Holiday Gift Guide 2006by Mike Kobrin and Shawn Barnett
Want the best, most versatile camera or accessory for the money, but you don't have a lot of time? We can help.
We came up with a list of can't miss cameras for the holidays, so all you have to do is browse our summaries and click.
The list is sorted by type, so you can navigate to the kind of camera you already have in mind.
If you need more info on a camera, just click on the name to go to our comprehensive review of each. To purchase, click on the Check Price link, to compare prices from dozens of merchants. Super simple. The type of memory card used is also listed in each review in case you want to buy a card to go with it.
And just for fun, we have Newsletter Editor Mike Pasini's 2006 Grab Bag Gift Guide, too.
We wish you and yours a very happy holiday season!
Slim | Compact | All-around | Long Zoom |
Bargain | SLR
Go to Mike's 2006 Grab Bag Gift Guide
"Slim" means it can slip into your shirt pocket and you almost forget it's there. These three meet that criteria, and take great pictures to boot. That's not easy to do, so we looked long and hard when picking for this category.
A powerful and versatile point-and-shooter
The 7.2-megapixel Sony T50 is a souped-up little point-and-shoot camera that's great for shooting in various conditions. Aside from the extremely pocketable form factor, we love the effective Super SteadyShot image stabilization, the sharp 3x optical zoom Carl Zeiss lens (with sliding cover), and the excellent audio/video recording capability. The hippest feature is definitely the large 3-inch touchscreen with its onscreen virtual buttons and easy-to-read text, great for those who like touchscreens (for those who don't see the T10 below). The flash and AF-assist lamp are both powerful, and they won't burn out the surprisingly robust lithium-ion battery too quickly. Overall the T50 offers some rare features for a subcompact, and you get a versatile and powerful, but user-friendly camera in a very slim and elegant package.
Nikon Coolpix S5A fashionista's best friend
The 6-megapixel Nikon S5 distinguishes itself from the sea of ultraslim shooters with its wave-shaped all-metal design, which is sure to turn heads when you're out on the town. But the design is also functional: it accommodates a non-protruding 3x zoom lens with ED glass and makes the camera easier to grip. The S5's 2.5-inch LCD is packed with 230,000 pixels and has a wide viewing angle, making it a joy to frame and review shots. Getting around the menus is a breeze with the jog dial, and a Quick Start mode gets you ready to shoot in a second. You also get in-camera red-eye fix, face priority autofocus, and D-Lighting (for brightening dark areas), plus a handy One-Touch Portrait button and 15 scene modes. The S5 excels in daylight conditions, producing crisp images with impressively accurate color, and our 8 x 10 prints looked good even at ISO 400. When style counts, you'll want this digicam in your pocket -- and you won't even notice it's there. Note: We had originally selected the less-expensive, and newer Nikon Coolpix S9, but switched to the still-available S5 when we saw the test images for both side-by-side. The S5 is significantly better, worth the extra $40-50.
Sony T10An ultracompact vacation-friendly superstar that turns heads
The Sony T10 is amazingly slim and fashionable, but Sony didn't skimp on features, performance, or image quality. The T10's excellent 3x zoom lens, 7.2-megapixel sensor, and top-notch SteadyShot image stabilization (rare in a subcompact) gave our test images a stunning sharpness with vivid color, even in low light. Our prints came out great even at 13 by 19 inches! Full Auto and Program exposure modes give you as much control as you want, and if stills aren't enough, you'll love the excellent movie mode. We're also hot on the superfast shutter response and speedy autofocus system, and the gorgeous 2.5-inch LCD is a delight to use in any situation. Other features that make the T10 ideal for vacations include excellent battery life and a sturdy lens cover, which turns the camera on in a jiffy when you slide it open.
The difference between "slim" and "compact" is really only a few millimeters, but it's still an important distinction. All three cameras here offer something extra that few other cameras do at this size. The Canon SD800 IS has image stabilization and a wide angle lens, the Nikon Coolpix S7c is the slimmest WiFi camera on the market, and the Olympus 720SW is rugged and waterproof. All are highly recommended.
Canon SD800 ISA well-rounded compact shooter with image stabilization and a real wide angle view
The Canon SD800 IS may not be the slimmest camera out there, but it's still pretty small and packs a lot of features -- most notably a very good image-stabilization feature that lets you shoot easily in low light conditions. The 3.8x optical zoom lens starts at an impressively wide 28mm and retracts into the body to maintain the camera's pocketability. The SD800 IS also has face recognition technology that allows it to track up to nine faces at a time, setting focus and exposure to make sure everyone looks good. We also liked the long battery life, very capable movie mode, and excellent download speed. The 2.5-inch LCD is bright and complements the optical viewfinder very well, while the refined user interface and excellent overall responsiveness make the SD800 IS a good choice for anyone who takes a lot of indoor shots. Ultimately, the SD800 IS offers more than any other camera at this size at a pretty decent price.
Nikon Coolpix S7cA sleek wireless wonder
Like the Nikon S5 above, the S7c has a sleek, curvy body that houses a nonprotruding 3x zoom lens with ED glass. And they both share a rotary dial for flying through the menu system. But the big news is that the S7c has a WiFi (802.11b/g) radio for wirelessly uploading your images to Nikon’s CoolPix Connect photo-sharing service. Another highlight of this slim 7.1-megapixel shooter is its huge 3-inch LCD. Even experienced shooters will appreciate Nikon’s Feature System, which includes in-camera red-eye fix, D-Lighting (for exposure correction), Face-Priority autofocus, and a One-Touch Portrait button. Two Best Shot Selector modes automatically choose either the sharpest or best-exposed shot from a series, while the Electronic Vibration Reduction provides digital image stabilization. With fun features like VGA movie recording with sound and a good Macro mode, this powerful WiFi-enabled camera is sure to please.
Olympus 720SWRugged and sexy, but simple
The Olympus Stylus 720SW is simply the best waterproof camera on the market, and it's the only one that offers true shock resistance (it can withstand a 5-foot drop onto concrete). But it's not just rugged: This compact 7-megapixel trooper is a real looker too, with its curvy metal body, and it has a battery with stamina. The folded-prism optical system means the 3x zoom lens doesn't protrude from the body, and a sturdy lens cover protects the glass, though there's no optical viewfinder (you frame shots via the 2.5 inch LCD). The image quality is fine for sharp prints up to 8 x 10 inches, and we like its point-and-shoot simplicity, 24 scene modes, and movie-recording capability. The 720SW is an ideal companion for shutterbugs who need an easy-to-use camera that's built like a tank -- but doesn't look like one.
These cameras are a little larger, and as a result camera companies can fit more features, better lenses, and bigger batteries. They're designed for more serious photographers who want a manual mode, but they can also be used by anyone, as they still include Full Auto and Scene modes. These three have great lenses and deliver great pictures.
Canon A640This classic all-purpose shooter is an excellent value
Canon simply makes good cameras that work, and the A640 is no exception. Its low-distortion 4x zoom lens, 10-megapixel sensor, and fast DIGIC II processor combine to give you astonishingly great images with the shutter responsiveness you need. The A640 strikes the right balance between being approachable for beginners and flexible enough for experts, with its ample automatic modes and powerful manual controls like aperture and shutter priority. Our test images with the Canon A640 showed bright, attractive color and very accurate exposure, as well as good low-light performance. The 2.5 inch LCD is articulated so you can get those difficult shots -- either overhead or down low -- and it's very accurate. The A640 has an optical viewfinder as well for framing on sunny days. Other perks include a sensible user interface, a healthy set of scene modes, and an excellent movie mode. The Canon A640 is a lot of camera for the money, and the best 10 megapixel digicam we've seen.
Panasonic LX2If you like it wide, this is the camera for you
With accents that evoke the classic rangefinder look, the compact Panasonic LX2 is actually a sporty high-tech powerhouse in disguise. It uses an actual 16:9 aspect ratio 10 megapixel sensor to capture "widescreen" still images and video, and you can view them on the high-res 2.8 inch widescreen LCD without that annoying letterboxing. It's perfect for widescreen TV owners, too, capturing stills and video like you're used to seeing them. We like the LX2's image quality for its rich detail, thanks in part to the updated on-board image processor (an improvement over the LX1) and remarkably effective Optical Image Stabilization system -- not to mention a nice piece of glass. The LX2's manual modes and infinitely tweakable settings are a big plus for photography enthusiasts, but the Lumix LX2 has plenty of auto modes so snapshooters won't be lost.
Nikon Coolpix P4A shutterbug's pocket-size power tool
The Nikon P4 doesn't have its P-series siblings' WiFi capability, but it has nearly everything else. This compact 8.1-megapixel shooter is great for easy one-handed operation, and we got some razor-sharp images with the high-quality 3.5x zoom lens. The 2.5-inch LCD takes the place of an optical viewfinder, but it's bright enough to see in direct sunlight. The P4 lets you set the aperture and shutter speed, and we especially like that the range of settings is greater than that of most digicams. We're also impressed by the Vibration Reduction, especially at slower shutter speeds. But if you're into letting the camera do the work for you, the P4 has 16 scene modes, plus red-eye fix, D-Lighting (for punching up dark areas), Nikon's excellent Best Shot Selector, and face-priority autofocus. Best of all, this workhorse is wrapped in an attractive package that hides its utilitarian nature.
Long zoom cameras are the ultimate all-purpose cameras, really, because their lenses allow you to cut out the clutter and make a great shot, regardless of the subject or your distance from it. These three choices bring in the details from afar and are well-rounded video cameras as well.
Canon S3 ISA stellar long-range shooter
The Canon PowerShot S3 IS is an even better digicam than its popular predecessor, the S2 IS, and its relatively compact design has a great feel to it. The long 12x zoom lens (extendible via conversion lenses) and 6-megapixel sensor -- aided by excellent image stabilization and an articulated 2 inch LCD -- make normally impossible shots possible, with or without the powerful built-in flash. And the responsive shutter and fast startup time help you catch every photo opportunity. Our test shots reveal impressive color accuracy and low noise at most ISO speeds, while the manual and aperture/shutter priority modes let us create shots, not just capture them. But the S3 IS also caters to novices, with its user-friendly Auto, Program AE, and Scene modes. Throw in a long-lasting battery, a capable and easily accessed movie mode that records stereo audio, and a very fast and quiet ultrasonic motor driving the lens, and the S3 IS is truly a photographer's dream!
Fujifilm S6000fdMore than just a pretty face-detector
Want a professional-feeling camera but not quite ready for a true digital SLR? The 6.3 megapixel Fujifilim FinePix S6000fd has a compact SLR-style body, but the long 10.7x zoom lens (equivalent to a 28-300mm) isn’t removable. It does, however, have a manual zoom ring so you're not left fiddling with clumsy motor-driven zoom, a real plus. A digital image stabilizer helps keep things sharp by automatically boosting the ISO sensitivity, and the S6000fd goes up to an impressive ISO 3200 while maintaining reasonable noise levels. The biggest highlight is a face detection system that finds faces and frames them individually in the high-res 2.5 inch display for better focus and exposure. And just like higher-end cameras, the S6000fd produces razor-sharp images with rich colors in just about any shooting conditions. It's very impressive.
Nikon Coolpix S10Twist the night away with this compact long-lens model
The Nikon S10 brings back the swivel lens design with a whole new purpose: putting a very long zoom digital camera into a pocketable body. Half of the body twists out to reveal a long, image stabilized 10x optical zoom lens; but when closed, the camera measures just 4.4 by 2.9 by 1.6 inches. The 2.5-inch LCD boasts 230,000 pixels for sharp framing and picture viewing. We got some very sharp images with good detail and color, thanks to a sensor shifting image stabilization system and a 6-megapixel CCD. Novices will get good results too, courtesy of helpful features like 15 preset scene modes, Nikon’s Best Shot Selector, in-camera red-eye fix, D-Lighting exposure correction, and face-priority autofocus. But creative types can enjoy plenty of flexibility too, including seven white balance modes, four metering modes, and five flash modes. Don’t let the fun swiveling design fool you -- this is one serious shooter.
You don't have to spend a lot of money to give a great gift. Our bargain choices are sure to please, and the images they make will just keep on giving, shot after shot. Our heartiest recomendation goes to the first choice, the Canon A530, available for an amazingly low price. It offers quality unmatched by its equivalently priced competitors, so the only two we could pick to place against it have 10x and 12x lenses.
Canon A530An intelligently designed budget camera
The budget-oriented 5-megapixel PowerShot A530 is a great value for such a low price. This isn’t just for first-timers, though: In addition to set-it-and-forget-it operation and versatile scene modes, you get multiple metering modes and a manual mode that lets you set the aperture size and shutter speed. The body is compact, but big enough to accommodate good optics (including a 4x optical zoom lens), and it has both a 1.8 inch LCD and an optical viewfinder. The A530 fits well in the hand thanks to a handgrip, which also holds two AA batteries. We got surprisingly sharp, accurately exposed pictures with vibrant color, and we liked the ability to print photos directly from the camera to a PictBridge-compatible printer. The Canon A530 is perfect for those who want to grow their photography skills at their own pace, or for families with varying expertise levels.
Fujifilm S5200A solid midrange camera with a long reach
The Fujifilm FinePix S5200 may look like a miniature SLR, but it's actually a very affordable midrange 5.1-megapixel digicam with an impressive 10x optical zoom lens. You get a lot of bang for your buck: fast autofocus, a virtually distortion-free lens, excellent battery life (using four AA cells), and Raw format support. While the S5200 has a Full Auto mode and five scene modes, the camera really shines in Full Manual or Aperture and Shutter Priority modes. It also has plenty of extras like bracketing and continuous mode, as well as multiple flash modes and a very good movie-recording feature. We like the accurate color, sharpness, and clarity of the images we shot with the S5200, and we didn't mind the lack of image stabilization thanks to an anti-blur mode that relies on fast shutter speed. The Fujifilm S5200 offers plenty of control and ease of use in a small, very well-designed package. You couldn't ask for more at this price.
Panasonic FZ7A big lens in a small, lightweight package
The Panasonic FZ7 is the third generation of the FZ series of long-zoom cameras, carrying with it some hefty improvements while maintaining a not-so-hefty size and weight (just over half a pound). We welcome the boost to 6 megapixels from the FZ5’s smaller sensor, as well as a 2.5 inch LCD (compared with the FZ5’s 1.8 inch screen). The Leica 12x optical zoom lens benefits from Panasonic’s excellent MEGA Optical Image Stabilization, yielding crisp photos with bright colors on our tests even at full telephoto. The Panasonic FZ7 is simple enough for rank beginners, but it's really aimed at advanced amateurs who do recreational nature and travel photography in varied lighting conditions. For low-light shooting, we love the Panasonic FZ7's strong and quick-recycling pop-up flash, and the EVF and LCD both work very well in dimly lit situations. The Panasonic FZ7 is a compact long-zoom charmer that gives you responsive handling and excellent features at a very reasonable price.
SLRs are taking the market by storm. Finally, you can take extremely high quality pictures that are digital from the start, with teriffic interchangeable lenses, and you can get some of these SLRs starting between $500 and $600.
Pro features and quality at an affordable price
Lusting after a Nikon D200 but can't quite justify the expense? The Nikon D80 -- a slimmed-down update of the wildly popular D70 -- is as close to ideal as we've seen among prosumer digital SLR cameras. Our list of things to like about the D80 is extremely long, but a few items deserve special mention: For starters, the CCD has been beefed up to 10.2 megapixels, the button layout has been improved, and the optical viewfinder is unusually big and bright. The included digital-specific kit lens is one of the best we've seen for casual photography: an astonishingly versatile 7.5x zoom (18-135mm) with ED glass and aspherical surfaces to control optical defects. We're in love with the pro-level control that the Nikon D80 offers over every aspect of shooting, and our amazing test images are just about all the proof you'll need. The Nikon D80's user interface and ergonomics are some of the best in the business, thanks to a redistribution of the camera body's weight, and it maintains user-friendliness despite having loads of bells and whistles. And if what's in the box isn't enough, the Nikon D80 is exceptionally extendible via optional accessories. Truly an excellent camera. Note that it is also available in a kit with the 18-55mm lens, and there are dozens more to choose from in the Nikon SLR system.
Canon Digital Rebel XTiAn update of a modern classic
Canon's new and improved version of one of its best-selling consumer digicams is the Canon Digital Rebel XTi. Equipped with a 10.1 megapixel CMOS sensor, this powerful SLR has plenty in common with its pro big brother, the EOS 30D. Hardware highlights include a 230,000 pixel 2.5 inch LCD that's bright and has very wide viewing angles, as well as an IR sensor that switches off the LCD automatically when you put the viewfinder to your eye. We were wowed by the improved AF system, which uses nine points just like the 30D. You can view luminance or RGB histograms, and you can choose whether an image is rotated on the camera, on your PC, or both. The XTi's excellent on-board editing tools include red-eye reduction and digital dust removal (in addition to physical dust removal); the latter is likely to show up in higher-end EOS models soon. Of course, the XTi captures beautiful images with remarkable detail and clarity -- we got surprisingly good 13 x 19 inch prints. And the XTi's high ISO performance really blew our minds. The Canon Rebel XTi comes with a very good 18-55mm kit lens and some great software for a price that screams value. The Rebel XTi is also compatible with over 50 other Canon EOS-system lenses and accessories.
Pentax K100DPentax's best SLR to date
The Pentax K100D is a surprisingly affordable digital SLR that performs very well for the money, making it a good choice for a first SLR. Our favorite feature is the body-mounted anti shake mechanism, which is very effective. We got surprisingly sharp images even at shutter settings of 1/13 second. We were also impressed with the K100D's low-light performance; our prints came out great even at higher ISO sensitivities (the settings go up to 3200). The 18-55mm kit lens is tightly built and works well out of the box, though the body works with Pentax KAF lenses as well as a growing list of accessories. The manual controls are excellent and easy to use, but there are plenty of preset auto-exposure options for both experts and greener users. This is Pentax's best offering yet, and the price is so low that you'll have money left over to pick up an accessory flash to spruce up your indoor photos. Pentax also offers a selection of excellent zoom and prime lenses to expand your kit.
Not every budget can handle a digital camera, and many people on your list are likely to have one already. What they need are accessories to go with that camera. Here are a few ideas to help you find just what they need at a reasonable price.
Every camera needs a battery, the trick is finding out what their camera takes. If it's AA, you can pick up NiMH rechargeables and a charger at a reasonable price. Our favorite is the MAHA Energy Powerex MH-C204W, which comes in several combo kits with AA batteries starting at $39.97. Visit Thomas Distributing to buy.
If your recipient doesn't have a camera that takes AA, find out what kind of battery it does take and look it up online. They can cost between $30 and $60, and will be very useful accessories. You can find out what kind of battery it is by slyly asking, "That's a nice camera; what kind of batteries does it take? I'm thinking of getting one just like it."
Though there are many types, this is a gift any digital camera owner will appreciate. It's a simple upgrade that can reap great benefits in terms of making the camera more fun and useful. The trick again is finding out what size they need. After you do that, it's a simple matter of determining what you can afford. 512MB cards of most types are available for between $30 and $60, and many 1GB cards can be had for between $60 and $100. Here are links to check prices for the most common types.
Pick well, and there's no way to go wrong with a card reader. Most can be had for between $8 and $30. The Kingston USB 2.0 Hi-Speed SD/MMC Combo Flash Card Reader is a fine choice for the SD cards that so many cameras use these days, and can be found for under $8 (without shipping). And a reader like the Kingston 15-in-1 Hi-Speed Reader will handle just about any memory format out there, and it's available for around $20.
We could go on, but of course there's the entire Internet to consider. Start by clicking on the links below to see what PriceGrabber's extensive list of retailers offer in the various categories, and let your imagination be your guide!
Tripods -- Still the best way to get sharp images in low light or any time; even if they don't know it, everyone needs a tripod.
Accessory Lenses -- Many cameras accept either wide angle or telephoto accessory lenses to extend the camera's capabilities. These usually also require an adapter, so make sure before you buy. Of course here, you'll need to find out what make and model of camera they have before you do anything else. This one requires some research, but the gift will be well-received, as almost no one buys one of these for themselves.
Cases -- Knowing the camera's size is important here, to get just the right case.
Waterproof Cases -- Is your target a watersports afficionado? Most small cameras these days can take a waterproof case. There's not much cooler, or unexpected, than giving their existing camera underwater capability; and it's cheaper than a boat.
Lens Cleaning Kit -- Much neglected these days, keeping a clean lens will always result in better pictures, and they don't usually cost more than $20.
Photo Printers -- We can recommend just about anything from Canon, Epson, and HP, priced anywhere from $80 to $500. Price most often dictates quality.
That's it for now. If we run across more great ideas and bargains, we'll be updating the online version of this guide accordingly. Happy Holidays from all of us here at Imaging Resource, your best source for digital camera news and reviews. If you have questions or comments, please email us.
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