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Shawn's Selections: Cameras I would buy or recommend
(Wednesday, November 25, 2009 - 22:28 EST)

I spend more than 50 hours a week evaluating cameras for Imaging-Resource.com readers, and quite often friends and relatives hit me up for my opinion on which cameras they should buy.

So this year, rather than assemble an exhaustive gift guide or help the Internet retailers challenge the brick-and-mortar retailers to a Black Friday duel, I thought I'd just share a few of the cameras I've bookmarked for myself or recommended to friends. We're all friends here, right?

Most of my choices are already popular, but not all of them. I'll share a few reasons I like each. Remember that these are just the ones I like and would recommend to some of you, listed as they occur to me, so this is a real, shoot-from-the-hip listing.

Canon T1i
Few cameras have impressed me as much as this 15.1-megapixel SLR. It has all the great utility of a Rebel, with the impressive image quality of an EOS 50D. All year I've pitted it against other digital SLRs in my ISO 1,600 crop comparison, and it consistently wins against all sub-$1,000 cameras, including some priced at over $2,000. Add in its 18-55mm image-stabilized lens and HD video capability, and it's the greatest bargain on the market. Current legit-sounding prices range from $719 to $850.
Link to Review -- Compare prices

Olympus E-P1
The next contender in that ISO 1,600 crop comparison was the Olympus E-P1. Its image quality is the primary reason it's in this list, because it's impressive. Shooting with the 17mm lens, I couldn't be happier with a mid-size interchangeable-lens camera. I really can't recommend the 14-42mm kit lens, much as I'd like to, so if you must have a zoom, look to the GF1 below, or back up to the T1i. The E-P1 is new enough that prices are hovering between $850 and $900.
Link to Review -- Compare prices

Panasonic ZS3
Last year I was hit up by a bunch of relatives with the standard question: "What's the best digital camera?" I listened to their needs, gave it some thought and ran off a list of three different cameras that would fit their needs well, including the Panasonic TZ5. They all decided that what I'd really said was "buy the Panasonic TZ5," increasing Panasonic's 2008 sales by four. Well, the successor to that fine camera is the incredibly popular Panasonic ZS3. It's a 10-megapixel camera with a 12x zoom and a no-nonsense interface that's great to use, easy to pocket, and sweet to look at. Its only major flaw is that it's harder to find thanks to its popularity. Reasonable pricing online -- and this is a bargain -- is around $280.
Link to Review -- Compare prices

Canon SD1200 IS
I have a Canon SD1000 that I use all the time for family snapshots and videos, and I absolutely love it. I bought my wife the better camera, of course, with a nice wide-angle lens, but I really couldn't be happier with my budget pocket choice. Playing with the SD1200 IS, I felt about the same; only this time the camera is shooting priority, which means that even if you're in Playback mode a half-press of the shutter gets you back to Record mode and ready to shoot, just like an SLR. My SD1000 can't do that. Otherwise, they're pretty similar, and the SD1200 also has image stabilization and comes in colors, making it a great choice for those who like such things (available colors are: Silver, Gray, Pink, Blue, Orange, and Green). Reasonable pricing ranges from $149 to $220.
Link to Review -- Compare prices

Sony H20
As much as I liked the Sony HX1, it was the Sony H20 that put a smile on my face. It's remarkably small, yet has a sharp 10x zoom and good color. Shutter lag at both wide-angle and telephoto is down in SLR territory (0.32 and 0.31 second, respectively), and it even has a decent HD video mode. It's a great choice in a pocket long zoom. Prices range from $199 to $279.
Link to Review -- Compare prices

Nikon D90
Though it's the most expensive camera that's occurred to me as a top choice for friends and family, the Nikon D90 really is worth every penny. It's a little older now (one year--ancient), but the D90 is difficult to top. It was the first digital SLR to offer HD video recording, but that's not why I think it's great. It's the image quality combined with the excellent handling that puts it on my list. I feel right at home with the D90. The bundled 18-105mm lens is absolutely perfect for just about any day out shooting, complete with VR image stabilization. Truly a fine digital SLR. Reasonable prices hover around $1,050 to $1,100.
Link to Review -- Compare prices

Panasonic GF1
I'll admit that I'm torn between the Panasonic GF1 and the E-P1. So I also have to mention the GF1 in either the 20mm kit or the 14-45mm kit. It's small, fast, and beautiful, and the 20mm lens version takes some great shots in low light. I have to caution you about a strange color shift in the JPEGs with this camera, but as Mike Johnston of The Online Photographer pointed out, the RAW files look just great if you run them through Lightroom 3.0 beta, and you get excellent color. The Panasonic GF1 focuses faster than the E-P1 and is a pleasure to shoot. The Panasonic GF1 is selling like hotcakes, rising rapidly from its current position at number 5 on our site, so its price is still right up there at $900.
Link to Review -- Compare prices

Panasonic LX3
Again, these are my favorites, so I have to include another fine Panasonic: the 10-megapixel Lumix LX3. Panasonic has really turned the market on its head, and has taken the lead in establishing new categories aimed at the serious photographer. In a world of super zooms and high megapixels, the LX3 takes an alternate road to higher image quality. The conservative 2.5x zoom starts at 24mm and saunters out to a moderate 60mm. But is Leica lens delivers the kind of quality only photography enthusiasts would notice. Apparently there are a lot of enthusiasts out there, because the LX3 has been in short supply, and people have been paying inflated prices just to get one. Currently, though, the LX3 is showing up as in-stock at a few retailers, mostly in the black body. Let's just say I'm trying to be a good boy so Santa drops one in my stocking this year, but I'll not hold my breath. Prices are currently back down below full retail at some sellers ranging from $429 to $489.
Link to Review -- Compare prices (black body listed)

Nikon D5000
One more SLR worth mentioning is the Nikon D5000, a 12.3-megapixel little brother to the Nikon D90 that inherits many of that more expensive camera's features, including the HD video recording. With a high-ISO setting of 6,400, you'll be able to shoot in some pretty dark places, as well as from above or below your normal shooting angles, thanks to the swiveling LCD. Available for quite a bit less than the D90, the Nikon D5000 retails for between $650 and $900, so be sure to shop for a good price.
Link to Review -- Compare prices

For the kids:

I'll also recommend two cameras that I think are great for kids under 10. There are a lot of craptastic cameras for $30 to $80 out there, and you just have to search for "kids cameras" to know which ones I mean (I've bought them, so I write from experience). But if your child has reached an age where they don't break their toys on a regular basis, which can happen from 7 to 10 depending on the child, then you might want to spend the extra $20 to $40 over the average toddler cam and get them something that takes a decent picture.

Canon A480
Here's a choice that's always right for most kids, and costs so little that you'll both feel like you're actually giving something, yet not feel too bad if your youngster loves it so much that they take it in the bath with them (this will kill it of course). Available online for between $120 and $99, the Canon A480 has a 10-megapixel sensor, a 3.3x zoom, and takes decent shots that would be enlargeable to 11x14. It'll also make junior feel a little more special to leave the VGA toddler cam behind. This camera will take pictures you can print and be proud to display. It's also available in colors, helpful when you have more than one child you plan to gift: Blue, Black, Red, and Silver.
Link to Preview -- Compare prices

Canon A1100 IS
And for the older child, the Canon A1100 is also an easy choice. It's a little larger, but it has a 4x zoom with image stabilization and a 12-megapixel sensor. It's a simple design with good image performance, just right for the money. The A1100 is available in colors, too: Purple, Blue, Gray, Pink, and Green. Prices are hovering around $129.
Link to Review -- Compare Prices

Finally, if you're looking for a mid-range to high-end digital SLR, something like a Nikon D300s, D700, or a Canon 50D, 7D, 5D Mark II, a Pentax K-7, or a Sony A850 or A900, my answer is, "Yes! Go for it!" There's a lot to cover for any of them, too much for me to do so here, and you'll have to read the reviews to better get to which is for you. But the good news is that they're all astonishingly high quality, especially these that I mention. The only way you improve on their quality is with careful glass selection, and for that I refer you to SLRgear.com.

Happy Shopping to all from all of us at Imaging-Resource.com!

If you have any questions, please email us at [email protected].


Shawn Barnett
Senior Editor, Imaging-Resource.com

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