Digital cameras are popular gifts for every Christmas, however, as compact cameras are already common in any household, people seem begin to lost some of their interest with this product. You may sometimes see a box of digital camera left unopened and treated as an unwanted gift. But if you know a friend who still uses an 8-years-old, 5Mp digital camera, it is quite hard to go wrong with a newer camera model. Many cameras have relatively comparable quality and are usually good buys.
Price Range: Around $100
Kodak EasyShare C195
Five years ago, it was impossible to find a good camera for around $100, but now major manufacturers such as Kodak, Canon and Casio have a few good models for you. In this price range, only the 14.5-megapixel Easyshare C195 that can give you 5X optical zoom, as the rest of $100 cameras only offer a 3X zoom factor. It also has “Smart Capture” feature which is also available in Kodak’s premium cameras and can reliably adjust settings based on current conditions. The camera also has a huge 3” LCD display, which is uncommon in this price range. The CD also includes a media management application, to make uploading photos and videos to Flickr, Facebook and YouTube easier after you connect the camera into your computer.
Certainly, at this price range, it is a bad idea to think that everything will be perfect. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with a rechargeable Li-ion battery, which means if you take shots regularly, you may need to buy hundreds of AA batteries each year. Even so, some people consider this setup an advantage, because it is often easier to swap dead AA batteries than recharging a Li-ion battery, especially if you spend hours or even days outdoors.
Price range: $150 to $300
Sony CyberShot WX5
This price range is a sweet spot, a perfect balance between decent quality and acceptable price. As the result vendors are cranking out scads of cameras in this segment. Understandably, choosing a good camera above $150 and under $300 is rather challenging. If you just like many people, who want to give a modest camera as a gift, it is a good idea to take a look at Sony CyberShot WX5.
One of its exciting features is 295-degree panorama shots, which is quite useful if you’re visiting a scenic place. Unlike other cameras, this feature is also very easy to use. The camera is smart enough to immediately enhance the photos by adjusting bright parts while making darker area visible. Certain effects such as blurring the background are easy even for beginners. A special movie button can make recording rare moments faster, it can shoots video at 1920 X 1080 HD resolution. As a whole, WX5 is light and small camera that has an easy-to-understand menu.
Unfortunately, the buttons are small and the recorded movies come out as AVCHD files, which are unplayable with standard video playing software. The optical zoom is just 5X and if this capability is important for your friend, it would be a good idea to choose a much cheaper Kodak EasyShare M580 instead, which offers 8X of optical zoom. The WX5 also looks somewhat flimsy and may break after an unintentional drop.
Price range: $300 to $500
Canon PowerShot S95 ($400)
The S95 may look like a common point-and-shoot camera, but its photographs quality is good enough that owners of SLR cameras can genuinely be surprised. Although it has a slim form factor, the build feels much more solid than typical compact cameras.
The $400 price tag entitles you with a rather large sensor for a compact camera, which can produce sharper and clearer images, especially in darker areas. The camera has a better performance in blurring the background area compared to other compacts and it can shoot 1280 X 720 HD videos with ease, while, the HDMI port make playing videos on HD televisions a breeze. Professional photographers may find S95 an excellent sidearm that is small and yet can yield fantastic results.
Unfortunately, you can’t shoot too many pictures with a S95, the camera can only take less than 250 pictures on a single charge. If battery life is important for your friend, you may need to choose Panasonic Lumix-DMC LX5 which can take up to 400. The 4X optical zoom is rather disappointing for a $400 camera and the tiny shutter button may make it difficult to take quick snaps.
Price range: $500 to $700.
The D3100 is a 14-megapixel digital SLR that can consistently take beautiful photographs, and despite its advanced features, the simplified menu may make it a good camera if you think your friend might be interested in learning about photography. Unlike other SLRs in this price range, this camera can record full HD movies. Another good thing is the autofocus function that can work in video recording mode, something that may not be available even on some of Nikon’s premium models.
However, the optical viewfinder seems quite small akin to what you may find in a disposable camera. Its burst rate is three shots each second, which is slow compared to other SLRs in the same class. Even so, the speed is adequate for capturing fast actions, such as your son’s soccer match.
Price range: $700 and above
Sony Alpha A55
If you have a nearly unlimited budget to buy your friend a gift, the16.2-megapixel Sony Alpha S55 ($850) should be a good choice. The translucent mirror allows the light to pass and maintain consistent focus.
The burst speed is quite impressive, with ten gorgeous photographs each second. Its huge viewfinder makes framing a shot easy. It offers a geotagging feature with an integrated GPS receiver. Its panoramic feature is adequate and capable of enhancing lowlights and highlights. A less capable version, the A33 offers 14.2-megapixel resolution, a burst rate of 7 photos per second and no geotagging.
Unfortunately the camera record videos in AVCH format, which makes it difficult to play and edit the videos with popular software. It doesn’t offer an optical viewfinder, but fortunately, the 1.4 million-pixel electronic viewfinder is clear and sharp. The lens mechanism can’t flip open, which may make grime and dust easier to accumulate, and impair the photograph quality. The camera is also quite heavy compared to other high-end SLR cameras.