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High-End Compact and Super-Zoom Cameras for HDR Photography

Taking a step up from compact digital cameras in the budget range, you will find more expensive compact digital cameras for HDR photography, also called high-end compacts, super-zooms, and dSLR look-alikes. There are so many often-overlapping categories that it makes your head spin.

The two things this range of cameras have in common are their increased cost, and better or more features. This figure shows an older Kodak EasyShare Z740 super-zoom. Despite its age and being only a 5 megapixel (MP) camera, it sports a manual mode and can help you take fantastic pictures.

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Notice at this point you get an upgraded grip. That makes the camera easier to hold and use without getting your fingers in the way of the lens. Speaking of lenses, super-zoom lenses tend to be much larger than budget compact digital cameras.

Part of the reason is marketing (a larger lens looks more impressive) but part is functional — these lenses have to be better in order to make zooming in by a factor of 20x practical.

Other candidates in this category are the premium compacts Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3, Canon PowerShot G10, and Nikon Coolpix 6000; super-zooms Canon PowerShot SX1 and SX10, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX1.

Super-zooms are basically compact cameras (all but the beefiest are smaller than a dSLR) with an impressive zoom capability that generally cost much less than a dSLR. The Canon PowerShot SX-20 IS, for example, puts 20x optical zoom at your fingertips for about $400. This is equivalent to a 560mm lens on a full-frame (35mm) camera.

To put that into perspective, the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS USM super telephoto lens costs just under $10,000. The SX-IS 20 also features a reasonable wide-angle capability, starting out at 28mm (35mm equivalent).

Here are the pros of spending more money to get a more capable camera than with a "point-and-shoot" compact digital camera:

  • Higher picture quality: Although sensor sizes are still small, the image quality you can get from a more expensive camera tends to be better than the budget line because of image stabilization and additional processing oomph in the camera. Too, this class offers better or larger lenses. High-ISO performance still lags behind dSLRs, however.

  • Comparable megapixels: These cameras compete well in this category. High-end models generally top out at 12 megapixels while more inexpensive and older cameras have between 8 and 10.

  • Still relatively compact: Even at this level, you can still carry around an amazingly small camera. For example, at only the size of a box of animal crackers, the Canon G10 is a serious camera with a lot of power. You can easily fit it in a purse or a manly European carryall.

  • More controls: High-end digital compacts and the more expensive super-zooms offer more controls than a budget camera. Look for handy knobs and switches on the camera body, which make changing shooting modes, aperture, and shutter speed much easier.

  • More manual control: You tend to garner a greater ability to manually control the camera as you spend more money. This makes manual bracketing (assuming no AEB mode) easier than having to resort to exposure compensation.

  • Raw file format: At this level, the Raw file format is sometimes — albeit not always — an option. This is a significant reason to step up to the next level and purchase a more expensive camera.

    Although you might be happy with JPEGs for casual shooting, Raw photos can give you a boost in HDR quality. In addition, you can shoot single-exposure HDR using Raw photos. That opens up a whole new and exciting world.

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