If you're looking for the increased manual control over your photography -- which a dSLR will offer -- but you don't want to sacrifice the ease and portability of a compact digital camera, you may want to consider a superzoom. These cameras have a zoom greater than 10x magnification, as well as packing in the best features from more powerful dSLRs and simpler, more pocketable compacts. This is why they're sometimes called bridge cameras. Let's face it, though -- superzoom sounds cooler.
Features borrowed from dSLRs include viewfinders, longer lenses and often a better flash. There's more manual control, with correspondingly more buttons. They are not as complicated as dSLRs but allow for greater flexibility -- the important functions will often have their own buttons or easy-to-use thumb wheels. Fixed lenses mean they are not as adaptable as dSLRs, but you don't have to worry about dust contamination when changing lenses.
Superzooms cannot hope to compete with compacts in terms of dimensions because of the size of the lenses, but they are small and light compared to dSLRs. They also include compact-style LCD screens. This means you get all the ease of composition and review of an LCD screen, but you can switch to the viewfinder when bright sunlight vanquishes the screen. Capturing sport or other outdoor activity is where superzooms really come into their own.
Although we like viewfinders, it should be noted that most superzooms employ electronic viewfinders. The quality of EVFs varies wildly, and as with LCD screens, depends on screen resolution. They can also suffer from headache-inducing motion blur. Be sure to try the viewfinder out before you buy. It's also worth noting that superzooms aren't typically as fast as dSLRs -- the long zooms can make things harder for the autofocus and processing can be slow.
We've selected four superzooms that have impressed us recently. The Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9 packs a respectable 8 megapixels and a monster 15x zoom. That's the equivalent of 465mm on a 35mm camera, which is quite a lot: the average compact camera reaches around 100mm. Meanwhile the 7.1-megapixel Panasonic DMC-FZ8 captures raw footage as well as JPEGs, giving you greater flexibility in post-processing.
The Fujifilm FinePix S5700 makes 7.1 megapixels and 12x zoom available for less than £150, although it doesn't include a viewfinder or optical image stabilisation. Longer lenses magnify camera shake so image stabilisation is important, shifting the camera's sensor to compensate for tiny jitters of the hand. This is one of the best features of the Kodak EasyShare Z712, with its 12x zoom and excellent lens.