The holiday season is here again, and for many of you that means considering the gift of a camera and/or equipment. It is unfortunate that the landscape of this industry has changed quite significantly, and not necessarily for the better for retailer or consumer! The advantages of shopping at a local store are masked as camera manufacturers allow big-box chain stores to break minimum advertised price (MAP) assignments on products. Additionally, many camera manufacturers seem to have taken a step back as the newer models are built to cheaper specifications, they design products so they are ‘replaceable’, and are entrenched in a never-ending resolution race! In light of all of this, I have picked out for you the best photo purchases available for the 2008 Holiday Season. Here are my suggestions for the best photo equipment in four different price categories:
Less than $100
Card reader – the absolute essential for image transfer to the computer. Don’t fuss with the USB cable that comes in the camera box. This is the FASTEST & SAFEST way to transfer your images.
Media Tube – a device exclusively from Promaster that allows one to insert a memory card into the unit and playback images on your HD television in stunning high-definition quality. Accepts all types of memory cards and allows for slideshow setup with audio capability.
Digital Picture Frame – a great idea especially for relatives who may not be too computer savvy to retrieve photos from e-mail. Buy them a digital picture frame, load images onto a memory card and set it up for them. Screens comes in various sizes. Make sure to get one that takes a memory card and doesn’t rely on built-in memory as they operate much faster. The best brands are Sunpak, eMotion and Digital Foci.
Filters – Every lens should have a UV filter. You will hear people say having a cheap piece of glass in front of your nice lens cuts down on image quality. As a working pro, I admit this – it does! However, I am willing to live with the slight loss in image quality in order to protect the number of $1000+ lenses I own. Just make sure you purchase a filter that is designed for digital. They cut down on the glare, and have much better light transmission for a digital sensor than a filter that was designed for film. Additionally, circular polarizing filters are nice for travel and landscape photography. Once again, make sure you purchase one for use on a digital camera. There really is a difference!
Extra Battery – kind of a no-brainer in most situations. Sure, your camera battery might be rechargeable, but what if your battery dies while you are out for the day. This way you’ll have a spare one in your bag.
Remote release cable – essential for tripod work when you are shooting landscapes or macro. Prevents you from having to physically touch the camera to take a picture. You’d be surprised how much movement your lightest touch can add to the camera!
Less than $500
Panasonic TZ-5 – 9.1mp, 10x optical zoom, 28mm wide angle, image stabilizer, 3″ screen, Leica lens, small package. ’nuff said. The predecessor to this camera, the TZ-3 was hands down the #1 seller Holiday 2007. A gorgeous unit. It does however begin to fail in indoor and lower light situations. Purse-sized. Buy it here for $225 after Instant Rebate
Panasonic LX-3 – the more reasonably priced version of the Leica D-Lux 4. The thing I love most about this camera is its lens. It has a range of 24-60mm. I love shooting at wider angles and this camera is perfect for getting great travel landscape photos and for walking around the city for the day. Gorgeous screen, fast operation, pop-up flash (with option for adding an external flash), and a lens that can open to an aperture of f2.0! Leica and Panasonic have finally come up with a solution for lower-light shooting and this camera is great. Purse-sized. Buy it here for $419.99
Canon SD880 IS – Canon’s ever-famous Digital Elph line-up continues with the very good SD 880. It has a 4x wide zoom, image stabilizer, bright 3″ screen, and it is quite responsive. It does, however feature the same awkward and clumsy controls that plague all Canon cameras. Purse-sized. B&H has it in-stock for $246
Canon G10 – The image quality of the Canon G10 is quite impressive for it being a point & shoot camera. Cameras with smaller sensors are plagued with noise issues due to the lack of information collected by the sensor, and even though this unit still suffers from those issues, the quality of the lens helps make up for those deficiencies. The G10 supports RAW file capture and allows for possibility of manual exposure adjustment. A very capable smaller camera for the person who normally uses a single-lens reflex. Will require separate camera case. B&H has it in-stock for $429
Olympus 1020 – The panorama photo capability of this camera is quite impressive. Add the 7x optical zoom and the image stabilizer to this package and for its size it is a quite capable unit. This camera has three panorama photo modes, one of which it will automatically complete the panorama for you and stitch the images together in camera. You need to see it to believe it! Purse-sized.
Tamron 17-50 f2.8 – This lens, for APS-C sized sensors only, is a great value. For $449 it offers the same low-light performance as the Canon and Nikon lenses which sell for 2.5x as much! A good normal zoom with the capability of opening to f2.8 constantly throughout the zoom range is tough to find, especially at this price. Here’s what you’re lacking when you spend only $449: weather-proofing, build quality, speed of autofocus. If you wanted to pixel-peep and get really picky, you’ll see less chromatic aberrations in the Nikon & Canon lenses and better image contrast. It all depends on how much you want to and can spend. Did I mention the Nikon and Canon lenses weigh 2.5lbs? GET IT HERE for the lens mount you need.
Tripod (in general) – I put this in the under $500 category because you really can’t purchase a good tripod for less than $100. Some really great tripods even cost more than $500. Tripods will always be a personal choice based on size, weight, versatility and of course price. This is here just to let you know that a tripod is a must for any serious photographer. Brands to stick with include Manfrotto, Gitzo, and Velbon.
Adobe Lightroom software – Hands down the best RAW workflow software available. Those interested in this software already know what its about. No more explanation necessary. If you do have questions, e-mail me – I’d be happy to help you out.
Trek-Tech products – a new, relatively small company that makes combination monopod, tripod, and walking stick equipment. They have a variety of interesting products that might suit your needs. Check them out here.
Less than $1000
Olympus E-520 – Possibly the best entry-level DSLR on the market. Far better than any iteration of Canon Rebel. The Olympus features in-camera stabilization, which is better for the average person over the special IS & VR lenses from Canon and Nikon. Is a stabilizer in the lens better? Sure…if you are using a lens that is worthy of it. Any of the “kit lenses” that come with the cameras just don’t have the same technology as the higher end stabilized lenses. Having said this, the better lenses would be wasted on a D40 or Canon Rebel. So for the entry level user, this Olympus camera is a dream. 2-lens outfit is the best deal!
Nikon D90 – The D80 successor has a few nice improvements. It has the sensor from its big brother the D300, which allows for a greater dynamic range, higher-ISO capability, and better image processing (if you’re shooting JPGs). It also incorporates a new video technology which I still haven’t made up my mind on yet. The video quality isn’t really that good. They say it is HD, but it only meets the minimum requirements for HD – 720p with compression from Adobe. Its essentially a high resolution motion-JPG file. Very jittery. The Canon 5D II seen below has better video capabilities, but still cannot surpass that of a good HD camcorder. I think its silly to converge the technologies, but some good arguments have been made in the industry and I respect those opinions. B&H has it in-stock at $879 for body-only
Nikon Coolscan 5000 – This is a fantastic unit for scanning and archiving your slides and negatives before they deteriorate and are gone forever! This machine is relatively fast, but more importantly provides an image that is not only printable but will allow for enlargements. Don’t waste your money on the $99 slide and negative scanners you see in the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. They’re junk! This item is hard to find but B&H usually has it.
Nikon 70-300 VR – A very reasonably priced, fast autofocusing telephoto zoom lens with vibration reduction. Does not have wide aperture capability, but greatly reduces hand-shake at slower shutter speeds. In-stock @ B&H
Tamron 10-24mm – A great new lens from Tamron for both Canon and Nikon mount designed for APS-C sized digtal cameras. Little to no exaggerated distortion at the wide and keeps edges relatively sharp, even wide open at f3.5. A good alternative to keep in mind against the Canon & Nikon super-wide lenses.
Epson R1900 – Now I am not partial to glossy prints, but even I’m amazed at what this machine can do. I mainly print on the Epson 4880, but I purchased an R1900 to offer glossy printing capabilities of up to 13×19 inches for my clients. $499 minus $150 in mail-in rebates!
Pentax K20D – Pentax has finally found the proper price point for their mid-range DSLR – $999. This unit is 14MP, weather-sealed, 3200 ISO capability and accepts any Pentax mount lens ever made. It also allows all of those lenses to be image stabilized because Pentax puts stabilization in the body. Match this body with some of Pentax’s newest lenses (16-50 f2.8, 50-150 f2.8, and the 300 f2.8) and you can get some really great images.
Panasonic G1 – An interesting unit that I at first had doubts about. It is almost half the size of a Nikon D40, yet is a digital SLR-styled camera. It’s not a real SLR as there is no mirror (reflex), but rather the sensor projects a live-view image directly to the rear LCD screen. Image stabilization built-in, decent response time. This camera is for the person who wants (close to) the speed of an SLR, but doesn’t want the size that comes along with it. This camera will quite easily slip into a woman’s purse or a gentleman’s attache bag for walking around during the day.
Adobe Photoshop CS4 – Filled with some new great features and more sophisticated RAW processing. See my full preview article here.
Canon 5D II – The camera that many people have been waiting for. Some are shipping this week. If you are lucky enough to be one of the 150 people getting them in the US this week – nice! I’ll have one this week for evaluation. Hopefully I can post my full review soon.
Nikon D700 – I don’t know why Nikon waited so long…and now Canon’s 5D II goes for the same price with twice the resolution! Oh no – what’s Nikon to do! Well, since 12MP is good enough for anybody buying a camera of this sort, and the 5D’s high-iso capabilities can’t touch the D700, and Nikon’s button layout and controls are just more intuitive and ergonomically laid out than Canon…I don’t think Nikon has too much to worry about.
Nikon 70-200 VR – A great, fantastically fast, wonderfully sharp, image stabilized piece of glass. The end.
Canon 70-200 IS – See above. Oh yea, for whichever system you own (Nikon or Canon), you should just buy one.