The 5 Best Optical Zoom Cameras of 2021

No squinting required

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Whether you’re a budding amateur or a pro, all photographers need an accurate and clear zoom to capture details from afar. Our collection of the best optical zoom cameras is 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, the in-camera post-processing can sometimes interfere with your results, leaving you with underwhelming resolution and low-quality pictures. Optical zoom, on the other hand, uses a series of lenses to enlarge the subject in your exposure without digital manipulation, ensuring that your subject is limited only by the megapixel (MP) rating of your camera's sensor.

Optical zoom cameras are ideal for all sorts of shots, including travel, landscape photography, sporting events, wildlife, or 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 this type of camera can do for you.

Here are the best optical zoom cameras from brands including Canon, Nikon, and Sony. We’ve considered factors such as price, ease of use, stabilization, and zoom to work out the best cameras.

The Rundown
The FZ80 is a top choice if you need a camera that can shoot quickly, accurately, and capture impressive zoom shots.
Runner-Up, Best Overall:
Canon PowerShot SX540 HS at Amazon
Photographers will enjoy the 20.3MP CMOS sensor, Wi-Fi connectivity, and the ability to shoot 1080p Full HD video.
You can get creative with features included in the camera, such as time lapse, Superlapse, and built-in filters for editing.
Best for Families:
Canon PowerShot SX70 at Amazon
We love the fast autofocus, long battery life, and accurate color—just what you need for the next family vacation.
With sharp autofocus, high-quality images, and a budget-friendly price, there’s plenty to like about the H300.

Best Overall: Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80

Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80
What We Like
  • Impressive 60x long zoom

  • Built-in image stabilization

  • Easy-to-use controls and LCD touchscreen

What We Don't Like
  • Telephoto video can be wobbly without a tripod

  • No eye sensor for EVF

There’s a lot to love about the Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80. This camera offers fantastic value and an impressive 60x (20-1200mm) long zoom, ideal for capturing all the detail in your photos, even from far away, along with a LUMIX DC VARIO lens. It also offers both 4K photo and video, so your resulting images are going to be of a high standard.

The 18.1MP MOS sensor performs well in low light, too, and built-in body stabilization helps you capture crisp, clear photos. However, for telephoto video, you’ll get best results if you pair your camera with a tripod

After you’ve finished shooting, transfer your images straight to your devices using the camera's built-in Wi-Fi. The FZ80 also includes Panasonic’s "Post Focus" technology, which lets you set your focal points in post-production, allowing you to capture a scene without having to pause and perfectly compose the picture.

Even if you’re new to photography, the camera’s controls can be learned fairly quickly. You have a 3-inch LCD touchscreen display to choose your setting and create your shot. The FZ80 is a top choice if you need a camera that can shoot quickly, accurately, and capture impressive zoom shots, whether you’re on vacation or just in your own backyard.

Resolution: 18.1MP Sensor Type: 1/2.3" MOS Max ISO: 3,200 Optical Zoom: 60x Connectivity: NFC, Wi-Fi

This versatile camera can do it all, from capturing birdlife at a distance to photographing the kids at the beach. The controls are easy to learn as well.” — Katie Dundas, Product Tester

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Canon PowerShot SX540 HS

Canon PowerShot SX540 HS
What We Like
  • Compact, ergonomic design is great for travel

  • 50x optical zoom

  • Great value

What We Don't Like
  • You'll get best results when your subject is well-lit

  • No touchscreen

Amateur photographers have loved Canon's PowerShot line for years, and the PowerShot SX540 is no exception. This compact camera fits beautifully in your hand and is a great travel companion—with a 50x (24–1200mm) zoom, you’ll be able to capture all the detail of wildlife, even from a distance.

Photographers will enjoy the 20.3MP CMOS sensor, Wi-Fi connectivity, and the ability to shoot 1080p Full HD video. While the rear LCD, unfortunately, isn’t a touchscreen, the 3-inch LCD is large enough that it’s easy to compose your shot and review photos you’ve already taken. 

The SX540 also benefits from Zoom Framing Assist, which allows users to lock onto a subject and track it automatically, a useful feature for photographing animals, sports, or anything else that’s moving quickly. This makes it much easier to capture clear shots where your entire subject is in the frame. We like that this camera is affordable as well—while you might not get the specs you’d find in a more premium camera, most users are to be impressed by how many great features this little camera can offer.

Resolution: 20.3MP Sensor Type: 1/2.3-inch BSI-CMOS Sensor Max ISO: 3,200 Optical Zoom: 50x Connectivity: NFC, Wi-Fi

Best Splurge: Nikon COOLPIX P1000

Nikon Coolpix P1000
What We Like
  • The detail captured by the 125x zoom is amazing

  • Ability to shoot in RAW

  • 4K Ultra HD video

What We Don't Like
  • Not weather sealed

  • Large size might be too bulky for some

If you’re willing to spend a bit more, it would be impossible not to be impressed by the 125x (24-3000mm) zoom on the Nikon COOLPIX P1000. With such a detailed zoom, you can not only shoot amazing images of wildlife, flowers, or concerts, but you can also shoot into space.

The P1000 provides so much zoom that you can easily use it for astrophotography, capturing the moon, stars, and even other planets as they pass by. Users also can enjoy a 16MP CMOS sensor, 7FPS burst shooting, and 4K Ultra HD video.

You have the ability to shoot in RAW on the P1000, which avid photographers will appreciate. Plus, you can get creative with some of the useful features included in the camera, such as time lapse, Superlapse, and built-in filters for editing. 

When shooting for long periods of time, the camera’s size is comfortable and easy to grip, although it could be too large for those who prefer something more compact. Thanks to the addition of a control ring, you can adjust the camera’s focus or exposure without needing to look away from the viewfinder. If only the best zoom will do, you might want to splurge on the P1000.

Resolution: 16.7MP Sensor Type: 1/2.3-inch BSI-CMOS Sensor Max ISO: 6,400 Optical Zoom: 125x Connectivity: NFC, Wi-Fi

Best for Families: Canon PowerShot SX70

Canon PowerShot SX70
What We Like
  • Great build quality

  • Fast, accurate shooting and processing

  • 65x zoom

What We Don't Like
  • Photos can easily blur if not used with a tripod

  • 4K video records slightly cropped

Families want a reliable, high-quality camera that takes great photos, but is also easy enough for everyone in the household to use. If your family is looking for a new zoom camera, check out the Canon Powershot SX70. The 65x optical zoom (21mm-1,365mm) takes gorgeous images, and the Dual Sensing image stabilization feature means you’ll capture all the detail, just as you intended. We also love the fast autofocus, long battery life, and accurate color—just what you need for the next family vacation.

Users can shoot in both JPEG or RAW, which opens up more possibilities for editing in post-production. You also can upload your shots straight to your phone or social media, since both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity are included in the SX70.

Photographers have access to a 20.3MP High-Sensitivity CMOS, which is great for low light, and super-fast focus and shooting from the camera’s DIGIC 8 Image Processor. Or, shoot video with 4K UHD at up to 30FPS, but be aware that 4K video tends to record slightly cropped. Other than that, it's a great all-rounder that your family can use for years to come.

Resolution: 20.3MP Sensor Type: 1/2.3-inch BSI-CMOS Sensor Max ISO: 3,200 Optical Zoom: 65x Connectivity: NFC, Wi-Fi

Canon PowerShot has dominated the point and shoot camera market for years, making the SX70 an impressive and durable camera that you can enjoy for years.” — Katie Dundas, Product Tester

Best Budget: Sony DSC-H300

Sony DSC-H300
What We Like
  • Great photo quality for a budget price point

  • 35x zoom lens

  • Design is impressive and comfortable to use

What We Don't Like
  • Menu system can be confusing

  • Wi-Fi not built into camera

If you’re an amateur photographer looking for a good value camera, the Sony DSC-H300 is a fantastic option for an entry-level model. While the specs won’t compete with the cameras used by professionals, you still have access to 35x zoom, SteadyShot image stabilization, and a 20.1MP Super HAD CCD sensor, which come together to create gorgeous, vibrant images.

You can use the Party Mode to automatically adjust your ISO to enable vivid photos, useful for shooting in low-light. If it’s video you’re after, this camera can record in 720p high definition. For less than $200, it’s hard to find a better value camera.

When you’re shooting, you’ll find the smooth grips comfortable to hold and use, with great ergonomic support. However, some users report that it can take some time to master the menu system, as it can be confusing—although users can simplify their controls by switching to Easy Mode. With sharp autofocus, high-quality images, and a budget-friendly price, there’s plenty to like about the H300.

Resolution: 20.4MP Sensor Type: 1/2.3-inch BSI-CMOS Sensor Max ISO: 3,200 Optical Zoom: 35x Connectivity: NFC, Wi-Fi

Final Verdict

With 60x zoom, in-body stabilization, and a quality build, the Panasonic Lumix DC-FZ80 is our top choice for just about any user. The Canon PowerShot SX540 HS also offers fantastic value and plenty of useful features, including 50x zoom, a compact size, and Wi-Fi connectivity.

About Our Trusted Experts

Katie Dundas is a freelance tech journalist who regularly covers photography, cameras, and drones. She personally loves Sony’s cameras for their high-quality images and intuitive controls.

Patrick Hyde has 4+ years' experience writing about consumer technology and electronics. His work has appeared in Los Angeles Review of Books, Reactual, and more.

FAQ
  • How does optical zoom compare to digital zoom?

    Many non-DSLR cameras are either optical or digital zoom. On an optical zoom camera, users have a physical zoom lens. On digital zoom cameras, in-camera processing is used to take the photo, which can sometimes distort the view or crop away the edges of the photo. While you can get great results from either type of camera, some photographers prefer optical zoom.

  • Should I shoot in JPEG or RAW?

    Some of the cameras above have the ability to shoot in both JPEG or RAW. For many, it depends on what you want to do with your photos. RAW files are much larger because they capture all of the data your camera sees. In comparison, JPEG files compress the image for you automatically, so these files are much smaller.

    Professionals will generally shoot in RAW, as the format gives them more control in the editing process. It’s also great for high-resolution photos if you want to have your work printed and framed. However, for most casual users, the JPEG quality is more than good enough to get beautiful results.

  • How much zoom do I need?

    It’s often said that you should buy the best camera you can afford, as additional zoom is always going to be useful. However, the answer depends on what you’re planning to photograph.
    If you’re photographing sports or wildlife from far away, the higher the zoom, the better your resulting images will be. However, for daily use or for vacation snaps, you can get away with far less, since you’ll generally be closer to your subjects.

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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