Photo Gear Holiday Shopping Guide 2011

Best Digital Cameras & Holiday Shopping Guide 2011

Welcome to the 2011 edition of Photography Bay’s Photo Gear 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.

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, I have identified the cameras and accessories that I feel are the best buys and best equipment based on my opinion of those products within the specified category.

All of the links in this guide will take you to retailers that I personally shop with online – B&H Photo, Amazon & others.  You cannot go wrong with any of these three companies for online purchases.  Additionally, by shopping at the retailers using the links in this guide, you are helping Photography Bay to continue delivering quality reviews and other photography-related content.

Budget Cameras (Under $150)

Canon PowerShot 100 HS

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.

1. Canon PowerShot 100 HS – 12.1MP, 4x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080p video w/ stereo sound.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

2. Sony Cyber-shot W570 – 16.1MP, 5x optical zoom, image stabilization, 720p video.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

3. Panasonic FH25 – 16.1MP, 8x optical zoom, image stabilization, 720p video.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

Ultra Compact Cameras

Sony Cyber-shot TX55

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.

1. Sony Cyber-shot TX55 – 16.2MP, 5x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080/60i video.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

2. Sony Cyber-shot TX9 – 12.2MP, 4x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080/60i video.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

3. Canon PowerShot ELPH 310 HS – 12.1MP, 8x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080p video.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

Super Zoom Compact Cameras

Nikon Coolpix P500

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 can have a zoom range equivalent up to 24mm-840mm, 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.

1. Canon PowerShot SX40 HS – 12.1MP, 35x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080p video.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

2. Nikon Coolpix P500 – 12.1MP, 36x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080p video.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

3. Sony Cyber-shot HX100V – 16.2MP, 30x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080/60p video.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

Advanced Compact Camera

Canon PowerShot G12

The advanced compact category is a step below DSLRs in terms of image quality and features, but a step above the rest of the compact cameras.

Each of the following cameras offers a hot shoe for an external flash (like the Canon 430EX II, Nikon SB-600 or the Panasonic FL360) and can capture images in RAW format.

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

1. Canon PowerShot G12 – 10 megapixels, 5x optical zoom, image stabilization, 720p HD video.
Find it at:
B&H PhotoAmazon

2. Nikon Coolpix P7100 – 10.1 megapixels, 7.1x optical zoom, image stabilization, 720p HD video.
Find it at:
B&H Photo / Amazon

3. Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 – 10.1 megapixels, 3.8x optical zoom, image stabilization, 720p HD video.
Find it at:
B&H PhotoAmazon

4. Canon PowerShot S100 – 12.1 megapixels, 5x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080p HD video. It’s more compact, but no hotshoe for external flash.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

Entry Level DSLRs

Canon Rebel T3i

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 found in the Sony A35 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 A35 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 A35.

1. Canon Rebel T3i – 18 megapixels, 18-55mm image stabilized kit lens, 1080p HD video.
Find it at:
B&H Photo / Amazon

2. Nikon D3100 – 14.2 megapixels, 18-55mm image stabilized kit lens, 1080p HD video.
Find it at:
B&H Photo / Amazon

3. Sony A35 – 16.2 megapixels, 18-55mm kit lens, built-in image stabilization, 1080/60i HD video, full time live view display with fast AF.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

4. Nikon D5100 – 16.1 megapixels, 18-55mm image stabilized kit lens, 1080p HD video.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

Mirrorless Cameras

Sony NEX-5N

These cameras are a new creature in the digital imaging world.  Mirrorless cameras don’t have the reflex mirror that puts the “R” in DSLR; however, they still offer the interchangeable lenses and are generally regarded as more user-friendly that DSLRs.

1. Sony NEX-5N – 16.1 megapixels, 18-55mm image stabilized lens, 1080/60p HD video.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

2. Sony NEX-C3 – 16.2 megapixels, 18-55mm image stabilized lens, 720p HD video.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

3. Olympus E-P3 – 12.3 megapixels, 14-42 or 17mm kit lens, built in image stabilization, 1080/60i HD video.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

BONUS: Fuji X100 – 12.3 megapixels, 23mm f/2 fixed lens (35mm equivalent field of view), 720p video.  This camera doesn’t quite fit in any category because it doesn’t offer interchangeable lenses, but it does have an image sensor as big as that of a DSLR.  It is my pick as camera of the year, but it is more of a serious photographer’s camera than the other mirrorless cameras listed above.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

Advanced Amateur DSLRs

Canon 7D

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 Canon 7D is the cream of the crop in this category of DSLRs; however the Canon 60D and Nikon D7000 offer killer features for less money.

All of these cameras 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.

1. Canon 7D – 18 megapixels, optional 28-135mm image stabilized kit lens, records 1080p HD video.
Find it at:
B&H Photo / Amazon

2. Nikon D7000 – 16.2 megapixels, optional 18-105mm image stabilized kit lens, records 1080p HD video.
Find it at:
B&H Photo / Amazon

3. Sony A77 – 24.3 megapixels, option 16-50mm f/2.8 lens, built-in image stabilization, records 1080p HD video.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

4. Canon 60D – 18 megapixels, optional 18-135mm image stabilized kit lens, tilt/swivel LCD, records 1080p HD video.
Find it at:
B&H Photo / Amazon

Memory Cards

SanDisk CF Card

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 now supports SD memory cards in their current compact and DSLR cameras.

Memory cards are measured in gigabytes, with typical sizes ranging from 2GB to 64GB.  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 8GB to 16GB card (or a few of them).  The 32GB (and larger) cards are coming down in price, which you might consider if you’re getting a DSLR and/or if you plan to record a lot of video.

If you aren’t sure what the numbers mean on card speeds and classification, check out my resource article on Demystifying SD Cards.

1. SanDisk Extreme Pro CF (fastest) – Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

2. SanDisk Extreme CF (fast) – Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

3. SanDisk Extreme Pro SD (fastest) – Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

4. SanDisk Extreme SD (fast) – Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

5. Kingston SD (plain and cheap) – Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

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:

1. Adobe Lightroom 3 – for PCs and Macs – processes RAW image formats to get the most out of each file.
Find it at:
B&H Photo / Amazon

2. Apple Aperture 3 – Mac only – another RAW processor much like Lightroom.
Find it at:
B&H Photo / Amazon / Mac App Store

3. Photoshop Elements 10 – 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

Camera Bags

Every photographer needs a good camera bag – or a few of them.  Look for camera bags made by Think Tank Photo or Lowepro depending on the photographer’s need and personal style.

1. Think Tank Photo StreetWalker Hard Drive – Holds a DSLR with a 70-200mm lens, a couple of spare lenses and flashes, a 15″ laptop and several more accessories.  This is my go-to bag for carrying around my basic DSLR kit.
Find it at:
ThinkTankPhoto.com

2. Lowepro DSLR Video Fastpack 250 – Holds a camera with quick access, some lenses, flashes and accessories, as well as a 15″ laptop.  A very comfortable bag to wear around.
Find it at:
B&H Photo / Amazon

3. Think Tank Photo Retrospective 30 – A satchel that has multiple configuration for carrying all sorts of camera gear. You can pack a DSLR and a couple of lenses/flash into the main compartment and even have room in the front pouches for a couple extra DSLR bodies.
Find it at: ThinkTankPhoto.com

4. Lowepro Adventura TLZ 15 – Made for a DSLR camera and a single lens.  A great casual case for a day trip.
Find it at:
B&H Photo / Amazon

Photography Accessories

Western Digital My Book USB 3.0 Hard Drive

1. Western Digital My Book USB 3.0 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.  Western Digital’s My Book USB 3.0 hard drives are fast, quiet and reliable. 
Find it at:
B&H Photo / Amazon

2. Western Digital My Book Live Hard Drives – If you don’t have a USB 3.0 port, or you need access to your images from multiple computers on the same network.  The My Book Live hard drives have an ethernet port and have an easy setup for connecting to your network.  You can work with the files on any computer in your network thanks to a fast 100MB/s read speed, and you can even send other people a direct link to a file for download off of your drive.  Additionally, there’s a lot of iOS and Android sharing features built-in.
Find it at: B&H Photo / Amazon

3. 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

4. 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 190XDB tripod and the 679B monopod.  For heavier cameras, I love the price and stability of the Slik Pro 700DX and Vanguard SBH-250 ball head.

Photography Books

Understanding Exposure

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 $15), 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 $15 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 CS5 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.

Wrap Up

That’s all we’ve got for this year’s installment of the 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.

Also, stay tuned for regular updates from Photography Bay as the holiday season continues.  Keep you eyes on the front page for Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other deals that are sure to come.

 

Comments

  1. Anonymous says

    I’m surprised to not see the Fuji X10 anywhere. I would think it is one of the most desirable compact cameras for people who are used to a high end DSLR. It may not have quite the image quality of the X100, but it is much more affordable and more flexible.

    I find it attractive because I hate the usual compacts lack of pro configuration and usability features, but it is small enough to make a big difference in weight/size when backpacking. My Pentax DSLR is wonderful, but after a day on my neck while on vacation it is likely to give me a headache.

    • says

      That’s probably a fair point about the Fuji X10, particularly considering how great the X100 is. However, I just don’t know enough about it based on what little time I spent with it at PhotoPlus.

  2. says

    What if I wanted a DSLR type camera but one that weighed half as much? One that had interchangeable lenses, a fully articulating monitor and would fit in a small camera bag?
    None of the cameras you mentioned in your article fit these needs. Is there a catagory you missed?

    • says

      Weighed half as much as what? I think the Rebel T3i and Nikon D3100 are about as compact as a DSLR will go. If those were your requirements, then I would suggest a mirrorless camera, which I have listed in the article.