Leica V-Lux 20
If you're after a real treat of a camera and can afford a little more, the Leica V-Lux 20 is worth a look.
The Leica badge will earn you kudos with brand-savvy friends, while the photos it takes will earn you the admiration of many more. The 12.1Mp CCD sensor is an exceptional Leica DC-Vario wide-angle lens. The optical zoom extends to 12x, allowing for depths of field from 25 to 300mm. The built-in GPS module to automatically geotag photos is a nice and still unusual touch, while retro fans can splurge on a reassuringly traditional brown leather case for an extra £70.
• £495 inc VAT
Canon Ixus 300 HS
We've tested dozens of cameras this year, but the classiest of the lot was the Ixus 300 HS. Able to cope with a broad range of lighting conditions, the 300 HS is extremely well built and rewarding to use – although bear in mind that, at 177g, it's fairly heavy for a compact.
The Canon's image stabilisation features really come into their own when the 3.8x optical zoom is employed. Although this and the 10Mp specification are modest, the camera's superior stills and video capture features enable it to take subtly lit but well-balanced shots that are far above average. Excellent stuff.
Olympus PEN E-PL1
Olympus pulled a masterstroke when it came up with a more compact version of the Micro FourThirds lens technology and relaunched its iconic PEN camera range. The one criticism: the PEN E-P1's lack of a viewfinder. The E-PL1 fixes that issue without breaking the bank.
You get a 13.1Mp CCD with a 4/3in Live MOS sensor, a 2.7in LCD screen, art filters and special-effects modes and an integrated flash. Unusually for a fixed-lens camera, the E-PL1 can take HD video too – and apply the grainy old film and pop-art effects to these too. There's an 11-point autofocus and AF tracking, manual exposure, white balance and spot metering.
Pentax Optio H90
Another modest-sounding compact that punches above its weight, the lightweight Optio H90 has come down from its original suggested retail price of £149 to less than £100 – you may find it online for close to £80. It's therefore incredible value for a 12.1Mp camera, even before you consider its 5x optical zoom and 25mm wide-angle lens.
Multiple face recognition, the ability to take bright, crisp shots and the gentlest of learning curves for beginner users are among the Pentax's numerous assets. You can even record 720p HD video if the mood takes you. All in all, the Optio H90 is somewhat of a steal.
Nikon Coolpix S1100pj
Looking for a camera that's a little bit different, but don't want to shell out a huge amount for a clunky piece of hardware that's too large to take out and about? Then consider the Nikon Coolpix S1100pj. As well as boasting the quality optics a discerning photographer demands, this talented compact model has a built-in projector that allows you to show off your visual handiwork on the nearest convenient blank wall.
The camera itself is a 14.1Mp model with a 28-140mm wide-angle lens and a 5x optical zoom. The Nikon also has two types of image stabilisation and motion detection. A Best Shot Selector captures a burst of sequential photos so you can then choose – or allow the S1100pj to identify – the photo in which everything works best. Manual controls are limited, but there are 17 scene modes and the option to record 720p video.
Flip Ultra HD 3rd generation
Cisco has just updated its popular Flip range of ‘shoot and share' camcorders.
With an improved video capture ability of 720p at 50fps, the Ultra HD is now better equipped for taking high-quality footage. There's an 8GB model that can capture two hours of video and a 4GB version that can store one hour's worth.
Simplicity remains the name of the game, with one-touch recording, a 2in display to review footage and the famous flip-out USB port that gives the camcorder its name. FlipShare software to preview and manage your Flip clips on a PC or Mac comes preinstalled, so you don't need to worry about which computer you download clips to.
• From £149 inc VAT
Sanyo Xacti SH1
If you want a camcorder first and foremost, with the bonus of taking still photos when the whim takes you, the Sanyo Xacti dual-function cameras should be high on your list. Whereas most of the models in the range feature a pistol-grip design and a split-button Record that lets you switch between video and still photo capture, the Xacti SH1 looks more like a traditional camcorder.
You can access most of the functions you need from the back of the camcorder itself, with no need to delve into the onscreen menus. The 10Mp stills camera is accompanied by full-HD 1080i at either 30 or 60fps, and there's a 30x zoom. Build quality is bettered by the likes of the Canon Legria HF R106 (take a look at 'Group test: what's the best digital camcorder?'), but the Sanyo is the more flexible model.
• £239 inc VAT
• Sanyo Xacti SH1 review
Kodak PlaySport Zx3
Ruggedised and waterproof, the PlaySport Zx3 is the camcorder to choose if you're an outdoors type of person.
The hardy device is clad in soft rubber, so you don't need to fret about it getting the odd knock or letting the kids loose with it. If you're fond of extreme sports such as mountain biking or snowboarding, or more sedate outdoors activities such as backpacking, the karabiner clip that allows it to swing from a rucksack or ski jacket toggle will come in useful.
You can even use this 720p video camera and its 4x digital zoom when snorkelling: it's waterproof to 3m. Still 5Mp photos can be taken but switching modes mid-swim or during your descent may be tricky, as you have to delve into the settings menu. Image stabilisation and face tracking are included.
Panasonic Lumix G10
The past two years have seen Micro FourThirds cameras (with bodies and lenses smaller than ‘proper' digital SLR models) garner lots of headlines. With modest proportions – and price tags – these pioneering cameras allow amateur photographers to enjoy full manual control over their shots, without having to fork out £1,000 or more for a camera plus lens.
The Panasonic G range sits at the top of the tree. While the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 model swipes the Best Buy award in our newly rethought interchangeable-lens cameras chart (see 'Group test: what's the best digital camera?'), the less pricey G10 model boasts mass appeal: for a start, the 1280x720 video capture ability produces footage in the user-friendly Mpeg format rather than the AVCHD of its larger sibling.
You can take both Jpeg and RAW photos at up to 12.2Mp (a marginal step up from the G2, in fact). A 14-42mm lens kit is included.
Sony Bloggie Touch
If you like to share the footage you shoot, either on your own website or on Facebook or Flickr, the Bloggie is a great choice of pocket camcorder. The 2010 model distinguishes itself with its top-mounted 360-degree lens that enables you to capture the action from any angle.
The third-generation 'Touch' model, unveiled this autumn, has a flatter, sleeker design, makes the rotating lens part of the main body and boosts the internal memory from 4GB to 8GB. Both versions have 3in LCDs to preview clips and flatter the Flip (opposite page) by imitating its pop-out USB arm for PC plug-ins. However, they also trump its 720p video capture capability by offering 1080i HD.
See also: Group test: The Top 5 budget cameras
Christmas gift guide index:
- Christmas 2010 buyers' guide: all-in-one PCs
- Christmas 2010 buyers' guide: laptops
- Christmas 2010 buyers' guide: cameras
- Christmas 2010 buyers' guide: satnavs and GPS
- Christmas 2010 buyers' guide: photo printers
- Christmas 2010 buyers' guide: media players
- Christmas 2010 buyers' guide: audio accessories
- Christmas 2010 buyers' guide: keyboards & mice
- Christmas 2010 buyers' guide: gaming kit