What to buy for the digital-photography enthusiast this Christmas.
Christmas 2009 buyers' guide: For photo fans...
One of the most welcome gifts you can give is a digital camera; who doesn't love taking photos and having them as mementos?
Digital cameras come in a vast array of prices - a reasonable entry-level 7Mp model with flash, zoom and a large screen for composition can be had for as little as £50.
The models we outline below offer a little something extra, however, whether it's the ability to shoot under water, take both macro close-ups and wide-angle landscape shots or some of the manual controls and lens interchange options found on much pricier single lens reflex (SLR) models. We've also outlined some stylish photo accessories.
The Fujifilm FinePix S1500 is what's known as a ‘bridge' camera. It can take 10Mp photos and is a good compromise between the advanced control of a digital SLR model - more like old-style film cameras - and a lightweight point-and-shoot compact.
At £149 inc VAT from amazon.co.uk, its price makes it very appealing too - so much so that the web retailer has tipped it as one of this year's biggest Christmas sellers.
As with most models, there's an Auto mode that can be used while you get to know the camera, plus Aperture and Shutter Priority modes that can be set manually.
The 2.7in LCD display is a good size for composing and reviewing shots, while two methods of image stabilisation combat blur and camera shake. Face-detection and red-eye removal features are also included.
Christmas 2009 buyers' guide: Touch tag
If style and the latest touchscreen technology are high on the agenda, the Canon Ixus 200 IS compact camera is an excellent choice. Canon's first touchscreen compact, the 200 IS has a 3in display on which images auto-rotate for optimum viewing. It's a 12.1Mp model with a 24mm wide-angle lens and 5x optical zoom.
A Smart Auto mode selects the appropriate scene mode for the lighting conditions, and Canon includes the usual face-detection and image-stabilisation features. By tapping a face on the screen you can specify a person as the object to focus on. Tilting the camera allows you to move through and review the photos you've shot; the touchscreen function can also be used to protect or erase photos you've taken.
The camera is slim enough to slip into a pocket or handbag and comes in a choice of four colours, including gold and powder blue.
If you're buying a gift for a camera lover who wants a superior zoom and the ability to take wide-angle landscape shots, the Ricoh CX2 is a solid choice. Its 9.3Mp sensor captures plenty of detail while the 10.7x zoom is a huge attraction. You can take wide-angle shots of famous landmarks or a close-up of a bird atop a distant statue.
The CX2 packs a 10.7x zoom lens into a body that's 6cm tall, 3cm thick and just over 10cm wide. It improves on the Ricoh CX1 with an extra 100mm of zoom and continuous autofocus as well as face recognition.
The largely automatic camera won't let you adjust the aperture and shutter values but you can change the ISO speed, white balance and exposure compensation and make use of a manual focus. The camera features a 3in colour display and 12 scene modes, and will also capture 640x480 video - all for £299 inc VAT.
Retro fans, meanwhile, will love the Olympus PEN E-P1. Based on a similar design to the original 35mm PEN film camera, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009, the EP-1 is a quirky but very likeable microFourThirds model that uses a smaller version of the interchangeable lenses found on digital SLRs.
The 12.3Mp EP-1 is larger than a standard compact digital camera and can be used with a standard FourThirds lens via an adaptor ring. It comes in a choice of black, black-and-silver or white and features a large notched dial on the top left of the camera that allows users to select a scene mode.
The different modes ensure that you can have as much or as little control over the camera as they want. Priced at £599 inc VAT, the Olympus EP-1 is cheaper than many digital SLRs as well.
Christmas 2009 buyers' guide: Swashbuckling snappers
Adventurous types no longer need to lug around hefty cameras with oversized waterproof housings if they want to record their high jinks for posterity: rugged and waterproof cameras are now available in compact forms.
We've reviewed the 12Mp Olympus mju Tough 6010 - an exceptionally solid, 170g freezeproof model that's waterproof down to 3m or 40m if you care to add an optional diving case.
Alternatively, GE has released an almost dainty waterproof model that weighs a scant 125g. Also a 12Mp model, the GE G3WP has a 4x optical zoom and a useful pan capture panoramic feature that automatically takes shots when they are correctly aligned. Usefully, the G3 comes in three bright colours so you won't lose track of it underwater.
For sheer aspiration value we couldn't fail to mention the Canon EOS 7D. This £1,999 high-end digital SLR uses a Digic4 processor and has a top ISO setting of 12,800 - most digital SLRs have ratings of 3,200 or 6,400.
The 18Mp EOS 7D has 19 separate autofocus points. Images can be previewed on its 3in transmissive LCD Intelligent Viewfinder with a 160-degree viewing angle. It also sports an integrated flash that can be set to automatic or manually triggered. The camera itself has a startup time of around 0.2 secs and is able to shoot full-HD video at 1920x1080 resolution and 30fps.
Christmas 2009 buyers' guide: Digital photo accessories
Many digital photographers will already have a camera they cherish, in which case a digital photo frame to show off their handiwork is bound to please. Some frames allow Bluetooth or Wi-Fi transfer, but in most cases it's simpler to insert a memory card containing favourite shots. Images can be displayed as a slideshow or a single stand-out photo can be chosen for display - the backlighting will ensure it really gets noticed.
The screen resolution and brightness of digital photo frames varies greatly, but Sony's 8in DPF-D80 is a particularly good example. Consisting of a matt black 800x600 screen with backlit, touch-sensitive buttons, it supports most media card types and also has a 256MB internal memory.
A small remote control saves it from being smeared with fingerprints. A calendar and clock function make it useful in locations such as a bedroom, kitchen or study. Other photo frames play music and video, but for our money, it's all about the screen. At £119 inc VAT, this is a superior choice.
Another option is to make gifts from your photo collection, or buy a gift card so your friends can create their own prints at an online lab such as Photobox (photobox.co.uk) or even our very own PC Advisor photo printing service. If you'd sooner give the gift of DIY photo printing, HP's latest Photosmart touchscreen printers are among the best we've seen.
The £199 HP Photosmart Premium is the firm's top-of-the range model. It has an 8.9cm touchscreen display and built-in Wi-Fi, and can make basic photo edits before printing. Photos stored online at HP's Snapfish photo-sharing site can be printed on the Photosmart models, while you can also insert a memory card, scan in an image or send one via Bluetooth.
Style-conscious photo fans keen to safely store their precious collection of shots will no doubt appreciate the LaCie Starck Mobile Hard Drive. Primed with a 320GB or 500GB hard drive, it's encased in solid aluminium and is both sleek and robust. Photos are transferred to it by USB 2.0 - there's a discreet cable and connector at the back that's hidden from view. The Starck comes with software to ensure precious photo collections are automatically backed up. From £85 inc VAT, it's one of the most understated but useful presents you could give.
Budding photographers will also thank you for a portable tripod - the eye-catching Gorilla pod (£17 inc VAT, firebox.com) wraps around sturdy objects to leave the camera operator free to set up the perfect composition. What's great about the Gorilla pod is that it's flexible enough to fit into a few spare inches of space in a bag and can be simply bent into shape rather than having awkward legs that need to be individually adjusted in length. Ideal for travellers, it weighs only a few grams.
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