Holiday Gift Guide: Digital Cameras

Are you faced with deciding what digital camera you should buy for your family and friends for gifts during the 2012 holiday season?  Each year becomes more and more complicated, as camera companies increase their feature sets and change models multiple times a year.

In the end, however, consumers win, since increased competition has dramatically lowered prices and improved overall picture quality.This guide will help you sort through the chaos that is the digital photography industry, highlighting some of the best choices for cameras in various price ranges.

Best Point and Shoot Cameras

Samsung DV300F: Packed with features on a tight budget

The Samsung DV300F offers 16.0-Megapixels, a 5x optical zoom lens, a 3.0" rear facing LCD viewing screen, a 1.5" front facing LCD screen, and Wi-Fi connectivity.

Compared to last year's model, that smaller, front facing screen has a couple new features to help self portraits, including a visual Self Timer as well as a Child Mode, which displays an animation to keep little ones focused.

Available in Black, Silver/Blue, or Silver/Red, pick this up if you are looking for an affordable compact camera for self-portraits with friends and family, that is simple to use without any complicated settings. While the MSRP is currently $150, it can be found on sale for $99 quite often.  

Samsung DV300F

Nikon CoolPix S9300: Solid performance under $200 

The Nikon Coolpix S9300 is super-zoom camera (18x) that's still only 1.5-inches thick. It has built-in GPS for Geo-tagging and minor navigation needs thanks an an electronic compass. It offers Full HD (1080p) video recording, 7fps burst mode at full resolution and a high resolution 3-inch LCD.

This pocketable point-and-shoot packs a lot of power, sophistication and ease of use in a small package. Its 18X zoom and ultra-fast burst modes will get you shots you would not get otherwise, and make for a lot of fun in the process.

Originally launched at a MSRP of $349, sales on this camera can be found in the $199 range. If you are willing to gamble on a refurbished model, the price is pushed even lower.

Nikon Coolpix S9300

Canon S100: Amazing low light picture quality 

Canon's PowerShot S100 follows in the line of the PowerShot S90 and S95 from the last few years. This line was designed for people with a little more photography and camera knowledge, but anyone can use easily in Smart Auto mode. 

What makes this camera special is that the 12-Megapixel High Sensitivity CMOS imaging sensor and DIGIC 5 imaging processor produces sharp, well exposed images with less image noise that with a standard CCD sensor. That basically means that pictures taken with poor light sources turn out great. The same can't be said for other point and shoot cameras.

With a full set of upgraded hardware and outstanding quality, this is a powerful camera that provides stunning picture quality. While Canon has already released the S110 to replace the S100, consumers can find great deals on the S100 as well as the S95. Look for the S100 under the $300 price point for the best deal.

Canon S100, Canon S95

Best Bridge / EVIL Cameras

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-LX7: Manual control in a small package

The Pansonic Lumix DMC-LX7 is a model that can shoot some very impressive photos, thanks in large part to its F1.4 lens. It works very quickly, thanks to a high-powered autofocus motor and fast recovery times after each photo. 

Unlike most fixed-lens cameras, the LX7 allows you to twist a ring to manually select the aperture, and use a control switch on the back to focus manually. Those features are usually reserved for interchangeable lens cameras.

Finding an aperture ring and quite a few manual control options is a nice change of pace for those who are used to really thin point-n-shoot cameras. For intermediate and beginner photographers, the LX7's image quality will be impressive, as long as the camera fits in their budget. Despite the $500 MSRP, the camera can be found around the $400 when on sale.

Pansonic Lumix DMC-LX7

Canon G1 X: DSLR quality, Point and Shoot size 

Canon's first major update to the its G-series cameras is the PowerShot G1X, taking the place of the PowerShot G12 from 2 years ago. Targeted at more advanced users, the G1X has been loaded with new, exceptional quality parts and features that lift the image quality much higher than that of just about any other compact point-n-shoot camera that you will find.

Features of the Canon G1X include a 14.3-Megapixel, 1.5-inch HS CMOS imaging sensor, 3.0-Inch Vari-Angle LCD Screen, 4x Optical zoom lens, 1080p HD video recording and the ability to record images in the RAW format for editing in a program like Photoshop.

If you are looking for a professional quality compact camera that has the image quality to compete with a dSLR camera, but is much more suited for traveling and other casual shooting situations, the G1X should be top of mind. However, keep an eye out for the Canon G12 at a price point of $300.

Canon G1X, Canon G12

Sony Alpha NEX-5N: EVIL on a budget

Sony's NEX-5N builds upon the NEX-5 released during 2010; however it does not technically replace it. The NEX-5N boasts some new upgrades, along with a redesigned exterior; although the camera still looks very similar to the NEX-5. 

For starters, Sony has incorporated a newly designed 16-megapixel Exmor APS-C HD image sensor. Coupled with the next generation of their BIONZ processor, the NEX-5N can capture stunning photos, along with full 1080p video at 60 or 24fps. This new sensor and processor combination also offers improved shooting performance, and burst shooting at up to 10fps at full resolution. 

Sony has also incorporated a tilting touchscreen LCD, that allows you to control the camera with inputs from your finger tips. Regarding price, look for deals on the Sony NEX-5N around the $400 to $450 area. You can also look for the NEX-5, but the price point is approximately the same on both models at this time. You would be better off with the improved version for the same price.

Sony NEX-5N, Sony NEX-5

Best DSLR Cameras

Canon EOS Rebel T3i: Probably the best starter DSLR

The Canon EOS Rebel T3i is a fantastic camera to get you started on a higher level of photography and looks to be a great choice for a first dSLR. This camera offers robust shooting options and performance, along with excellent image quality. 

Besides the 18-megapixel CMOS image sensor, other features include Canon's EOS Integrated Cleaning System, DIGIC 4 processor, Live View shooting mode, 63-zone Dual layer metering system, Full HD (1080p) video mode and 3.0-inch Vair-angle LCD.

Grab this camera if you're in the market for a capable, yet affordable dSLR system that will allow you to capture high-quality images in just about any situation. Look for deals at a price point of $550 to $600 on the T3i with lens. You can also check out the Canon T3 with deals at a price point of $350 to $450 for a less expensive option.

Canon T3i, Canon T3

Nikon D5100: Well-rounded, solid performance

The Nikon D5100 replaced the popular D5000, with several upgrades; some of which are borrowed from models like the D7000. These include a 16-megapixel CMOS image sensor, EXPEED 2 image processing unit, an 11-point auto focus system, a 3.0-inch rotating LCD screen with 921k dots and full 1080p video recording (24, 25, or 30fps).

With Smart auto and various scene modes, those new to the dSLR world will be able to capture great shots, while learning along the way. Of course, the D5100 is packed full of manual exposure control options, along with a vast list of customizable settings to help photogs hone in their specific look. 

Since Nikon just announced the D5200, this action will start driving the price down on the D5100. New models can be found around the $550 to $600 area and refurbished models are typically positioned around $425 to $475.

Nikon D5100

Pentax K-30: Ideal for the outdoors

If you love to take shots outside, the K-30 has been designed with over 80 weather-resistant body seals to make the camera hold up in wet, dusty, and sub-freezing conditions. It's the ideal DSLR to take on a camping trip or simply use in the rain at a special event.

Features include a 16-megapixel CMOS sensor, 3-inch LCD, full HD 1080p video recording, anti-shake sensor and the ability to accept K-mount lenses. Pentax has also included the option to run the camera on AA batteries if you are outdoors and away from a place to charge the Li-ion battery.

Overall, the Pentax K-30 delivers high image quality, records great HD video, and is sturdy along with being weatherproof. Even if you don't spent a ton of time outdoors, the solid performance of the K-30 stacks up easily to other DSLR cameras on the market. Look for a price point around $700 for the K-30.

Pentax K-30