My bridge camera is finally sharing space in my travel bag this winter. I’m off on tropical holiday, and I’ve decided to leave my DSLRs back home (for obvious reasons—bulk!).
When I first tried the bridge camera and compared it to my DSLR, I felt that the camera was a piece of crap. But this time, I know it’s going to be different.
What is a bridge camera?
Bridge cameras have the functionality of a DSLR but aren’t really built for perfection. They hover somewhere between point and shoot digital cameras and professional SLR cameras. For newbies, bridge cameras are awesome tools to learn photography. If you’re new to the photography world or find DSLRs overwhelming, a good bridge camera can help get your confidence up.
Why bridge cameras?
- Bridge cameras are cheap.
- They have a DSLR-like form factor and functions that help new users get acclimatized to photography basics: shutter speed, aperture, white balance, and ISO.
- The lens is attached to the body with a really good wide angle and telephoto range.
- Bridge cameras offer scenes, effects, and presets for different kinds of photography: portrait, night, landscape and food. The added advantage here is that the camera also does the post processing for you. Pictures out of the box will look vivid and vibrant. Ready for Instagram and social shares.
My Love and Hate with Bridge Cameras
I own a Nikon P900, which has an amazing zoom range of 2000mm (so they say). When I pixel-peeped my photographs and compared them to a DSLR, yikes! I wanted to get rid of it, instantly.
I still found the P900 an amazing camera to shoot animals at the zoo. I could really abuse the zoom and its awesome 2000mm lens. Pressing the camera against the fences gave me great capture for animal portraits. While outdoors, there’s enough light to get some great clicks at high shutter speeds and in burst modes, too.
Bridge Cameras & Depth of Field
Shallow depth of field is all about aperture. The lower the apertuer (e.g. f/1.4), the more the bokeh. It’s very tough to get bokeh and depth separating subjects from your background, especially with close-ups. This is because the typical bridge camera lens is not very fast—f/2.8 to f/8—and the sensors on these cameras can be as tiny as 1/2 inch (smaller than some smartphone cameras). This could make an f/2.8 lens an equivalent of an f/6 or more on a DSLR. That’s why the whole scene seems to look sharp and in focus on a bridge camera.
On the other hand, DSLRs have large sensors and let in more light. They give you more shallow depth of field and that beautiful bokeh.
Want shallow depth of field on a bridge camera?
You’ll have to lower your aperture, step back and tele-in. Your pictures might start to get too dark or noisy as you zoom in. Since the tele end of these lenses are morbidly slow at f 8. Sometimes, you may just have to pop up the camera’s flash too.
Family Gatherings & Black and Whites
At family events, I usually shoot to expose for black and white shots—especially when I’m shooting indoors or after dark. At these events, I found that the camera performance was not a lot better than my smartphone. The only advantage being that I could shoot documentary style from a distance. The downside was underexposed photos with a lot of noise. The on camera flash created harsh highlights and shadows on my subjects’ faces. The pop up flash isn’t really powerful enough nor does it have the dexterity to bounce off a wall. When the shutter speed is dialed down, the photographs get brighter but capture a lot of shake and double exposures. The only thing left to do was to pull back the details in black and white and add more grain in post.
Why can’t bridge cameras handle low light?
Most bridge cameras have an evil combination of slow lenses, half inch sensors, and a tiny on-camera-flash. This combination is a recipe for disaster. There is never sufficient light to work with such a camera. After the sun goes down, these cameras don’t really work at all. The only good pictures that are exposed well enough or are usable are the ones I take outdoors during the day when it’s overcast or sunny.
Sadly, the Nikon P900 doesn’t come with a hot shoe adapter, so there’s no provision to mount an external speedlight or trigger.
That made me wonder: Would the camera do better if I brought in more light?
I did a bit of tinkering and came up with a couple of clever DIY diffuseness along with external speed lights. Here are some of the combinations I tried:
Diffused on-camera-flash for close portraits. A tissue paper placed on the pop up flash helped me get up close and capture some evenly exposed portraiture photographs. Finding tissue at a family event won’t be a biggie.
UV filter. The camera’s small sensor creates awkward flares and streaks when bulbs and tube lights are in the background. The UV filter can be adjusted to minimize these flares.
Bounce card for on camera flash closeups. You could make a simple bounce card out of a business card and a little bit of tinfoil. The light from the flash hits the foil and bounces off the business card to provide a softer, more usable light on your subject. I was able to get a nice soft light with no overwhelming highlights for portraits.
Bounce an external speed light off the wall. Diffuse the on-camera-flash with a semi opaque tape. You could use scotch tape or masking tape. (I hear floppy disk material works well, too). This blocks out most of the harsh light from the on-camera-flash. Set the speedlights on slave mode. Now bounce the speedlights off the ceiling, background, or any white surface to get a large diffused soft light. The external flash can be dialed down if it’s too bright for your liking.
The speedlights may also be mounted on light stands with diffusion umbrellas or a soft box. You could use the cheapest speedlights, that are available for about $25 for this setup. Check if the flash triggers sync with your on camera flash before you purchase them, though.
What bridge cameras would you recommend?
Based on your budget, you could cherry pick from different versions of the Sony RX10, Panasonic FZ1000, FZ300, or Nikon P900.
Don’t be afraid to spread the light. With a little more muscle from external speedlights, bridge cameras can carry you a long way. My faith is restored! The indoor self portraits turned out quite well. I’m going to be attempting a lot of portraits outdoors with bounce cards and speedlights. I’ll be pushing the Nikon P900 for the next couple of months to see how well it adapts to travel photography.
If you have any more tips for bridge cameras, share them in the comments below. If you would like to track my travel updates with the Nikon P900, let’s connect on https://www.instagram.com/filmwithmark/.
About the Author:
Good Samaritan, convivial marketing companion, and storyteller. He’s also a corporate video and documentary filmmaker at http://wif.co.in
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