The 7 Best Optical Zoom Cameras of 2021

No squinting required

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The Rundown
"Perched on your hotel balcony, easily capture scenes way off on the horizon."
Runner-Up, Best Overall:
Canon PowerShot SX540 HS at Amazon
"Higher-end version of the Canon Powershot delivers even more zoom."
"Puts the world fingertips, whether you’re trying to photograph the most minute detail — or the largest."
"Smart auto features empower everyone to be a great photographer."
"An intelligence image stabilization system detects shake at farther zooms and determines the best level and type of IS to apply."
"This entry-level Sony, delivers an incredible value for the average user."
Best for Most Users:
Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80 at Amazon
"While the zoom is nothing to scoff at, the FZ300 really brings a complete, premium, point-and-shoot experience to the table."

Our collection of the best optical zoom cameras are capable of capturing stunning details from your subjects, no matter how close or far you may be. While most cameras are capable of digital zoom, this in-camera post-processing can often interfere with your end result, leaving you with underwhelming resolution and picture quality. Optical zoom, on the other hand, uses a series of lenses to enlarge the subject in your exposure without digital manipulation, ensuring that whatever you're attempting to capture is limited only by the MP rating of your camera's sensor.

Cameras like the Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80K at Amazon or the Canon PowerShot SX540 HS at Amazon offer optical zooms up to 60x, allowing you to get up close and personal without sacrificing quality.

Optical zoom cameras are ideal for landscape photography, sporting events, or just about any situation where you'd like to get closer to your subject without sacrificing image quality. Make sure to scope out our guide to understanding zoom lenses if you're trying to get a bird's eye view of what the best optical zoom cameras can do for you.

Best Overall: Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80

Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80

The latest release from Panasonic boasts 4K photo and 4K video capture, providing stunning quality to accompany full range 60X long zoom. This all-around camera is a fairly priced option that works well in just about every scenario. It is powered by an 18.1-megapixel sensor that has impressive low-light performance. This low-light even works when utilizing the 20mm wide-angle 60X zoom that can capture details from far away. Perched on your hotel balcony, you can capture scenes unfolding all the way off on the horizon.

New tech includes a ‘Post Focus’ feature that lets you set desired focal points after the picture has already been snapped, allowing you to capture a scene without having to pause and perfectly compose the picture. See your 4K photo and video on a three-inch LCD touchscreen display and use the travel-ready USB charging to quickly refill the camera’s charge.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Canon PowerShot SX540 HS

Canon PowerShot SX540 HS

This higher-end version of the Canon Powershot delivers even more zoom, coming in at 50x optical zoom. This level of detail will allow you to capture travel, landscape and entertainment in vivid high quality even from great distances. The camera’s intelligent IS automatically factors in shooting conditions and applies advanced stabilization technology to allow you to produce quality images. Improved Zoom Framing Assist also helps you capture faraway moments, while a lock feature allows you to capture your family and friends. The ergonomic design fits securely and comfortably in your hand, allowing you to focus on the distance to create these images. The camera also boasts Wi-Fi connectivity and a 20.3-megapixel high-sensitivity CMOS sensor that excels in low light situations.

Best Splurge: Nikon COOLPIX P1000

Nikon Coolpix P1000

The Nikon COOLPIX P1000 puts the world at your fingertips, whether you’re trying to photograph the most minute detail — or the largest. With 3000mm zoom and 125x Zoom-NIKKOR ED Glass Lens, the camera lets you shoot everything from flowers to birds to the moons, absent the need to compromise on quality. The fully-articulated LCD display makes difficult shots easy, and the vibration reduction keeps images looking steady, though you’ll want a tripod for capturing images at extreme distances.

For long shooting sessions, the compact camera’s front and back grips are designed for comfort, and the smooth operating control ring allows for quick and intuitive adjustment while you’re focused on your subject. If you'd rather avoid standing in place for hours on end, the camera has both manual and automatic time-lapse settings — including Cityscape, Sunset, and Star Trails. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Effects like Light, Memories, and Noir let you play around with your images, and each can be further customized by tweaking contrast and exposure compensation.

Best for Families: Canon PowerShot SX70

With the Canon Powershot SX70, beauty is in the eye of the beholder (and so is power). The camera has 65x Optical Zoom (21mm-1,365mm), 35mm film equivalent focal length, and f/6.5 maximum aperture. With Dual Sensing image stabilization of up to five stops, you can capture both the emotion on someone’s face or the wide beauty of a city vista. And it all displays perfectly on the three-inch LCD monitor.

The 20.3 Megapixel High-Sensitivity CMOS guarantees clear images no matter the level of light and can refocus to rapidly to keep up with your shooting. The autofocus is boosted by the DIGIC 8 Image Processor, which also assists shooting 4K UHD video at a frame rate of up to 30 frames per second. Expect lifelike videos with exceptional clarity, and if you want to crop still images from the film you can do that, too.

Lightweight (it's only 1.27 pounds) and ergonomic, the SX70 is good for serious wildlife photographers or casual users who want to ensure that shots of families and friends, and vacations are always postcard-perfect. Although there's no need to snail mail your shots because of the built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, sharing your photos on social media is a breeze.

Best Value: Canon PowerShot SX530 HS Bundle

Canon PowerShot SX530 HS Bundle

With an optical zoom up to 50x, the Canon PowerShot SX530 fits squarely in the ultrazoom or long zoom category. But with a price point that sits just above $200, the value here is almost unmatched when considering the rest of the range. With a long zoom like that, Canon has loaded in an intelligence image stabilization system that detects shake at farther zooms and determines the best level and type of IS to apply, choosing from options like Dynamic IS, Powered IS, Macro IS and even tripod-optimized settings. Another premium feature built right in is Wi-Fi connectivity for transferring photos on the spot and controlling the camera remotely using a smartphone app.

The whole system operates around a 16 MP CMOS crop sensor and it passes images along to Canon’s lauded DIGIC processing engine (though it’s important to note that it’s the 4+ level here… not the more premium higher levels). You can shoot full HD movies at 30p, but another shortcoming is the lack of 4K — not exactly surprising at the price point. There’s also a high-speed autofocus system that will serve for most purposes.

While you probably won’t catch a professional photographer going to a shoot with this entry-level Sony, it delivers an incredible value for the average user. At less than $200, this camera packs a powerful 35x optical zoom, allowing you versatility in your shooting that is typically reserved for far pricier cameras. Even the image processor is a respectable 20.1-megapizel Super HAD CCD sensor, capable of delivering high-quality and beautifully detailed images.

The maximum aperture range is f/3.4-6.5, while the max shutter speed is 1/1500 of a second. Again, not pro specs, but an incredible value at this price range. Optical SteadyShot technology helps stabilize your images, eliminating annoying blur and noise. Party Mode adjusts your ISO to enable vivid photos and Easy Mode minimizes the layers in your camera and makes for great shots.

Best for Most Users: Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80

Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80

In a world of camera lenses that could easily be mistaken for miniaturized anti-tank weapons, sometimes less is more. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ300 has taken this approach to heart with a powerful optical zoom lens in a point-and-shoot format. The integrated 24x zoom lens isn't as powerful as some of our other choices on this list, but still provides an excellent amount of zoom without the need for a dedicated telephoto lens.

While the zoom is nothing to scoff at, the FZ300 really brings a complete, premium, point-and-shoot experience to the table. This includes incredibly snappy autofocus, a touch-enabled display all packaged in a robust, weather-sealed body.

Final Verdict

The Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80K is an amazing camera with an integrated optical zoom that is second to none. The 60x zoom brings high-resolution stills at just about any distance and beautiful 4K video functionality. But if you need to get up close and personal without breaking the bank, the Sony DSC-H300 is the way to go.

What to Look for in an Optical Zoom Camera

Brand - Many photographers are loyal to a specific camera brand, be it Nikon, Canon, or another manufacturer. The reason is, most DSLR lenses are not interchangeable between brands. If you already have a collection of lenses at home, buy a camera that can put them to use.

Sensor size - Most people spring for the camera with the highest resolution, measured in megapixels. A 20-megapixel camera theoretically takes better pictures than a 16-megapixel one, but this isn’t always the most telling spec when it comes to performance. Instead, look at the sensor size. A larger sensor will capture more light and produce images with less noise.

Design - If you’re dropping a couple of hundred bucks on a camera, make sure it feels good in your hands. While the design is more a matter of personal preference, try holding a couple of different models and go with what feels comfortable.

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