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Photography Gift Guide for Casual and Action Photographers

These cameras, camera bags, and accessories are ideal for casual snapshooters and photographers who love taking action shots.

The holidays are a special time of year--not just for the food, family, and togetherness, but because it's when photographers can look forward to getting goodies like new cameras, gadgets, and software. Last week I kicked off my annual holiday gift guide by suggesting some goodies for photographers who are trying to stretch their skills.

This week, let's look at some cameras and other gift ideas for two kinds of photographers: fans of action photography, and what I sometimes call the "accidental photographer,” folks who like to carry an ultracompact point-and-shoot camera and take casual photos while on the go.

Come back next week for the final entry in this year's gift guide, which will focus on landscape, wildlife, and portrait photography goodies.

But first, something fun for any camera lover on your list...

Coffee Mugs, Pillows, and Speakers for Photo Geeks

Goofy? Absolutely. But if you know someone who loves photography--and doesn't mind letting people know--then you should check out goodies like mugs that come in the shape of a Nikon lens. For $30, you can get a mug that looks almost exactly like a 24-70mm zoom lens (in fact, it actually zooms). Or, if your giftee is more of a Canon aficionado, you can get a Canon 70-200mm mug for $24.

If the person on your list already has plenty of travel mugs, how about a $19 speaker that looks like an authentic Nikon lens?

Or if that’s just too serious, perhaps a lens-shaped pillow? Plushtopgraphy.com offers a slew of pillows in the style of a number of Canon and Nikon lenses. They're not quite as authentic as the mugs and speakers, but they're a lot softer.

Full disclosure: I really, really want the Nikon lens mug and pillow. In fact, I hope someone in my family is reading this right now.

Photo Gifts for On-the-Go Photographers

Almost everyone I know seems to be something of an accidental photographer--someone who carries a small camera or smartphone everywhere and takes lots of casual snapshots. These folks are a new breed, making photography a seamless part of their day, like eating breakfast and surfing Facebook.

Tiny cameras. If I was shopping for an on-the-go photographer, I'd look for an ultracompact model that balanced fun features and good image quality. But I wouldn't get hung up on manual control or expandability; these cameras are more of a lifestyle choice.

For example, check out the $250 Canon PowerShot Elph 300 HS. An incredibly thin , compact camera, this Elph boasts an impressive 12-megapixel sensor, a 5X optical zoom, and a slew of Smart Auto and Scene modes for shooting a wide variety of situations without spending much time on settings or exposure control.

Or consider the Sony Cyber-shot TX10. Available for about $260, this camera has a staggering 16 megapixels and a 4X optical zoom, but I think the camera's real appeal is it's fashion statement: It comes in colors like silver, blue, green, and even pink. Throw in the ability to shoot 3D photos, and it’s a fun little camera.

Then again, I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge that these days, most of us do a lot of our accidental photography with our smartphones. The top contenders are the Apple iPhone 4S and a bevy of impressive Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S II, T-Mobile MyTouch 4G Slide, and the Motorola Droid Bionic. All of these cameras offer similar 8-megapixel image sensors and the ability to shoot HD video, so PCWorld recently tested them head to head and compared their image quality. Read "Smartphone Camera Battle: iPhone 4S vs. the Android Elite" to see which one came out on top.

Easy Photo Downloads With Eye-Fi. Anyone who takes a lot of casual photos probably dreads the frequent process of transferring photos to the PC. You either connect your camera to your PC via USB, or remove the memory card and insert it into the computer's media card reader. Either way, it's inconvenient. Give your favorite photographer an easier way to do this, with one of my favorite accessories of all time: an Eye-Fi memory card. It's a standard Secure Digital card that has integrated Wi-Fi; whenever the camera is turned on and in range of a PC (running, of course), it automatically copies the photos on the camera to the computer.

Eye-Fi cards come in 4GB and 8GB capacity. The software can be configured to automatically post photos to an online service like Facebook or Flickr. Prices range from $49 for the 4GB Connect X2 to $149 for the 8GB Pro X2.

Photo Gifts for the Action Photographer

Action-friendly cameras. If the person on your holiday list shoots action--like sports, racing, or just a bunch of active kids—they need a camera that offers features like a long zoom to pull in distant action and fast burst modes that can grab a series of photos to help get the perfect shot.

At the top of my list is the $250 Casio High-Speed Exilim EX-ZR100, a pocket-sized 12-megapixel camera with a 12.5X optical zoom that has innovative shooting modes like High Speed Best Selection mode, in which the camera automatically shoots a series of images in rapid succession, and then selects the best one. For sports and other fast-moving situations, there is a high-speed mode that captures up to 40 frames per second. It also has a high-speed movie mode that captures silent clips at up to 1000 frames per second, which play back in super-slow motion.

Or consider the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX9V, available for under $300. This camera cranks out 10 frames per second using its 16-megapixel sensor and 16X optical zoom. It also has integrated GPS for geotagging photos, the ability to shoot in 3D, and a frame rate that hits 60 frames per second at lower resolutions.

A readily accessible camera bag. The fastest camera on earth won't do any good if you can't get to it in time, or if you struggle with your accessories. If your giftee has a larger point-and-shoot or a digital SLR, I've got the perfect case: the Photo Sport 200AW, from Lowepro.This $200 case--which is also great for outdoorsy photography, like hiking trips and landscape shooting--has a dual-compartment design with separate compartments for camera and personal gear, so you need to carry only one bag for all of your stuff. The camera area is padded and secure, and there are plenty of side and secondary compartments for cell phones and other accessories.

Tripod alternatives. I love tripods, but they aren't always practical for action shooting. Your favorite action photographer will probably appreciate the Bushhawk Bipod. This $99 mount lets you stabilize your camera by holding it on your shoulder, or you can use the foldable bipod legs to stabilize longer lenses.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 800 by 600 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: "Sunrise at the Lighthouse" by Larry Greb, North Babylon, New York

Larry writes: "Here is a great moment that I caught around sunset near my house. I took the photo at Fire Island National Seashore at the Fire Island Lighthouse."

This week's runner-up: "Butterfly Buffet" by John N. Eldridge, Lake Placid, New York

John writes: "Using my Canon PowerShot G11, I held my finger halfway down on the shutter button and waited for the right moment. When the butterfly moved between plants, I pushed the button all the way down."

To see last month's winners, visit our October Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

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