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2004 DCRP Holiday Buyers Guide  

Winter is coming soon, and the crazy holiday shopping season is once again upon us! And what does everyone want this year? A plasma TV! Well, those are too expensive for most of us, so we'll have to settle for a digital camera instead.

To help you with your shopping, I've put a list of my favorite cameras on this page. By no means is this a complete list of recommended cameras -- there are many others which are worth considering -- but I don't think a list of 10 cameras per price range is terribly helpful. This is as close as you're going to get to a specific recommendation from me, so enjoy!

For more help in choosing a camera, please visit our forums. Please do not e-mail me asking for a recommendation!

Best Cameras: Under $400

Canon PowerShot A95
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I've recommended the various A-series cameras to countless friends and family members. The A95 is the best one of them all, with a 5 Megapixel CCD, rotating LCD display, full manual controls, and great photo quality. With several automatic modes, it's great for beginners, but it has full manual controls for those who want to delve into more serious photography. The PowerShot A75 and A85 are similar, with lower resolution CCDs and a fixed LCD.

Canon PowerShot S1 IS
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The S1 is the closest thing to a combination digital camera and camcorder that I've seen. It takes good 3.2 Megapixel photos and can record very high quality VGA videos as well. You can even use the 10X zoom lens during filming! The S1 has full manual controls and performs well. The rather small LCD display can flip-out and rotate. This is another one of those cameras that I'd avoid if you do a lot of shooting in dim lighting.

Canon PowerShot SD300 Digital ELPH
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When you want a small, fast camera, the SD300 (and its 3.2 Megapixel sibling, the SD200) is a great choice. It's totally point-and-shoot, but it's super-fast, has a large LCD, and a great VGA movie mode. Image quality isn't as good as larger cameras, but for web photos and prints as large as 8 x 10 it's great choice.

Fuji FinePix E550
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If it's speed and big prints you're after, the Fuji E550 is quite a camera. Just about every function is rocket-fast on the E550, from startup to shutter lag to playback. The camera has a 4X zoom, instead of the usual 3X. The 2-inch LCD is also larger than normal. With 6.3 million pixels, the E550 can make beautiful prints as large as 11 x 17 (or perhaps larger). Be warned that this camera isn't great in low light situations, so I'd stay away from it if you do a lot of shooting in the dark. Also, the xD picture cards used by the camera tend to be on the expensive side.

Kodak EasyShare DX7440
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If it's good enough for my mom, it's good enough for you. This camera takes pretty good pictures for 8 x 10 inch prints and smaller. It has a larger than average 2.2" LCD that's visible in bright outdoor light as well as in dim lighting. It's super-easy to use -- sharing your photos doesn't get any easier than this. Shooting performance -- most noticeably autofocus performance -- is excellent. Like the E550, the 7440 has a 4X zoom lens.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ3
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The FZ3 is arguably the best lower-end ultra zoom camera. It features a 12X zoom Leica lens with image stabilization, a 3 Megapixel CCD, manual controls, and great picture quality.

Best Cameras: $400 - $650

Kodak EasyShare DX7590
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For ultra zoom power with an easy-to-use interface, check out the Kodak EasyShare DX7590. It takes good quality 5 Megapixel photos, focuses faster than almost any other camera, and has a large 2.2" LCD display that's visible in all lighting conditions. Other features include a 10X zoom lens, support for conversion lenses, and the great EasyShare system for sharing your photos.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ20
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This camera is, in my opinion, the finest ultra zoom camera on the market. It features a fast 12X Leica lens with image stabilization, full manual controls, a hot shoe, great performance, and superb photo quality. It comes in black or silver bodies. If the 12X zoom isn't enough, you can even add conversion lenses!

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T1
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For those who want a very small camera with tons of resolution, you'll love the T1. Both the camera and its memory cards are expensive, but that's the price you pay for portability. Another tradeoff is the weak flash, redeye, and photo quality that's not as good as a larger camera. The T1's performance is very robust and the 2.5" LCD is large and visible in almost any lighting.

Those of you outside of the U.S. should check out the DSC-T3 instead.

Best Cameras: $650 - $1000

Canon Digital Rebel (EOS-300D)
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The Rebel is a great "entry-level" digital SLR. While not as featured-packed or well-constructed as more expensive models, it takes excellent pictures, has full manual controls, and superb performance. As with all D-SLRs, it's expandable with plenty of lenses and flashes to choose from.

Canon PowerShot G6
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An excellent fixed-lens camera with a 7 Megapixel CCD, 4X zoom lens, full manual controls, rotating 2-inch LCD, and support for conversion lenses and an external flash. Photo quality is excellent, though the movie mode leaves something to be desired.

Nikon Coolpix 8400
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While I haven't posted my final review of this camera yet, initial impressions are positive. The unique feature about the 8400 is its 24 - 85 mm lens, which is wider than anything on the market. The 8400's build quality is excellent, and it supports conversion lenses and an external flash. I expect image quality to be similar to the Coolpix 8700 from last year -- very good.

Olympus C-8080 Wide Zoom
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My favorite 8 Megapixel camera from last year doesn't have as much zoom power (5X zoom starting at 28 mm) as the other models in that class, but it takes the best pictures and has loads of nice features. It has a hybrid focusing system plus an AF-assist lamp for great focusing in any situation. It also features tons of manual controls, a hot shoe, support for conversion lenses, and dual memory card slots.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-V3
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A great 7 Megapixel, 4X zoom camera that has one annoying flaw: in bright outdoor light it seems to prefer small apertures (high F-numbers) which greatly reduces photo quality. If you keep an eye on the aperture in these situations you'll get excellent pictures. Other features include manual controls, a hot shoe, support for conversion lenses, a great laser focusing system, zero-light shooting capability, and a VGA movie mode.

Best Cameras: Over $1000

Canon EOS-20D
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This is the best digital SLR for under $3000 that I've reviewed. It takes excellent 8 Megapixel photos, the burst modes are superb, and build quality is top-notch. Like the Digital Rebel, the 20D can use Canon EF or EF-S lenses.

Nikon D70
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The D70 sits in between the Canon Digital Rebel and 20D. It's an all-around better camera than the Rebel, with superior build quality and more manual controls. Image quality is slightly worse than the Canons (I'd say "excellent minus") due to occasional moiré problems, but overall you'll get great pictures and performance from this 6 Megapixel D-SLR. The D70 can be purchased without a lens for under $1000.