Welcome to the 2012 edition of Photography Bay’s Photo Gear Holiday Gift Guide.
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.
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.
1. Canon PowerShot ELPH 110 HS - 16.1MP, 5x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080p video.
2. Sony Cyber-shot W650 - 16.1MP, 5x optical zoom, image stabilization, 720p video.
3. Panasonic Lumix SZ7 - 14.1MP, 10x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080i video.
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 TX20 - 16.2MP, 4x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080i video.
2. Sony Cyber-shot TX200V - 18.2MP, 10x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080/60p video.
3. Canon PowerShot ELPH 320 HS - 16.1MP, 5x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080p video.
Advanced Compact Camera
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.
These advanced compacts make great step-ups from a point and shoot camera, or as a “pocket” camera for DSLR users.
1. Canon PowerShot G15 – 12.1 megapixels, 5x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080p HD video.
2. Nikon Coolpix P7700 – 12.2 megapixels, 7.1x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080p HD video.
3. Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX7 – 10.1 megapixels, 3.8x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080p HD video.
4. Canon PowerShot S110 – 12.1 megapixels, 5x optical zoom, image stabilization, 1080p HD video. It’s more compact, but no hotshoe for external flash.
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 found in the Sony A37 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 A37 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 A37.
1. Canon Rebel T4i – 18 megapixels, 18-55mm image stabilized kit lens, 1080p HD video.
2. Nikon D3200 – 24.2 megapixels, 18-55mm image stabilized kit lens, 1080p HD video.
3. Sony A37 - 16.1 megapixels, 18-55mm kit lens, built-in image stabilization, 1080/60i/24p HD video, full time live view display with fast AF.
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. These are the cameras that I recommend to most casual photographers who want to “move up” to a better camera.
These cameras offer image quality that is as good as or better than their DSLR counterparts and, at the same time, offer a more “point and shoot” feel.
1. Sony NEX-5R – 16.1 megapixels, 18-55mm image stabilized lens, 1080/60p/60i/24p HD video.
2. Sony NEX-F3 – 16.1 megapixels, 18-55mm image stabilized lens, 1080/60i/24p HD video.
3. Olympus OM-D E-M5 - 16.1 megapixels, 14-42 kit lens, built in image stabilization, 1080i HD video. Regarded as a more “serious” mirrorless camera.
Advanced Amateur DSLRs
Want something a little bigger and better for yourself or the object of your affection? These five DSLRs will make any serious photographer drool. The “choice” between Canon and Nikon becomes a little more relevant at this stage in the game.
For the first time, we have “full frame” cameras in this category with the Canon 6D and Nikon D600, both of which are around the $2000 price point.
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. Nikon D600 – 24.3MP full frame sensor, optional 24-85mm stabilized kit lens, 1080p HD video capture.
2. Canon 6D – 20.2MP full frame sensor, optional 24-105mm f/4L stabilized kit lens, 1080p HD video capture.
3. Nikon D7000 – 16.2 megapixels, optional 18-105mm image stabilized kit lens, records 1080p HD video.
4. Sony A77 - 24.3 megapixels, option 16-50mm f/2.8 lens, built-in image stabilization, records 1080p HD video.
5. Canon 60D – 18 megapixels, optional 18-135mm image stabilized kit lens, tilt/swivel LCD, records 1080p HD video.
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. And, given the price of these cards now, I think it’s a good idea for anyone picking up a point and shoot camera to go ahead and pick up a SanDisk Extreme card with it.
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.
Memory cards are measured in gigabytes, with typical sizes ranging from 2GB to 256GB. 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 now cheap enough to 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)
2. SanDisk Extreme CF (fast)
3. SanDisk Extreme Pro SD (fastest)
4. SanDisk Extreme SD (fast)
Photo & Video 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 and video processing software.
1. Adobe Lightroom 4 – for PCs and Macs – processes RAW image formats to get the most out of each file.
2. Photoshop Elements 11 – 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.
3. Premiere Elements 11 – for PCs and Macs – A basic, but powerful, video editing program that can be found for less than $100.
4. iMovie 11 – Mac only – If you’ve got a Mac or you are getting a Mac, this software should be included with it and is the first thing you should consider for editing your video.
5. Final Cut Pro X – Mac only – If you need something more advanced than iMovie, then Final Cut Pro X is the logical step up and offers a familiar interface for iMovie users.
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. Vanguard Heralder 38 – The best all-purpose best shoulder bag I’ve ever used. If you need to carry camera gear along with a laptop, the Heralder 38 can do it all. The pad on the shoulder strap makes this beefy shoulder bag easy to tote around all day. Holds a 15″ laptop and plenty of gear.
2. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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. Thanks for your continued support.