Holiday Buyers Guide

The holiday season is upon us, and one of the hottest gifts this season will be a digital camera! In this Buyers Guide, I'm going to scope out some of my personal picks for great gifts, in specific price ranges. And if you want to spend less money, we've got some other options picked out too!

Last Updated: Sunday, December 5, 1999

$20 or less
Nothing will make a camera owner happier than some nice rechargeable batteries. After all, the number one complaint about cameras is short battery life. For my own cameras, I've ditched the alkalines and am now using NiMH (nickel metal hydride) rechargeables.
Sponsor Link: Get the GP PowerBank charger with 4 1300 mAH batteries for $18.90 from Thomas Distributing. Note that this is an overnight charger -- if you want your batteries charged in 1-2 hours, get the MAHA MH-C204F kit instead ($32.90, includes four 1400mAH batteries).

$25 - $50
Another complaint users often write in about is how long it takes to transfer your photos from the camera to the computer. The answer I usually give them: get a card reader! Since I have a Mac with USB, and my camera uses CompactFlash, I got the SanDisk USB ImageMate (see our review!). Instead of taking potentially hours to transfer those large 96Mb cards, it just takes a few minutes -- or less! The ImageMate works on MacOS systems with USB, and Windows 98 machines as well!
Sponsor Link: Get the SanDisk USB ImageMate for $49.95 from EPC-Online! If you're computer has parallel instead of USB, you can get those too! If you have SmartMedia and USB, you're going to have to pay a little more ($89.95).

Adobe PhotoDeluxeI'm not usually a fan of the software that comes with most cameras. One product I do like is Adobe PhotoDeluxe. There's a bit of a discrepancy in versions (4.0 for Windows coming end of November, 2.0 for Mac), but their feature set is pretty similar. PhotoDeluxe lets you import (quite often directly from you camera), retouch, organize, and share your photos. Plus, you can create holiday cards, calendars, t-shirts, and more. It's pretty nifty. And you can get it for less than $50 at your local retailer.

$50 - $100
Viking CF CardMemory cards are a must! Just like film in your regular camera! And they make great (although expensive) stocking stuffers! There are four different kinds out there: Floppy disk (okay, this doesn't count -- and they're almost free these days anyway!), Memory Stick (for Sony CyberShot cameras), CompactFlash, and SmartMedia.
Sponsor links:
Get three 8Mb SmartMedia cards from EPC-Online for $69.95
Get two 16Mb* SmartMedia cards from EPC-Online for $96.95
Get one 32Mb* SmartMedia card from EPC-Online for $96.95
* Please make sure your camera supports these sizes before buying!
Get one 20Mb CompactFlash card for $79.95, or one 32Mb card for $99.95 from EPC-Online. Larger capacities are available!

Another useful tool for any photographer is a good tripod. They really vary in price, from as low as $30, to hundreds of dollars (if not more). But you can definitely get a good one for under $100. You may want to head out to your local (real) camera store to see what they've got!

$100 - $300
Another hot question I always get: How can I print out my photos? The way I've been doing it for the last few years is with an Epson Stylus Photo 700 printer. Kodak PM100 by LexmarkWhile you can't get those anymore, it's been replaced by the Photo 750, and it's under $250. The printer is a 1440x720, 6 color inkjet, which can print 4x6 photos in about a minute, and 8x10's in two! Note that you need to use Epson's photo paper for best results. You can hook it up to your computer in a number of ways, including USB, serial, or parallel!

Another option doesn't even require a computer! While I'm yet to use one of these, the Kodak PM100 by Lexmark sounds very promising (photo at left). This is a four-color 1200x1200 inkjet printer with a twist. It has slots for CompactFlash (type I) and SmartMedia cards, so you just stick them in, print an index sheet, and then choose which photos you want to print, and voila! It's very much like the Epson PT-100 we reviewed a few months back, that won't ever be shipping here. The printer is only $199 at your local retailer.

Now how about a camera for goodness sake? It's hard to find anything decent in this price range, but one camera that does stand out is the Olympus D-340R, which runs just under $300. This well-regarded camera features a 1.3 megapixel CCD (1280x960), 2X digital zoom, 2" LCD display (and optical viewfinder), SmartMedia support (an 8Mb card is included), and uncompressed TIFF mode, all in a compact, stylish body.

$300 - $500
I'm running out of non-camera items, but here's one more worth considering. The IBM MicroDrive is a real hard drive, a little bigger than a postage stamp. Yes, really, I've seen it myself. You can get it in 170Mb, or 340Mb capacities. But here's the catch: It's a Type II CompactFlash card, which means only certain cameras support it. You'll want to check to make sure your camera supports it before you buy! If you can use it, you can store thousands of photos! It costs a lot more than regular CompactFlash cards ($450), but you get what you pay for!

One of the most popular cameras right now is the Olympus D-450Z, and with good reason. It's got a 1.3 Mpixel CCD (1280x960), 3X optical zoom, continuous shooting mode, great low light capabilities (up to ISO 640!), and a beautiful 2" LCD display. It comes with a 8Mb SmartMedia card (it supports 32Mb cards as well) and is selling for around $475! Be sure to read our review as well!

$500 - $700
My first two recommendations in this price range are both small, shiny cameras. Either one is an excellent choice.

On the lower end of the range we have the Fuji MX-1700, which sells for around $550. It's a 1.5 megapixel camera (1280x1024) with an amazing 3X optical zoom, in a sexy silver case that's a little larger than a deck of cards. It supports SmartMedia (an 8Mb card is included), video out, macro mode, continuous shooting, and more. The only real downside is the lack of manual controls and USB support -- read our review for more info!

That other small silver camera that I like is the Canon PowerShot S10, which sells for $699. This camera has a 2.1 Mpixel CCD (1600x1200) with a 2X optical zoom, USB support, variable ISO of 100-400, continuous shooting, and very fast processing speeds. Oh, and it supports Type II CompactFlash cards as well, so that Microdrive we mentioned works just fine in it! Read our review to find out why I liked the PowerShot S10 so much.

The other camera in this range that I'd recommend solely based on word of mouth is the Epson PhotoPC 850Z. This is a 2.3 Mpixel camera (1600x1200) that can interpolate to 1984x1488 if you'd like. It's got an SLR-style body and buckets of features, including: 3X optical zoom, manual shutter/aperture control, 10 sec audio clip per photo, USB support, Type II CompactFlash slot (8Mb card included), SolarAssist LCD, and variable ISO (100-400) -- whew! I'm hoping to get one to review, so stay tuned! It's priced at $699.

$700 - $1000
You'd better have been a good boy or girl this year if Santa's going to give you something this expensive... but heck, you can always ask for it anyway!

The first camera can actually be found for less than $700 -- a lot less, if you look hard enough. Surprisingly, it's from Casio. Yes, you read the right, the company that made such gems as the QV-10 have come up with something than can compete with the big guys. The Casio QV-2000UX (see our review) is a 2.1 megapixel camera (1600x1200) with USB support, CompactFlash Type II support, AVI movie recording, FULL aperture and shutter control (see our review for a tip on this), good night shooting, HTML output of images, and more.

The other two cameras in this group are the same two that battled it out in the spring on the DCRP: The Nikon Coolpix 950 and the Olympus C-2000Z (soon to be replaced by the C-2020Z, which I'll refer to below).

The Coolpix 950 is still the benchmark against which I measure all the other cameras I review. I still think it is unmatched in photo quality, especially macro shots, and it has every manual control imaginable. Featuring a 2.1 Mpixel CCD (1600x1200), 3X optical zoom, a swiveling lens, CompactFlash support, external flash sync, and a well-designed user interface. It is starting to show it's age though: the processing speed isn't that fast anymore, and it lacks USB and CompactFlash Type II support. Perhaps Nikon has something up their sleeve for a replacement?

I gave the Coolpix 950 a slight edge over the C-2000Z, but I think that Olympus may have turned the tables with the C-2020Z. Like the C-2000Z, this new model has 1600x1200 resolution, 3X optical zoom, full manual controls, SmartMedia support, and external flash sync. But it adds a new "Wide View" LCD screen, better controls and user interface, improved external flash control, and better power management. Another neat feature is the ability to capture video in QuickTime format, at 15-60fps, depending on the settings. One improvement that did NOT arrive was USB support, unfortunately. The C-2020Z will start shipping this month for $899.

Any of these cameras are good choices... you just need to decide which camera meets your needs!

Everything else Jeff thinks is cool (for under $2000, that is)

The Olympus C-2500L is the ultimate camera that costs less than $1500. A true SLR camera, it features a 2.5 Mpixel CCD (1712x1368), 3X optical zoom, dual CompactFlash and SmartMedia slots (it includes a 32Mb SM card), full manual controls, hot shoe for external flash, super fast processing (shoot as fast as you can!), shutter speeds as fast as 1/10000 sec! I could go on and on if I want to... it's pretty much got everything (umm.. except USB). If you've got the bucks, this is the camera.

The next big thing (TM) is definitely digital video. I wish I had enough time to cover DV camcorders too, but I just don't... at least right now. One camera that caught my eye is the Sony DCR-PC100, which wears two hats: Not only is it a MiniDV digital camcorder, but it's also a megapixel still digital camera as well! It's got all the usual goodies that Sony's digital camcorders have, like Nightshot mode, which lets you take video in near total darkness, a FireWire digital connector (Sony calls it an i.LINK connector), InfoLithium battery, and 2.5" LCD. It also takes stills at a resolution of 1152x864, and stores them on a Memory Stick. Plus you've got a 10X optical zoom on a Carl Zeiss lens! It even has a manual focus ring! Whoa! Too bad it's almost $2000! The Imaging Resource Page has a nice review of this very cool product!

When it was time to buy a TV for my new apartment, I decided on a 27" TV (for space reasons). But I wanted the best one out there in that size. I was tempted by the Sony WEGA TV's, but I was won over by the Panasonic CT-27SF36 "SuperFlat" TV. It's got all the goodies you'd want, but the best thing about it is the picture quality. I've got a Panasonic DVD player that I've got connected via S-Video, and it's amazing! The TV costs $699 and I think it was worth it. If you want a slightly cheaper model, the CT-27SF26 loses a few features, such as a 2 tuner PIP, 3D comb filter, and a few AV inputs. I think it's the same tube, though.

Last but not least, my favorite monitor. I must confess that I don't buy any other monitors than Sony Trinitron. I've been using Trinitron monitors since the beginning, and now I've moved up to the 19" Sony CPD-G400. It's got the FD Trinitron tube, which is a totally flat screen. It has to be seen to truly appreciate it. It's real hard to find in stores... I had to order it from Outpost.com, who got it to me next day -- on a Saturday! It's around $700.

That's all for the Holiday Buyers Guide! If you have any comments or suggestions, please send them along!

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