Bridge Camera vs. DSLR Long Telephoto Lens for birding


Semi-automatic Mediocrity Generator
Supporting Member
Jul 16, 2015
Reaction score
Can others edit my Photos
Photos OK to edit
I recently started a thread about birding that got derailed over this issue. OK- let's get it hashed out here!

Canon and Nikon and others have bridge cameras with tiny tiny sensors but long-long-long zooms.

Which yields the best image: 500mm lens with a full frame sensor cropped like crazy, or uncropped 2000mm image (like the Nikon P900 can deliver).

Also, even if the bridge camera can deliver the goods better on the far-far away shots (vague Shrek reference there....) then can it do so in lower lighting sufficiently? Can it focus quickly and accurately enough? Can it deliver raw images?

What are YOUR thoughts, oh wise photo community
Something in-between.
If you're going to crop, cropping an hi-res image from a crop-sensor body (1.5x on Nikon's side, 1.6x on Canon's side)
is going to return better image quality then cropping a lot more on a full frame side of things. FF WILL give you better
images IF you can fill the frame and NOT crop.

Best 3 cameras for the job are Canon 7D markII, Nikon D7200 and, soon, the Nikon D500.
Canon has better lens choices at the extreme long stuff (my opinion), like the 400mm f/5.6 which is small, light and
it's over 600mm on a 7D markII.

Compare the 7d markII + 400mm f/5.6 prices VS any FF (5dm3 or 1dx) with a 600mm lens and you'll soon give up on that idea. :)
In an ideal world, I would have the new Nikon D500 plus Nikon 200-500 plus 1.4 TC. We're talking, what- $4,000 USD?

Instead, I have a refurbished consumer grade 55-300 zoom on my D5500. Nice rig, but it won't bring in the distant wildlife and birds. Still, I'm just a dude shooting pics for grins on some weekends.

Rather than spend a couple of grand on big wonderful long glass, It's tempting to pick up a bridge cam for just a few hundred. Compromises abound, but such is life, no? The hesitation I feel (most) is the feeling that I KNOW will kick in which I get an almost fabulous shot from my compromise rig. Tricky.
I've also thought about the small and cheaper Nikon P610 that might be a decent camera for vacations as well as for birding. It's not as long as the P900 but still has 35mm equivalent range of 25-1440!

EDIT: OTOH- then I see this graphic showing the actual relative sizes of the sensors and it scares the cr*p out of me!

Nikon Coolpix P610 vs. Nikon D5500 - Sensor Comparison

The crop sensor on my D5500 looks absolutely VAST compared to the bridge camera.
Last edited:
I just took these out of my window. Hand held and uncropped:


Not the greatest birdy shots but the zoom is fantastic. If the bird had not decided to move just as I shot the close up it would be sharper but you can see the ariel is in focus.
My FUJI HS 20 is now 5 years old.
I think the P900 is an interesting camera for someone that wants to try out some super telephoto like shots. If you had a blog about birds it could be very useful for posting shots of what you spotted. A search on Flickr shows a lot of bird shots done with this camera. Looks like a good use of the small sensor.

The image quality from the small sensor is simply atrocious though.

What about Nikon 1, AF-S 200-500mm f5.6, 1.4x Teleconverter ? At least that would be a 1" Sensor, at 700 * 2.7 ~ 1890mm.

I think that IQ would be quite superior.
Normally a big sensor is better than a small one.

Normally a 500mm lens will be better than a bridge camera zoom lens.

This comes down to image quality vs resolution I'd imagine. If you need 20mp to cover the bird at 2000mm then the bridge is better, but if a few mp is enough, the big gun should be better
long telephoto bird photography on a $100 Canon camera with a $50 lens

absolutely crazy insane !

Untitled by c w, on Flickr
Last edited:
I wish I were better at math for questions like these...

A 1/2.3" sensor, like the P900, is about 1/10 the size of APS-C, isn't it? So wouldn't the zoom have to be more than ten times longer before it produces better photos?

But then they are cramming all those megapixels into that tiny sensor, so that probably needs to be factored in as well...but I'm not sure how.
I gotta admit that some of the bird photos taken with the Canon PowerShot SX60 are not bad at all. If you search "Canon SX60 bird" in flickr, you will some pretty decent bird photos there. For the price of those super zoom bridge camera, it is hard to find a DSLR with a telephoto lens that can yield the same result.
So wouldn't the zoom have to be more than ten times longer before it produces better photos?
at no time will the P900 produce better photos over an APS-C.
long telephoto bird photography on a $100 Canon camera with a $50 lens

I think you're exaggerating the prices, but yeah that's pretty good.
When the P900 first came out I researched it, toyed with it at a store, bounced around the idea of getting one, etc etc.

In the end I didn't. Reasons are:
image quality. The small sensor really likes a sloooowwww shutter speed for light gathering (not good for BIF), whereas a APS-C camera has absolutely no problems.

The zoom quality is pretty good but won't compare quality-wise to a good dslr lens. BUT the price of the P900 at $600.00 US essentially can nab you a refrub'd D3300 and a used Nikon or Tamron 70-300 lens.

The focusing system - AF Areas and speed really is several leagues under the d3300.
The AF System is not in the same league as the d3300 nor especially the d7200.

If a bird is sitting there I can see getting the shot.
If the bird is flying, well, expect a large failure rate even before you add in the shooting lag.

Do not expect the same controls, access to the controls, access to settings, etc as you do on a DSLR. Do not expect to change settings quickly.

Also, the camera does NOT shoot in RAW. Only JPEG. Also it touts 7 fps shooting. Right. If there was a big enough buffer. You have to select Small Jpeg which will loose you quality.

but for what it does and what it brings to the table in a somewhat compact, all-in-one camera it's pretty good.

In the end I actually bought a P7800 which has a slightly smaller sensor at 1/1.7" vs the 1/2.3" as it was more pocketable, can control Nikon flashes with CLS and a hotshoe, and shoots RAW and has full manual controls, well mostly. Quality-wise and control-wise it gets eaten alive by a dslr but it serves it's purpose vs my D600 FF camera.

Here's the best coverage Review of P900 when I was reading about it ==> Nikon P900 Review - Field Test

it's one of those cameras where you Want the specs to be faster than they really are. I wish I could test drive it for 3 months as I'm sure I would find out it's idiosyncrisies and realize that I wouldn't miss it after giving it back.

It's a great step up a camera from a Point & Shoot that gives you the world, with all the slowness of a P&S. But if you were used to a good dslr you'd wonder why you bought one other than for the general "I'm on vacation and need a smaller camera" photography.
I should mount my 150-600 up to my a6000 and try birding in the backyard while im snowed in.

Most reactions

New Topics