Saturday, November 18, 2006

Cameras for Christmas

You or someone you know has a digital camera on their Christmas Wish List. Which one do you really want or which one should you get for that special someone. I'm picking what I think are the top three cameras in a variety of categories below. I'll try to give you some kind of sense of what kinds of people fit with which cameras below.

Camera on a Budget - Under $200
The growth of technology has really prompted this catagory of cameras. Four years ago, finding a digital camera under $200 was practically impossible. Sure, you might have seen a few on ebay, but how well did they work - or better yet, did they work at all?

There are several great cameras in this price range now. The Canon Powershot A430 is just one example. At about $135, it's well within the budget-minded giver's range. It's a 4 megapixel cameral with a 4x optical zoom. This is a great zoom for such an inexpensive and small camera. The A430 also comes in several different color schemes, including gold, red and blue.

Another great camera is the Canon Powershot A530. It's a 5 megapixel and has a 4x optical zoom and runs in the neighborhood of $130. While it's got more megapixels, it's also physically a larger camera. Still, on a budget, you can't go wrong with this camera. You get a lot more than what you pay for here.

Small Camera, Big Picture
On the high side of the technology wave, there are tons of features and specs to consider. A lot of these considerations are making it into smaller and smaller packages. You can get a lot out of a camera that will fit in your pocket comfortably. That's what this category is all about. Folks who want to have high technology accessible (in their purse or pants) - but not in the way.

The Canon SD800 IS fits the bill nicely. It's 7.1 megapixels, has a 3.8x optical zoom, and has image stabilization. It also has a 2.5" LCD and only weighs in at 5.3 ounces. Price of admission? About $360.

Also, take a look at the Panasonic Lumix FX9, which is available in black, silver, or red. Personally, I like the black. 6 megapixels, 3x optical zoom, and image stabilization. It's priced in the $360 range with the SD800. You might also take a look at the Panasonic Lumix FX50, which has 7.2 megapixels and is around $350.

All-In-One Do-It-All
If you or someone on your list wants a camera that can reach out and touch someone, this is the category you need to look at. These cameras typically have a zoom range equivalent to roughly 35mm-400mm, which is huge! What's more, is that the best of these have image stabilization built in, which is almost a necessity for such a long reach. With all these features, however, the camera is considerably bigger than the pocket cameras discussed above. You're going to want to grab a dedicated camera case to tote these along in.

The Canon S3IS is in the cream of the crop in my opinion. It's a 6 megapixel (up from 5MP on the previous S2IS), has a super long zoom and built in image stabilization. It runs about $350 or so. Not a bad deal considering all you get in one camera.

I think the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 offers Canon some strong competition in this category. Also 6MP and image stabilized, the FZ7 is a pretty camera to look at and has received rave reviews. It's also about $100 less than the S3IS at $260 from Amazon at the time of posting.

Kodak has stepped up to the plate with the Kodak Easyshare P712. Previous models from Kodak lacked the crucial image stabilization for this category. The P712 has that and more. At 7.1 megapixels, it beats out the Canon and Panasonic competitors. Kodak touts itself as a user-friendly brand and maintains the Easyshare features on this more tech-friendly model. At $380, it's also the most pricey of the bunch.

I'll mention one more Canon camera that doesn't have quite the reach of the others in this category, but it's still a great (maybe the best) point and shoot out there. The Canon PowerShot G7 10MP Digital Camera with 6x Image-Stabilized Optical Zoom is the newest of the G-Series line. I encourage you to investigate and research this camera further. It has a lot of advanced options that you don't get on your run-of-the-mill point and shoot camera.

Digital SLRs
There is a lot of hoopla and debate surrounding the DSLR (digital single lens reflex) question. If you've got someone that has a DSLR on their wishlist, you'd better think twice about making this decision on your own. Your best bet is to feel the person out for which particular camera that they want. Go with them to a camera or electronics store and observe their reaction to the cameras listed below. Chances are, after holding and shooting with one or the other, they're going to form a bias about what "feels" best. Go with that one.

If you are totally out on a limb and you know that the person for whom you're shopping is as clueless as you about the choice, get the Canon Rebel XTi. It's the newest and best offering from Canon in the entry-level DSLR realm. I recommend this camera because of Canon's sheer market power. While any of the choices below would be suitable, Canon offers a wider selection of lenses than any other brand. When you buy a DSLR, you are buying into a system. Canon lenses fit Canon cameras and likewise with other brands. Canon is the Microsoft of the DSLR world (without the security problems and blue screens of death).

Here's a list of the DSLR's that should be on a first-time buyer's Christmas list:

There's also several other offerings from brands like Pentax, Samsung, and Panasonic. I'm not getting into those considerations here because of the prevalence of Canon and Nikon in the DSLR world. I only mention Sony because of the brand recognition that they bring to the table and the apparent commitment that they are making. Sony appears to be rather serious about continuing in this market.

The Photographer
So, you've got a photographer (profession/amateur/enthusiast) in your family and you really want to please them? These guys are the tough ones. Hopefully, they've given you their wish list in writing and you can hop on Amazon or B&H, or go down to your local camera store, and get what they want. If not though, what do you do?

I think you've still got to know categories of what they like or want. If you can figure out the ballbark areas of interest, consider some of the below suggestions. Don't forget to read some of the reviews on Amazon when you're shopping online. Sometimes those can be your best indicator of whether you should get the product or not.

If they're just starting out, consider Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. It's a rather cheap book but could very well be the best $16 anybody spends on photography.

If they are into Photoshop and want some good references consider the Photoshop for Digital Photographers series by Scott Kelby. There are several versions of Photoshop out there, so make sure you buy the appropriate corresponding book (e.g., The Photoshop Elements 5 Book for Digital Photographers). Additionally, consider the How to Wow Photoshop series and the Photoshop CookbookThe Camera, The Negative, or The Print.

Camera Gear:

A quality tripod is a necessity for every serious photographer. In this case it's hard to go wrong with something from Bogen-Manfrotto. Consider your price range, what your photographer will use it for, and educate yourself on their great line of tripods and monopods.

An off-camera flash is another important item for the new SLR user that has yet to acquire one. Buy the right brand and a flash that has a bounce/swivel head. For Nikon users, get the SB-600 or the SB-800. For Canon users get the 430EX or the 580EX.

More memory please! This is an easy item to pick up. Find your price range and buy the largest SanDisk Ultra II card or Extreme III card that is within that range. You'll make a photographer very happy with this gift. To learn more about memory cards, take a look at this earlier post.

Is a camera bag on your list? Lowepro and Tamrac are two very popular and high quality brands. In most cases, I would recommend that you stick to these. However, if you're on a tight budget, Amazon frequently has a real deal on the Canon 200EG backpack. I've got it and I love it. It was cheap and holds everything I need and expect it to hold. Like I said though, if you want to impress, you should probably get the Lowepro.

You've got my two cents now. I hope this run down gives you a better idea of what to look for when shopping in the camera aisle this Christmas. Feel free to fire away with questions, offer additional advice, or even make derogatory comments. Merry Christmas!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sir, your article on camera gear was good, except that you omitted an important brand from consideration...Fujifilm! I can vouch for the superb image quality of the new Fujifilm S9100 compact digital camera...a 9 megapixel camera with a 28-300 Fujinon zoom, and a host of features that any pro or enthusiast would appreciate! Thank you. ~Steve

12:50 AM  

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