THE GREAT ELECTRONICS GIFT GUIDE

Top picks in digital photography

Connected cameras and ­camcorders make sharing photos and videos easy

Published: October 2014

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Shopping for cameras and camcorders

 

 

The holiday season is once again approaching: Time to start making those gift lists for all your friends and loved ones (oh, and maybe to think about presents you might want for yourself!). If anyone has been especially good this year (yes, including you), a digital camera or camcorder might be just the gift you need.

In our Great Electronics Gift Guide, we’ve gathered together more than 100 recommendations—from bargain to sweet spot to splurge—to help you choose. We’ve also included buying advice for consumers with specific needs—and their stories could match yours. Whatever you're looking for, we've got ideas. Happy shopping!

 

 

Don't miss the rest of our Great Electronics Gift Guide!

Home entertainment

Mobile gear

Tablets, laptops, and printers

The best places to buy electronics

Digital cameras

How to shop for digital cameras

Modern photography is as much about sharing your images as taking them. New cameras make posting photos to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and other social networks easy, with the kind of connectivity you would usually expect from smart phones. Built-in Wi-Fi makes it easy to share photos and upload them to the Web. And tap-to-share technology called near field communication (NFC) makes it easy to send photos wirelessly to a phone or tablet.

For photography enthusiasts, the hottest cameras are “mirrorless” models, which are smaller and lighter than SLRs but have many of the same attributes. They can accept interchangeable lenses and have large sensors.

Other camera categories offer improved functionality, too. Superzooms are getting even zoomier; one of our recommended models has 60x magnification. Most cameras, including SLRs, can now shoot high-definition video. And there are more rugged and waterproof models designed to withstand rough-and-tumble activities. One feature you won’t find on many lower-priced basic cameras is a viewfinder. To compensate, most ship with 3-inch or larger LCDs. Some pricier models include touch-screen or swiveling displays.

Another trend that should excite shutterbugs: More compact models include larger image sensors. That not only helps improve overall image quality but also can help you capture better-quality photos in low light without using a flash.

Canon PowerShot SX700 HS

Budget

Canon PowerShot SX700 HS, $300
This wireless superzoom is slightly less than 1.5 inches thick and weighs only 9 ounces­—ideal for travelers. It has a long 30x optical zoom lens and shoots very good photos and video.

Also consider

Nikon Coolpix S9700, $300
Lightweight and slim, this wireless superzoom has a 30x optical zoom lens and shoots very good photos. It also has a built-in map and compass.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX50V, $350
This wireless superzoom is thin and speedy. It has a long 30x optical zoom but is just 1.5 inches thick. It can fire off 10 frames per second.

Nikon D3300

Sweet spot

Nikon D3300, $550
This very giftable SLR comes in three colors. It takes exquisite photos, even in low light, and very good video. It has a nice panorama mode.

Also consider

Samsung NX30, $850
This mirrorless model’s AutoShare feature lets you send photos to Android or iOS phones or tablets automatically and wirelessly.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1K, $750
This thin, lightweight, mirrorless camera takes very good photos and videos, and has Wi-Fi.

Canon EOS Rebel SL1, $600
It’s one of the smallest and lightest SLRs.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4

Splurge

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4, $2,330
Although pricey, this mirrorless camera captures stunning stills, even in low light. It’s one of the first that can take impressive videos in 4K (ultra high definition) at 30 frames per second. It has a touch-screen LCD and built-in Wi-Fi.

Also consider

Nikon D7100, $1,350
This full-featured SLR takes very good photos and excellent-quality video. It has some nice extras, too. For example, it includes two slots for SD memory cards.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10, $1,000
This advanced wireless point-and-shoot lets you take high-quality shots and video. It has a long 24mm-200mm zoom lens with a constant f/2.8 aperture, and a large 1-inch CMOS sensor.

Rugged and waterproof

Canon PowerShot D30, $300
Waterproof to an impressive depth of 82 feet, this camera can survive a 6½-foot fall as well. It takes very good photos and HD video.

Also consider

Nikon Coolpix AW120, $300
This wireless model has one of the widest zoom lenses in its class (24mm-120mm), so it can capture a broader vista. It’s waterproof to 59 feet.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX30, $300
Light, and able to shoot 10 frames per second.

Which digital cameras score highest for reliability? Check our buying guide and Ratings for more information.

Robert Ostergaard, 46, New York City

What to buy for a traveler

Robert says: “I’m looking for a good point-and-shoot with some control, primarily for taking vacation snaps that can upload to Facebook or Snapfish without too much fuss. We’ve used our iPhones in the past, but the photo quality isn’t great and the digital zoom is terrible! I’d prefer to pay under $300.”

Kerry Allen, camera tester, says: “It’s going to be tough to find a $300 camera with the connectivity, zoom, and—especially—image quality that Robert is looking for. If he can step up to $350, I’d recommend the Nikon Coolpix P340, a lightweight, slim, sleek-looking camera with a medium-range zoom, 5x (24-120mm). The Canon PowerShot G16 is a truly advanced camera with a broad range of controls. At $500, it’s well beyond Robert’s budget, but if he can find one on sale, it’s the camera to own.”  

Camcorders

How to shop for camcorders

Although you can shoot video on many devices, camcorders still offer the best combination of price, quality, and convenience. There are two main types.

Action (or sport) cams, led by the innovative GoPro models, are rugged devices that you can attach to yourself, your bike, helmet, and so on. Most are fairly basic, lacking features such as an LCD viewer. But they can be used with a smart phone that serves as the display. Prices are $100 to $400.

Full-sized camcorders are somewhat bigger, though many are still quite compact. They generally have more features, including a flip-out LCD, optical zoom, and image stabilization. Most cost $250 to $1,000. You’ll pay a bit more for a model with 4K, or ultra high-definition, recording.

If video and audio quality are top priorities, go with a full-sized camcorder. They offer the best combination of ease of use, ergonomics, and quality. For portability or point-of-view-style videos, consider an action cam. They also give you the ability to capture video in rugged conditions, including underwater.

When buying a full-sized camcorder, don’t rely on the info on the box to determine the optical zoom. Some manufacturers tout “intelligent” or “extended” zoom. That includes digital zoom, which degrades image quality. Instead, check the specification for the model’s optical zoom on the company website or in our Ratings. It often ranges from 10x to 60x.

Sony HDR-PJ810

Full-sized camcorders

Sony HDR-PJ810, $1,100
This wireless Sony takes excellent video and is very good in low light. Sound quality is very good. Battery life is longer than on most models, and the electronic viewfinder is a plus. A special feature: You can open up the LCD and project video or still images on a flat surface. But this model is larger and heavier than others.

Also consider

Sony FDR-AX100, $2,000
This 4K camcorder takes excellent HD video, even in low light, and 4K video (viewable on a UHD TV) is even sharper and more detailed.

Panasonic HC-V550, $340
This inexpensive HD model has a 50x optical zoom, an excellent 3-inch touch-screen LCD monitor, and decent battery life. It takes very good video and still photos.

GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition

Action cams

GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition, $400
This pricey wireless sets the standard for action cams. Most capture only fair video and audio, but this one was good at both, and it can shoot 4K video. It’s waterproof when used with its protective housing. But its 90-minute battery life is comparatively short.

Also consider

GoPro Hero3+ Silver Edition, $300
Unlike the Black Edition, this model has a long battery life of 135 minutes. It’s also relatively easy to use. Once you download an app to your mobile device, you can connect wirelessly and use the device’s LCD to compose your photos and video.

JVC GC-X A2 Adixxion, $300
If you don’t feel like buying special enclosures to go snorkeling or skiing, this waterproof, rugged action cam should be right up your alley. It can take a dunk up to 16 feet and withstand a 6½-foot drop. Also, unlike Go Pro models, it has a built-in 1.5-inch display. Battery life is decent, 110 minutes.

Sony HDR-AS100V, $300
Action cams aren’t known for impressive umage quality, but this one is an exception. It captures very good video and good still photos. That’s partly because its image stabilizer does such a great job counteracting hand shake, which gives you less jittery video and sharp photos. Its body is splashproof, and a protective housing makes it waterproof to 16 feet. Battery life is long, at 130 minutes.

Which camcorders score highest for reliability? Check our buying guide and Ratings for more information.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the December 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine



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