Superzoom cameras promise the best of both worlds. They offer the longest zoom range of any camera type and the same kind of controls and features as a digital SLR. The difference is that they're smaller, lighter, cheaper and, in many ways, more versatile, offering features like movie-recording, macro modes and articulating LCD displays.
The most important feature of any superzoom is the lens, and there are a couple of factors to look out for. Makers always quote the zoom factor, such as 18x, 24x or 30x. This describes the difference in magnification at the opposite ends of the zoom range. The higher the figure the better, but this isn't the only thing to look for. A wide-angle zoom is much more useful than a high magnification factor on its own. The specification to look for here is the lens' minimum focal length -- 28mm is good, and anything less than that is better still.
Lens quality is a factor too. This is something you can't work out from the specifications alone, and why it's important to read the reviews. Faults to look out for are reduced sharpness at full zoom and any tendency towards colour fringing (chromatic aberration).
Don't pay much attention to megapixels. Sensor size makes the biggest difference to picture quality, and there's not a great deal of variation with this type of camera. As a matter of fact, the latest 10-megapixel, back-illuminated CMOS sensors steadily outperform more ordinary CCD sensors of 12 and 14 megapixels.
Generally speaking, all superzooms offer similar shooting features. You get the same program-AE, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual modes you'd get with a digital SLR, which is partly why these cameras are so popular with enthusiasts. The advanced features of a superzoom give you the kind of precise control over shutter speeds and lens apertures that you'd expect from a much more expensive camera, for a fraction of the price.
There can be significant differences between models in other aspects, however. Many superzooms offer standard 1,280x720-pixel, high-definition movie modes, but some of the better models go right up to 1080p video recording.
If you're keen on extracting the best image quality possible, look for cameras that can shoot raw files as well as JPEGs. Raw files are basically the unprocessed image data recorded by the sensor, before it's been converted into a JPEG. Think of them as digital negatives. In this format, the image data can be edited on a computer using processing software, with outstanding results that are often beyond the camera's capability.
Superzoom cameras have the same general design as digital SLRs, but there are distinctions in the details. Some models have swivelling LCD displays that make it much easier to align the camera for close-ups or low-angle shots. Most superzooms have an electronic viewfinder, which is useful for shooting outdoors in bright light, where it might be difficult to see the LCD display.
Here's a list of some of the best superzoom cameras we've reviewed recently. While they each have their own particular strengths, they all rated highly in the four areas we looked at: picture quality, handling, responsiveness and features.