Digital Camera Holiday Shopping Guide 2008

Welcome to the 2008 edition of Photography Bay’s Digital Camera Holiday Shopping Guide.

This is the third annual installment of the Digital Camera Holiday Shopping Guide.  The purpose of this guide is to help you pick the right digital camera or photography accessory for that special photographer on your holiday shopping list.

Additionally, we want to keep you away from the Internet retailers that will try to scam you with unnecessary or overpriced accessories and direct you to only our trusted online retailers.

How the Guide Works

This guide is set up in categories that describe the general type of cameras – be it a price range or general features.  Feel free to scan the headings until you find the right category for you and your special photographer.

In the category summaries below, I have identified the cameras that I feel are the best buys and best equipment based on actual use, specifications and the vast number of reviews that I have read for each of the cameras.

All of the links in our Digital Camera Holiday Shopping Guide will take you to retailers that I shop with online – Amazon, Adorama & B&H Photo.  You cannot go wrong with either of these three companies for online purchases.  Additionally, Amazon frequently offers free shipping for much of their camera inventory.  All three do not collect sales tax for online shoppers who live outside of the state in which they are based.

Budget Cameras (Under $150)

While these cameras may be cheap in price, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are cheap in quality or performance.  For $150 (or less), you get great performance and image quality from these cameras.  If you or your gift recipient have never had a digital camera before, then any of these will be a great place to start.

Each of them are simple enough to pull out of the box and use rather intuitively.  Additionally, they each have sufficient expansion capabilities to allow a budding photographer to grow and learn with their new camera.

1. Canon A590 IS – 8 megapixels, 4x optical zoom, image stabilization

2. Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ10 – 10 megapixels, 5x optical zoom, image stabilization

3. Sony Cybershot DSC-W120 – 7.2 megapixels, 4x optical zoom, image stabilization

Ultra Compact Cameras

These ultra compact cameras are so popular because of their go-anywhere qualities.  You can get a lot out of a camera that will fit in your pocket comfortably. These are the cameras that users invariable carry with them all the time. That’s what this category is all about.

Folks who want to have high technology accessible (in their purse or pants) but not in their way will get the most out of these ultra compact cameras.

There are a lot of ultra compact cameras out on the market today; however, some have very poor image quality.  While none of these cameras will match a DSLR in image quality, these three cameras will do their part in getting great snap shots at your New Year’s Eve party.

1. Canon PowerShot SD880IS – 10 megapixels, 4x optical zoom, image stabilization

2. Sony DSC-T700 – 10 megapixels, 4x optical zoom, image stabilization

3. Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35 – 10 megapixels, 4x optical zoom, image stabilization

Super Zoom Compact Cameras

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 26mm-520mm, 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.

1. Olympus SP-570UZ – 10 megapixels, 20x optical zoom, image stabilization

2. Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28 – 10 megapixels, 18x optical zoom, image stabilization

3. Canon Powershot SX10IS – 10 megapixels, 20x optical zoom, image stabilization

Advanced Compact Camera

The advanced compact category is a growing line of cameras headlined by the Canon PowerShot G10.  These cameras are a step below DSLRs in terms of image quality and features.

Each of the following cameras offers a hot shoe for an external flash (like the Canon 430EX or the Nikon SB-600) and can capture images in RAW format.

These advanced compacts make great step-ups from a point and shoot camera or a “pocket” camera for DSLR users.

1. Canon PowerShot G10 – 14.7 megapixels, 5x optical zoom, image stabilization

2. Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 – 10.1 megapixels, 2.5x optical zoom, image stabilization

3. Nikon Coolpix P6000 – 13.5 megapixels, 4x optical zoom, image stabilization

Entry Level DSLRs

Any of the below cameras would make a great first digital single lens reflex (“DSLR”) camera for anyone wanting to get more out of their photography.

These DSLRs are situated well below the $1000 price point and can typically be found in the $500 to $600 range with a kit lens included.

While the features all match up pretty closely, the Live View and articulating LCD found in the Sony A300 is second to none.  Users moving up from a point and shoot camera may very well prefer the ability to hold the A300 at arms-length while they frame and shoot.  Don’t let the specs fool you, the Rebel XSi’s Live View pales in comparison to the A300.  Image quality, however, is another story.

1. Canon Rebel XSi – 12.2 megapixels, optional 18-55mm image stabilized kits lens

2. Nikon D60 – 10.1 megapixels, optional 18-55mm image stabilized kits lens

3. Sony A300 – 10.1 megapixels, optional 18-70mm image stabilized kits lens, articulating LCD screen, unmatched fast Live View autofocus

Advanced Amateur DSLRs

Want something a little bigger and better for yourself or the object of your affection?  These four DSLRs will make any serious amateur photographer drool.  The “choice” between Canon and Nikon becomes a little more relevant at this stage in the game.

The Nikon D300 is the cream of the crop in this category of DSLRs; however the Canon 40D and 50D aren’t far behind.  I’ve included both Canon cameras because of the price differentials.  While the Canon 50D is a newer camera and offers more megapixels, many question whether it’s worth a $500 premium over the 40D.  If it were my wallet that was losing weight, I’d pick the 40D over the 50D and spend the $500 on something else.

Finally, the Nikon D90 is a great camera that also adds HD video recording capabilities – it was the first DSLR to do this.  Don’t buy the Nikon D90 to replace your camcorder though.  The technology has not arrived just yet.  It’s a great still camera; however, it’s got a ways to go before the video capability is up to par.

1. Nikon D300 – 12.3 megapixels, optional 18-135mm kit lens

2. Nikon D90 – 12.3 megapixels, optional 18-105mm image stabilized kit lens, records HD video

3. Canon 40D – 10.1 megapixels, optional 28-135mm image stabilized kit lens

4. Canon 50D – 15.1 megapixels, optional 28-135mm image stabilized kit lens

Memory Cards

Memory cards make great stocking stuffers.  Photographers need them too because all those megapixels take up sooo much space and those cards fill up fast.  The good news is that memory cards keep getting cheaper and cheaper – almost by the day.  For DSLR owners, most can benefit from the write speed of cards like the SanDisk Extreme III series, which allows the cameras to capture more frames faster.  Point and shoot cameras though, will do just fine with some of the slower cards.

There are several types of memory cards out there.  Compact Flash (or CF) and Secure Digital (or SD) are the most popular for digital cameras nowadays.  Sony still forces camera owners to buy in to their proprietary format Memory Sticks, which frequently carry a higher price tag than CF or SD cards.

Memory cards are now measured in gigabytes, with typical sizes ranging from 2GB to 16GB.  The number of pictures that a memory card can hold varies depending on the number of the camera’s megapixels.  I would recommend picking up a 2GB to 8GB card (or a few of them).  The 16GB cards are a still a little pricey.

1. SanDisk Extreme III – 2GB SD2GB CF4GB SD4GB CF

2. SanDisk Ultra II – 2GB SD2GB CF4GB SD4GB CF

3. Kingston – 2GB SD2GB CF4GB SD4GB CF

Photography Books

1. Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson.  Another great stocking stuffer, no camera owner should go without reading this book.  It’s inexpensive on Amazon (around $16 or so), which is a big discount from your local bookstore.  If you’re buying someone a camera or getting one yourself, make sure this book goes with the camera.  It’ll be the best $16 you spend on photography.

2. 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).

3. The Camera, The Negative, or The Print by Ansel Adams.  Classics from Ansel Adams are still full of relevant information for today’s digital photographers.  And, it’s nice to have Ansel’s imagery and advice on your bookshelf.

Photography Accessories

1. Duracell Battery Charger – If you’re thinking ahead, this can be a great accessory for digital cameras, speedlight flashes and any other thing in your house that takes AA or AAA batteries.  I don’t buy alkaline batteries anymore thanks to my Duracell charger.

2. Seagate FreeAgent Hard Drives – As is the case with memory cards, digital photos take up a lot of space on photographer’s computers.  External hard drives are getting less and less expensive and can really lighten the load on a bogged-down computer.  Seagate’s new FreeAgent series of hard drives are fast, quiet and reliable.  They are available for both PCs and Macs.  You can also win one if you enter Photography Bay’s “Fall” photo contest before November 24.

3. Tripods and Monopods – If you or your photographer don’t have a tripod and/or monopod, you can’t go wrong with something from Manfrotto like the 785 tripod and the 679B monopod (read Photography Bay’s 679B review).

Image Editing Software

While you can make great images with today’s digital cameras, you can really unleash the power of digital imaging with the powerful photo processing software.  Here’s three of the big ones:

1. Adobe Lightroom – for PCs and Macs – processes RAW image formats to get the most out of each file

2. Apple Aperture – Mac only – another RAW processor

3. Photoshop Elements 7 – for PCs and Macs – add special effects, whiten teeth, make skies bluer, get rid of red eye, and take advantage of many more shortcuts that reduce common, multistep editing tasks to a single click or brush stroke

Wrap Up

That’s all we’ve got for this year’s installment of the Digital Camera Holiday Shopping Guide. 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 and offer additional advice in the Photography Bay Forum.