Imaging Resource 2012 Holiday Photo Gift Guide: Cameras and optics
posted Friday, December 7, 2012 at 3:51 PM EDT
The holidays are fast approaching, and time's running out to get your gift-buying finished! Are you still struggling to locate the perfect gift for the photographer-friend in your life? (Or perhaps it's time to upgrade your own camera gear, ready for those once-in-a-lifetime holiday snaps?)
Either way, there are a lot of choices out there, and filtering through them can be a monumental task. But fear not: Imaging Resource has done the heavy lifting for you! We've compiled a two-part 2012 Holiday Photo Gift Guide with what we feel are some of the best choices, no matter what budget you're on. (No, really -- we've hit all the bases from $5 to $5,000 or more, and we've even sprinkled in a couple of freebies, as well!)
In Part One of our 2012 Holiday Photo Gift Guide, you'll find most of the bigger-ticket items: a healthy selection of DSLR and mirrorless cameras and some lens-buying tips, plus several of the very best fixed-lens compacts and megazooms. Part Two of the guide covers everything else, from printers, scanners and accessories to books, software and more.
Rest assured, the items we've chosen are those we'd feel happy choosing for our own friends and family. Should you want a little more info, we've included handy links to our camera reviews and previews throughout this item, and you can find information on the lenses from our sister site, SLRgear.com.
We've also included approximate prices for everything in the list, so you can scan through to find something that matches your budget. But also be sure to check out the latest camera and photo equipment deals that we're compiling and updating daily here.
Sometimes you don't want to carry a big DSLR to get quality images, and that's why cameras like the Panasonic LX7 were born. But it's important to remember that the LX7 isn't a good-looking point-and-shoot; it's a serious photographer's camera in a small package. Overall, the LX7 stands as the best iteration of the LX-series so far, putting its emphasis on two critical factors: lens quality and control access. And it's "a joy to shoot with," Senior Editor Shawn adds.
Read our Panasonic LX7 review for more details.
Starting with a 12 megapixel sensor upgrade, the Olympus XZ-2's new imager is a 1/1.7-inch backlit CMOS design. Plus the Olympus XZ-2 has what camera fans long for: a big, bright, light-loving lens. The 28-112mm f/1.8-2.5 i.ZUIKO Digital lens is essentially the same as that in XZ-1, which according to our tests was pretty impressive, besting the competition at the time.
Read our hands-on Olympus XZ-2 preview for more details.
Sony finally did what so many of us have wanted. They've built a pocketable camera with a large sensor and a bright lens. It's the Sony RX100, and it'll send other camera makers back to their drawing boards for next season. The RX100 sets a 20.2 megapixel, one-inch sensor behind a bright 3.6x, f1.8 lens, and wraps it in a small body not much bigger than a Canon S100.
Read our Sony RX100 review for more details.
The Nikon P510 combines some impressive features to yield photographic capabilities that set it apart. The P510 is greater than the sum of its parts, in short. And that means instead of debating compromises, you gain a new way to see the world.
Read our Coolpix P510 review for more details.
The Canon SX50 HS's 50x optical zoom delivers the equivalent of 24mm to 1,200mm range and boasts several improvements over the PowerShot SX40 HS, an IR favorite and a popular Dave's Pick. Staggering range isn't all the SX50 HS offers. A refined 12.1 megapixel CMOS sensor coupled with a DIGIC 5 processor provides enhanced low-light imaging quality -- according to Canon -- and a maximum ISO of 6400.
Read our Canon SX50 HS preview for more details.
COMPACT SYSTEM CAMERAS
The X-E1 offers an almost identical feature set to the X-Pro1, but at a lower price point. There's also a new zoom lens, so you don't have to invest in Fujifilm's expensive primes, regardless of how excellent they are.
Read our hands-on Fuji X-E1 preview for more details.
It's notable how many photographers are choosing the Olympus OM-D E-M5 as their new camera of choice. Its versatility is hard to deny: a small interchangeable lens digital camera with both an EVF and tilting OLED display that can autofocus incredibly quickly, has an impressive built-in image stabilization system, and can shoot crisp images across a wide ISO range at up to nine frames per second.
Read our Olympus OM-D review for more details.
The Olympus Pen E-PL5 is still about the same size as its predecessor, but gains a few cool features from pricier models. The most obvious addition is the removable grip from the E-P3. What isn't quite as obvious is the inclusion of the very fine 16 megapixel sensor handed down from the OM-D E-M5.
Read our Olympus E-PL5 review for more details.
The Sony NEX-6 is about the size of a NEX-7 complete with pop-up flash and electronic viewfinder but with a simplified interface and a 16.1 megapixel sensor instead of 24.3. It also has a real Mode dial, dog-gone it and that's a welcome change.
Read our Sony NEX-6 review for more details.
The Fujifilm X-Pro1 doesn't give quite the same experience as an SLR, nor does it match other compact system cameras in size or features, as it's not quite as compact. It's really better compared to its only major competition, the Leica M-series cameras. With that in mind, the X-Pro1 is a comparative bargain, though you do give up the real manual focus for electronic manual focus, and you also lose the buttery-smooth bokeh. But optical quality is still pretty high.
Read our Fujifilm X-Pro1 review for more details.
Although it occupies the entry-level position in Canon's DSLR lineup, the Rebel T3 has a fairly rich feature set. It offers a significant step forward from the earlier Rebel XS, and the price is right.
Read our Canon T3 review for more details.
The camera's fast overall speed makes it a pleasure to use, and a great performer for street photography or youth sports. In short, we love this little camera with its 24.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, and think it's another excellent addition to Nikon's already highly-regarded entry-level DSLR line.
Read our Nikon D3200 review for more details.
The latest flagship Rebel remains one of the top choices for family DSLRs on the market. It's a little faster, has a few more modern features, and still offers the beautiful articulating LCD. Most importantly, it still produces great images with relative ease.
Read our Canon T4i review for more details.
The Nikon D7000 is one of those cameras that's easy to recommend. It's an excellent DSLR for anyone serious about getting great shots of their family, a great choice for the enthusiast photographer and a great starter camera for anyone wanting to get more serious about still or video photography.
Read our Nikon D7000 review for more details.
FULL FRAME SLR
The new Canon 6D is another camera designed to appeal to the photographer who wants to step up to full-frame but has found the $3,000 to $3,500 price tag prohibitively expensive. Instead, the 6D body retails for $2,100, just like the Nikon D600 and sports a 20.2 megapixel CMOS sensor, powered by a DIGIC 5+ processor, with a 3.0-inch 1.04-million dot LCD, a UHS-1 SD card slot and both WiFi and GPS.
Read our EOS 6D preview for more details.
Signaling the dawn of the affordable full-frame DSLR camera, the Nikon D600 features a 24.3 megapixel FX CMOS sensor, an optical viewfinder with 100 percent coverage, a 3.2-inch 921K-dot LCD and dual SD card slots for around US$2,000, body-only.
Read our hands-on Nikon D600 preview for more details.
Nikon's professional workhorse DSLR gets more than a single-digit upgrade to its model number in the new D4. Though encased in a body of similar size and shape to its predecessors, the D4 now uses a 16.2 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor backed up by a new EXPEED 3 image processor. Nikon expects the combination to deliver very high dynamic range and low noise across a wide range of ISO settings. It also has the most advanced video capabilities of any Nikon DSLR yet.
Read our hands-on Nikon D4 preview for more details.
Three and a half years after introducing the D700, the D800 arrives as a full frame DSLR at three times the pixels of its predecessor with its 36.3 megapixel sensor.
Read our Nikon D800 review for more details.
While its competitors continue the megapixel race, Canon has chosen to retreat from the 21 megapixel full-frame design in the 1Ds and 5D Mark II to an 18 megapixel full-frame sensor for the sake of greater speed, better high ISO performance, and presumably greater dynamic range. All are worthy goals, to be sure.
Read our Canon 1DX review for more details.
Though Canon makes many excellent DSLR cameras for pros and consumers, none has reached the superstar status of the Canon 5D series. The Canon 5D Mark III raises the game in terms of overall camera performance, from frame rate to autofocus, while increasing the resolution only slightly to 22.3-megapixels. Of all the additional features, probably the most important is the new autofocus system, brought over from the 1D X, which covers considerably more of the Canon 5D III's image area.
Read our hands-on Canon 5D Mark III preview for more details.
We thought if we hid it here among the expensive pro DSLRs, it would look more affordable. Sony has shoehorned a full 35mm-sized sensor with a fairly fast 35mm prime lens into a nearly pocket-sized camera called the Sony Cyber-shot RX1. It's official: you can go ahead and think of "RX" as code for Rex, because the King of Small Cameras is here. Publisher Dave Etchells got his hands on one for a couple of days and observed, "It really is an extraordinary camera."
Read our hands-on Sony RX1 preview for more details.
There are a few general categories to consider before we get to specific recommendations.
Vacation Zoom. Kit lenses are usually confined to the 18-55mm range. But you can pop an 18-200mm (or longer) compact vacation lens on that body for more versatility. Nikon, Canon, Sigma and Tamron all have nice ones.
Fast Prime. The other problem with kit lenses is that they're slow. f3.5 slow. How about a nice f1.2 lens? Focal length hardly matters, it's what you can capture with available light and a decent ISO that counts.
Portrait Prime. Most photos are portraits but most lenses are not portrait lenses. A moderate telephoto prime will capture a sharp face while nicely blurring the background. And you don't have to back up 100 yards. You can be in the same room and carry on a charming conversation.
Macro. A macro lens can reveal another world where the tiniest things fill the frame. Including slides.
It adds another internal aperture lens to the Lensbaby family of optics, one with a mild telephoto range ideal for portraiture but also designed for closeups.
Read our Edge 80 review for more details.
The Pro's front collar also sports an improvement over the original Composer with its refined focus mechanism.
Read our Lensbaby Composer Pro review for more details.
Notable introductions this year include the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM (~US$850), Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM pancake (~US$150), Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR (~$US1,400), Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX DG HSM (~US$450 for Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma, and Sony bodies) and, for Micro Four Thirds fans, the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 45mm f/1.8 (~US$400). Visit our sister site SLRgear.com for lens reviews and previews.
Let them rent whatever lens they want (but not forever) with a LensRentals gift certificate. There's also lighting gear and accessories (like those expensive lens adapters) to choose from.
Then send the recipient to our sister site SLRgear.com for detailed lens reviews, to help them choose which lenses to rent.
* All prices are approximations of those provided at press time, and indicate the lowest available price where more than one retailer is listed.
(Christmas tree bokeh image courtesy of Flickr user Traci Todd. Used under a Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 license.)