Big Zoom Compacts

While interchangeable-lens cameras offer superior versatility and image quality, there’s a lot to be said in praise of fixed-lens, compact cameras, particularly those with extreme zoom capabilities.

All of the cameras here offer telephoto reach of at least 500mm*, and many go much further. For some perspective, Canon’s 500mm ƒ/4 L EF IS II USM lens sells for upwards of $10,000. To be fair, that lens represents some pretty awesome optical engineering and technology—truly in a very different class of optics than those found on fixed-lens cameras—but for most of us, it’s just not affordable.

That’s where a big-range zoom camera can give us access to a closer perspective on subjects like sports, wildlife and stage performances normally reserved for professional photographers backed by generous equipment budgets.

Not only are these cameras very affordable on a price-per-millimeter basis, but they’re extremely light and portable. Continuing our admittedly unfair comparison—but just to make the point—the Canon 500mm ƒ/4 weighs in at a little over seven pounds and is 15 inches long.

By contrast, the Canon PowerShot SX50 HS featured in this article offers a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 1200mm on the telephoto end, but weighs just 1.3 pounds and measures less than five inches in its biggest dimension.

These cameras don’t just offer extreme telephoto perspectives at an agreeable price, size and weight; they also include some advanced technology. In fact, many of the most innovative features that eventually find their way to interchangeable-lens cameras make their debut in high-performance compact models like these.

Pushing the optical zoom range even further, you’ll see that the models we’ve included here also offer digital zoom capability. There are different approaches to digital zoom, but the main thing to know is that it’s something of a compromise in image quality. Digital zoom technology has improved over the years, and it’s nice to have the option for longer reach when you need it, but for the very best results, stick to the optical zoom range of the camera.

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