Welcome to the 2009 edition of Photography Bay’s Digital Camera Holiday Shopping Guide.
The purpose of this guide is to help you pick the right digital camera or photography accessory for yourself or that special photographer on your Christmas 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. You can scan the headings until you find the right category for you and your special photographer.
In the category summaries below, we have identified the cameras that we feel are the best buys and best equipment based on personal use, specifications and the vast number of others’ experiences that we have heard or read about for each of the cameras.
All of the links in our Digital Camera Holiday Shopping Guide will take you to retailers that we personally shop with online – B&H Photo, Amazon & Adorama. You cannot go wrong with either of these three companies for online purchases. Additionally, by shopping at the retailers using the links in this guide, you are helping us to continue delivering quality reviews and other photography-related content.
Warning: You may find other retailers online who appear to offer much lower prices; however, be very careful to avoid deals that seem “too good to be true.” There are many online retailers who employ “bait and switch” routines for digital cameras and other electronics products. They will typically have a great price online and then, after you place an order with your credit card, will send you a follow-up email requesting you call to “confirm” your order. At this point, a sales rep will try to pressure you into buying batteries, memory cards or other over-priced accessories by telling you that your camera won’t function without the over-priced accessories. If this happens to you, insist that they cancel your order and contact your credit card company to dispute any improper charges that the scammers place on your card. Then, go with a trusted online retailer, like those recommended in this guide.
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 around $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 is 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.
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 people invariably carry with them all the time.
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 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.
Super Zoom Compact Cameras
If you or someone on your list wants a camera that can reach out and touch someone at a distance, this is the category you need to look at. These cameras typically have a zoom range equivalent to roughly 26mm-520mm, which is huge for such a small package!
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 featured above.
Advanced Compact Camera
The advanced compact category is basically defined by the two cameras below. These cameras are a step below DSLRs in terms of image quality and features, but a step above the rest of the compact cameras.
These advanced compacts make great step-ups from a point and shoot camera, or as a “pocket” camera for DSLR users.
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 some can 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 A330 has the best “point and shoot” feel to it. Users moving up from a point and shoot camera may very well prefer the ability to hold the A330 at arms-length while they frame and shoot. Don’t let the specs fool you, the Canon and Nikon’s Live View pales in comparison to the A330. Image quality, however, is another story.
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 photographer drool. The “choice” between Canon and Nikon becomes a little more relevant at this stage in the game.
The Nikon D300s and Canon 7D are the cream of the crop in this category of DSLRs; however the Canon 50D and Nikon D90 aren’t too far behind.
All of these cameras except for the 50D feature HD video recording capabilities. While this is a cool feature and some serious enthusiasts are doing amazing work with the video in these things, it’s not really a casual use feature. Unless your giftee is really into videography, don’t get bogged down in the differences over the video specs. If video flexibility is crucial, the Canon 7D is top notch.
Memory cards make great stocking stuffers. And, if you’re buying someone their first digital camera (or a different brand that takes a different kind of memory card), then you’ll need to pick up the right card for the camera. Otherwise, Christmas morning may get a little boring without a memory card to record those moments on their new camera.
Photographers need spare memory cards 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 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 4GB to 8GB card (or a few of them). The 16GB cards are coming down in price, which you might consider if you’re getting a DSLR with 12+ megapixels.
Image Editing Software
While you can make great images with today’s digital cameras, you can really unleash the power of digital imaging with powerful photo processing software. Here’s three of the big ones:
3. Photoshop Elements 8 – 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.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon / Adorama
1. Duracell Battery Charger – If you’re thinking ahead, this can be a great accessory for digital cameras, speedlight flashes and any other things in your house that takes AA or AAA batteries. I don’t buy disposable alkaline batteries anymore thanks to my Duracell charger.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon / Adorama
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 FreeAgent series of hard drives are fast, quiet and reliable. They are available for both PCs and Macs.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon / Adorama
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 8 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.
That’s all we’ve got for this year’s installment of our Best Digital Cameras & 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.
Also, stay tuned for regular updates from Photography Bay as the holiday season continues. Keep you eyes on the front page and the deal list at the top right of the page for Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other deals that are sure to come.