The 8 Best Optical Zoom Cameras of 2019

No squinting required

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The Rundown

Our Top Picks

Most Popular: Nikon COOLPIX B500 Digital Camera

Nikon COOLPIX B500 Digital Camera
Courtesy of Amazon.com
4.2

Find more ways to share your photos with the Nikon COOLPIX B500, an ultrazoom offering that has Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity. You can also control the camera via smartphone or tablet from a distance with the Snapbridge app, a great feature for YouTubers and selfie enthusiasts.

This camera also has a 40x optical zoom lens, which has super telephoto power or 80x Dynamic Fine Zoom, giving you the ability to capture great shots from a distance. It has a NIKKOR f/3-6.5mm ED lens and a 16-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor. You can record video in Full HD 1080p at a rate of 30fps. Other nice features include Lens-Shift Vibration Reduction (VR) for more control while shooting, 18 scene modes and an auto mode that is great for beginning photographers.

Best Overall: Nikon COOLPIX P900 Digital Camera

Nikon COOLPIX P900 Digital Camera
Courtesy of Amazon.com

The most advanced smartphones now have up to 10x zoom. Most entry-level DSLR cameras have about double that. But this iteration of Nikon’s popular COOLPIX line blows both out of the water with an amazing 83x optical zoom or 166x Dynamic Fine Zoom super telephoto lens. In the back of the stadium? No problem, you can still get closeups. Trying to shoot an object you can’t get any closer to? Chances are this camera has you covered.

It has a powerful 16-megapixel CMOS image sensor and allows for full manual exposure control. See the image on a swiveling vari-angle display or through a high-resolution viewfinder. The max aperture range is F2.8-F6.5 and maximum shutter speed is a blazing 1/4000 of a second, with long exposure of up to 15 seconds. The battery lasts for around 360 photos, while built in Wi-Fi and NFC allow instant upload and sharing. A built-in GPS with Google Map alerts you to points of interest and helps you find picture-perfect spots nearby, making this camera a go-to for any adventures.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Canon PowerShot SX540 HS

Canon PowerShot SX540 HS
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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.

Still can't decide on what you want? Our round-up of the best Canon cameras can help you find what you're looking for.

Best Long Zoom Camera: Panasonic DC-FZ80K Lumix 4K

Panasonic DC-FZ80K Lumix 4K
Courtesy of Amazon.com

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.

Best Value: Canon PowerShot SX530

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.

Best Budget: Sony DSCH300/B

Sony DSCH300/B
Courtesy of Amazon.com

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 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 Splurge: Nikon COOLPIX P1000

Versatility is the bread and butter of the 16-megapixel Nikon COOLPIX P1000, whether you’re trying to capture the most minute detail or the largest. With 3000mm zoom and 125x Zoom-NIKKOR ED Glass Lens, the camera lets you shoot everything, from the smallest insects to Orion's Belt, without compromising quality. In fact, the maximum f/8 aperture means the camera can even capture the details on the moon.

The fully-articulated 3.2-inch LCD means getting difficult shots should be much easier, and the vibration reduction keeps images looking steady. Although pro tip: You’ll want a tripod for the clearest images when working with extreme distances. In anticipation of 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 like the idea of a long shooting session that doesn’t involve you standing there, the camera has both manual and automatic time-lapse settings including Cityscape, Sunset, and Star Trails. And that just scratches the tip of the creative settings the camera offers. Effects like Light, Memories, and Noir lets you play around with your images, and each effect can be further customized by tweaking contrast and exposure compensation. 

Tested by

How We Tested

We bought one of our readers’ favorite optical zoom cameras that our reviewers tested for several hours at a time for weeks on end. We asked our testers to consider the most important features when using this camera, from its design to the photo quality. We’ve outlined the key takeaways here so that you, too, know what to look for when shopping.

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

Test Results: Nikon COOLPIX B500 Digital Camera (Most Popular)

4.2

What We Like

  • Portable

  • Convenient accompanying app

  • Useful features

What We Don't Like

  • No touchscreen

  • No panoramic option

Nikon COOLPIX B500 Digital Camera
Nikon COOLPIX B500
Nikon COOLPIX Digital Camera
Nikon COOLPIX B500 Camera
Nikon Digital Camera

While you’re not going to take professional-level photos and video with this camera, our testers agreed that for the price, it’s hard to beat. In particular, our reviewers liked “features like portrait and night portrait photography, video shooting, sports mode, [and] multi-filter pictures with good flash.” One of our testers noted, “It performs at its best in bright, clear light.” And while our reviewers found the accompanying SnapBridge app useful for sharing photos, one of our testers experienced glitches after the initial setup. One of our reviewers also wished for a touchscreen. Bottom line: “I think this camera represents good value for money, being reasonably versatile, especially for a high zoom ratio,” explained one of our testers.