 frames per second shooting can keep up with the fastest action and Nikon’s 5-Way image stabilization keeps your images sharp. The P100 is one of the first compact cameras to offer 1080p HD video capture. We like the P100 because we believe with its construction points and feature set it will be a photographer favorite for years. At $399.99 you get a lot of camera in the box.
The last of our super zoom cameras is the Canon SX30 IS. Though not the first bridge camera, the Canon IS series has been the most enduring. Starting with the S1-IS in 2004 the series has been a consistent top choice. Coming from such a long line of Canon IS cameras, the SX30 tops them all with a 35X wide angle zoom lens and features not really even thought of back in 2004.
The Canon SX30 IS is the most expensive of our super zoom set, priced at $429.99. Like the Nikon discussed before, the SX130 IS is solid, compact and supremely well thought out. The controls are all handy and the operation is very straight forward. After all these generations of IS cameras, Canon isn’t making any mistakes in design. The lens is ultra long and it is also the widest angle of any super zoom. We like the SX30 IS because we think it is a camera that will last for years and still compare well to whatever the future brings our way.
There we have it, our round up of super zoom cameras. As we have seen we can get high magnification and fast operation priced from $229.99 all the way up to $429.99. Panasonic, Samsung and several other brands also offer super zooms, but the cameras mentioned in this article all lead the pack for features, image quality and reliability.