Welcome to the 2013 edition of Photography Bay’s Photo Gear Holiday Gift Guide.

This guide is set up in categories that describe the general type of cameras – be it a price range or general features.  You can scan the headings until you find the right category for you and your special photographer.

iPhone / Smartphone Camera Accessories

Let’s face it, a lot of casual photography takes place on the mighty iPhone nowadays. Truth be told, the iPhone can take some incredible images and there some very cool accessories to make iPhoneography worth our while.

1. Impossible Project Instant Lab – It’s a instant photo printer for iPhone 4 through iPhone 5S. It got its legs through Kickstarter; however, the Instant Lab is now available in limited quantities for $299. It’s pricey, but for the serious iPhone photographer, it’s a very cool gift.

2. Joby MPod Mini Stand for Smartphones – Very compact tripod that adapts to iPhone and other smartphones no matter the size.

3. iPro Lens by Schneider Optics – A rather serious lens kit for the iPhone 5 that includes a case, and a handle that doubles as a tripod mount.

4. Olloclip 3-in-1 Lens System – A cheaper and more compact lens kit option for the iPhone 5.

5, Glidecam iGlide Stabilizer – For getting smooth, Steadicam-style footage with your iPhone 5. (requires the adapter in the accessories section).

Basic Cameras

Each is simple enough to pull out of the box and use rather intuitively.  Additionally, they each have sufficient expansion capabilities to allow a budding photographer to grow and learn with their new camera. Target prices are under $100.

1. Canon PowerShot A2500 – 16MP, 5x zoom lens (28-140mm equivalent), 720p video, 2.7″ LCD – Available in black, silver and red.

2. Sony Cyber-shot W710 – 16.1MP, 5x optical zoom lens (28-140mm equivalent), 720p video, 2.7″ LCD, Sony’s signature Sweep Panorama mode – Available in black, silver and pink.

3. Nikon Coolpix L28 – 20.1MP, 5x optical zoom lens (26-130mm equivalent), 720p video, 3″ LCD, AA battery power. Available in black, silver and red.

Higher Quality Compact Cameras

These cameras are a few steps above the budget-oriented bunch so you get a lot out of a camera that will fit in your pocket comfortably. Folks who want to have high technology accessible in their purse or pants (but not in their way) will get the most out of these compact cameras.

There are a lot of  compact cameras out on the market today; however, some have poor image quality.  While none of these cameras will match a DSLR in image quality, these three cameras will do their part in getting great snap shots at your New Year’s Eve party and everyday life for the rest of the year.

1. Sony Cyber-shot RX100 – Features a large 1″ sensor with 20MP. Probably the best compact camera on the market (along with its newer sibling the RX100 II). Captures 1080p HD video, crazy low-light capability and has a nice 3-inch LCD and bright f/1.8 lens aperture.

2. Fuji XQ1 – It’s still new and full reviews aren’t out; however, early indications suggest this will be another real winner. Not as big of a sensor as found in the Sony RX100, but it uses Fuji’s proprietary X-Trans sensor, which has been excellent in all earlier iterations. Fuji fans probably have a real winner with the XQ1.

3. Panasonic Lumix ZS30 – Not as expensive as the Sony or Fuji cameras mentioned above, but still highly regarded for its capability in the compact camera segment. Features a 18.1MP sensor, 20MP zoom lens (24-480mm equivalent), 1080p video capture, built-in WiFi and GPS.

Advanced Point & Shoot Camera

The advanced point & shoot camera category is a step below DSLRs in terms of image quality and features, but a step above the rest of the compact cameras in terms of features offered or overall image quality capability.

Each of the following cameras offers a hot shoe for an external flash (like the Canon 270EX II, Nikon SB-400 or the Sony HVL-F20M) and can capture images in RAW format.

These advanced compacts make great step-ups from a point and shoot camera, or as an everyday camera for DSLR users.

1. Sony RX10 – This is basically like the Sony RX100 mentioned above except it has a massive 24-200mm equivalent lens with a constant f/2.8 aperture throughout the zoom range. Availability is late-November and it’s not cheap at $1300. For folks that want a do-it-all with a great lens, the Sony RX10 is something to consider if it fits your budget. You can read more about it in my Sony RX10 Hands-On post.

2. Sony RX100 II – Somewhat of a step-up from the RX100 in terms of price and features. The RX100 II adds a multi-interface shoe for a flash, external viewfinder or microphone. It also has a 20MP sensor that is more sensitive in low light than the RX100.

3. Canon PowerShot G16 – A cheaper option than the above Sony options, but also has a smaller sensor. The 12.1MP sensor remains conservative, but still effective with RAW image capability and 1080/60p video capture available.

4. Nikon Coolpix P7800 – Nikon’s counterpart to the Canon G16 continues the long line of P7*00 series that prove to get better and better with each generation. Nikon shooters looking for an advanced compact to use with their accessories can stop here.

Entry Level DSLRs

Any of the below cameras would make a great first digital single lens reflex (”DSLR”) camera for anyone wanting to get more out of their photography.

These DSLRs are situated well below the $1000 price point and some can be found in the $400 to $600 range with a kit lens included.

1. Canon Rebel SL1 – It’s very compact, yet very powerful. I highly recommend the equally compact Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens to go with the SL1. It’s a great combo together.

2. Nikon D3200 – It’s at the bottom of Nikon’s DSLR range, but still packs a powerful 24.2MP sensor and 1080p video performance. A solid little camera.

3. Nikon D5300 – Nikon’s newest entry-level offering. Improved autofocus and advanced features from the D3200. It’s Nikon’s first DSLR (at any price) to feature 1080/60p video capture.

4. Canon Rebel T5i or Rebel T4i (if you can find one) – Either camera is great. If you want the latest and greatest, go with the T5i (the touchscreen is fantastic). If you are looking to save a few bucks, the T4i delivers the identical image quality and only misses out on minor differences. You might still find some deals on ebay for the Rebel T4i; however, check out the seller’s ratings closely before you commit to buy there.

Mirrorless Cameras

Mirrorless cameras don’t have the reflex mirror that puts the “R” in DSLR; however, they still offer the interchangeable lenses and are generally regarded as more user-friendly that DSLRs. These are the cameras that I recommend to most casual photographers who want to “move up” to a better camera. That said, this segment is no longer the “compromise” from DSLRs that we’ve sort of suggested in years past.

These cameras offer image quality that is as good as or better than their DSLR counterparts and, at the same time, offer a more “point and shoot” feel.

1. Sony A7 or A7R – This is the Cadillac of mirrorless cameras. The A7 (at $1700) and the A7R (at $2300) are full frame mirrorless cameras with excellent image quality and fast AF systems. Sony, again, innovates big and both of these cameras should arrive in early December. For more, see my Sony A7 and A7R Hands-On.

2. Sony NEX-7 – The previous flagship has been around for a while now; however, that doesn’t mean you should count it out. The NEX-7 is still an excellent camera and can be found on sale quite often. Keep your eyes peeled on the Black Friday and Cyber Monday Camera Deals for the best deals when they pop up.

3. Fuji X-E2 – Fuji solved the sluggish performance of the X-E1 when it released the X-E2. It is a nice retro design and powerful camera with its 16.3MP X-Trans II sensor.

4. Fuji X-A1 – A more affordable version of the Fuji X-series, the X-A1 sticks with a standard 16.3MP sensor but still delivers on performance and speed. You’ll give up a viewfinder, but it’s about half the cost of the X-E2.

5. Sony A3000 – It has the look and feel of a DSLR, but comes in a low price point of $398 with a lens. At this price point, it’s hard to resist moving up from a cheaper point and shoot option and getting in on Sony’s great E-mount system and a 20.1MP APS-C sensor that also captures 1080p video.

6. Micro Four Thirds Systems - There are plenty more “good” options out there, especially in the Micro Four Thirds category. All have their pros and cons. Some quick suggestions include the excellent Olympus OM-D E-M5 and E-M1, as well as the Panasonic Lumix GX7 and GH3.

Advanced Amateur DSLRs

Want something a little bigger and better for yourself or the object of your affection?  These DSLRs will make any serious photographer drool.  The “choice” between Canon and Nikon becomes a little more relevant at this stage in the game.

For the first time, we have “full frame” cameras in this category with the Canon 6D and Nikon D610, both of which are around the $2000 price point.

All of these cameras feature HD video recording capabilities.  While this is a cool feature and some serious enthusiasts are doing amazing work with the video in these things, it’s not really a casual use feature.  Unless your giftee is a budding filmmaker, don’t get bogged down in the differences over the video specs.

1. Nikon D610 – Nikon released the D610 earlier this year to replace the D600, which was plagued with a defective shutter mechanism. All early reports suggest the D610 performs well and has remedied this shutter issue. Accordingly, the D610 should be a strong candidate for those looking at more advanced DSLRs thanks to its full frame 24.3MP sensor.

2. Canon 6D - 20.2MP full frame sensor, optional 24-105mm f/4L stabilized kit lens, 1080p HD video capture. The 6D is Canon’s full frame, budget shooter.

3. Canon 70D – An excellent enthusiast DSLR with great autofocus during video capture. It replaces the 7D on my recommended list due to the AF advancements over the 60D. Loads of joy in this DSLR for the serious photographer.

4. Nikon D7100 – Nikon hasn’t updated the D300s with the D400 we’ve been waiting for and, while the D7100 doesn’t quite serve as a replacement, it has excellent image quality with its 24MP sensor and great 1080p HD video capture. It matches up nicely against the Canon 70D in terms of price and performance. Read my Nikon D7100 Review for more info.

Memory Cards

Memory cards make great stocking stuffers. And, if you’re buying someone their first digital camera (or a different brand that takes a different kind of memory card), then you’ll need to pick up the right card for the camera.  Otherwise, Christmas morning may get a little boring without a memory card to record those moments on their new camera.

Photographers need spare memory cards too, because all those megapixels take up sooo much space and those cards fill up fast.  The good news is that memory cards keep getting cheaper and cheaper – almost by the day.  For DSLR owners, most can benefit from the write speed of cards like the SanDisk Extreme series, which allows the cameras to capture more frames faster.  And, given the price of these cards now, I think it’s a good idea for anyone picking up a point and shoot camera to go ahead and pick up a SanDisk Extreme card with it.

There are several types of memory cards out there.  Compact Flash (or CF) and Secure Digital (or SD) are the most popular for digital cameras nowadays.

Memory cards are measured in gigabytes, with typical sizes ranging from 2GB to 256GB.  The number of pictures that a memory card can hold varies depending on the number of the camera’s megapixels.  I would recommend picking up a 8GB to 16GB card (or a few of them).  The 32GB (and larger) cards are plenty cheap enough to consider if you’re getting a DSLR and/or if you plan to record a lot of video.

If you aren’t sure what the numbers mean on card speeds and classification, check out my resource article on Demystifying SD Cards. For a little more in-depth on CF cards and card readers, check out my resource article Making Sense of Memory Card Read/Write Speeds and USB 3.0/Thunderbolt Data Transfer Speeds.

1. SanDisk Extreme Pro CF (fastest)

2. SanDisk Extreme CF (fast)

3. SanDisk Extreme Pro SD (fastest)

4. SanDisk Extreme SD (fast)

Photo & Video Editing Software

While you can make great images with today’s digital cameras, you can really unleash the power of digital imaging with powerful photo and video processing software.

1. Adobe Lightroom 5 – for PCs and Macs – processes RAW image formats to get the most out of each file.

2. Photoshop Elements 12 – for PCs and Macs – add special effects, whiten teeth, make skies bluer, get rid of red eye, and take advantage of many more shortcuts that reduce common, multistep editing tasks to a single click or brush stroke.

3. Premiere Elements 12 - for PCs and Macs – A basic, but powerful, video editing program that can be found for less than $100.

4. iMovie - Mac only – If you’ve got a Mac or you are getting a Mac, this software should be included with it and is the first thing you should consider for editing your video.

5. Final Cut Pro X - Mac only – If you need something more advanced than iMovie, then Final Cut Pro X is the logical step up and offers a familiar interface for iMovie users.

Camera Bags

Every photographer needs a good camera bag – or a few of them.  Look for camera bags made by Think Tank Photo or Lowepro depending on the photographer’s need and personal style.

1. Vanguard Heralder 38 - The best all-purpose best shoulder bag I’ve ever used. If you need to carry camera gear along with a laptop, the Heralder 38 can do it all. The pad on the shoulder strap makes this beefy shoulder bag easy to tote around all day. Holds a 15″ laptop and plenty of gear.

2. Think Tank Photo StreetWalker Hard Drive – Holds a DSLR with a 70-200mm lens, a couple of spare lenses and flashes, a 15″ laptop and several more accessories.

3. Think Tank Photo Retrospective 30 - A satchel that has multiple configuration for carrying all sorts of camera gear. You can pack a DSLR and a couple of lenses/flash into the main compartment and even have room in the front pouches for a couple extra DSLR bodies.

Photography Accessories

1. Western Digital My Book USB 3.0 Hard Drives – As is the case with memory cards, digital photos take up a lot of space on photographer’s computers.  External hard drives are getting less and less expensive and can really lighten the load on a bogged-down computer.  Western Digital’s My Book USB 3.0 hard drives are fast, quiet and reliable.  And, if you need a ton of storage space, you can find 4TB versions around $200.

2. Western Digital My Cloud Hard Drives - If you need access to your images from multiple computers on the same network,  the My Cloud hard drives have an ethernet port and have an easy setup for connecting to your network.  You can work with the files on any computer in your network thanks to a fast 100MB/s read speed, and you can even send other people a direct link to a file for download off of your drive.  Additionally, there’s a lot of iOS and Android sharing features built-in. The My Cloud drives serve as an alternative to file sharing cloud services like DropBox and Google Drive – without any monthly fee and up to 4TB storage on a single drive.

3. Tripods and Monopods – If you or your photographer don’t have a tripod and/or monopod, you can’t go wrong with Manfrotto’s 190 Series and the 679B monopod.  For heavier cameras, I love the price and stability of the Slik Pro 700DX and Vanguard SBH-250 ball head.

Photography Books

1. Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson.  Another great stocking stuffer, no camera owner should go without reading this book.  It’s inexpensive on Amazon (around $20), which is a big discount from your local bookstore.  If you’re buying someone a camera or getting one yourself, make sure this book goes with the camera.  It’ll be the best $20 you spend on photography.

2. Photoshop for Digital Photographers series by Scott Kelby. There are several versions of Photoshop out there, so make sure you buy the appropriate corresponding book.

3. The Camera, The Negative, or The Print by Ansel Adams.  Classics from Ansel Adams are still full of relevant information for today’s digital photographers.  And, it’s nice to have Ansel’s imagery and advice on your bookshelf.

Photographer Stocking Stuffers

Here are some random and fun ideas for stocking stuffers for the photographer in your life.

1. Joby Gorillapod SLR Zoom – It’s a great little portable tripod for DSLRs and mirrorless cameras up to 6.5lbs.

2. Pelican SD Card Case or CF Card Case – These are tough, polycarbonate memory card cases that are water resistant.

3. Camera Remotes – Every photographer needs a camera remote every now and then. They are available for virtually every enthusiast-grade camera out there.

Wrap Up

That’s all we’ve got for this year’s installment of the 2013 Camera & Photo Gear Gift Guide. I hope this run down gives you a better idea of what to look for when shopping in the camera aisle this Christmas. Also, stay tuned for regular updates from Photography Bay as the holiday season continues. Keep an eye out on our Black Friday and Cyber Monday Camera Deals as we approach that big weekend of deals.

By shopping at the retailers using the links in this guide, you are helping Photography Bay to continue delivering quality reviews and other photography-related content. Thanks for your continued support.

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