Holiday Hardware Buyers Guide

by Techgage Staff on November 15, 2006 in Editorials & Interviews

The holiday season can be a rough time if you are not sure what you buy, or ask for. We have taken out the hassle and delivered a comprehensive guide of our top picks that covers every type of component inside your computer.

Update: We’ve added a gadgets page!

Page 9 – Digital Cameras

As you are well aware, we take a look at a variety of products week in and week out. Sometimes we may look at computer cases, monitors, or performance parts to help you get the most out of your system. However, there is another piece of tech that most everyone has, but is never actually considered to be a piece of “computer hardware”. We use our digital cameras with our computers though, so it’s only fit that we include our top picks in the guide!

Ultimate – Nikon D80

When Nikon announced their D70s successor, they knew they had a winner on their hands. Without a doubt, this is the “must have” DSLR for the holiday season. When compared to the competition, the D80 costs around $200 more but has the goods to make up for it. Although the D80 has similar image quality to the Canon 400D and Sony A100, it has better performance and a more solid design. It’s a camera that was built for comfort.

If you are a Nikonian and are having a difficult time deciding between the D80 or D200, perhaps the fact that the D80 uses the same CCD as it’s bigger brother will sway your decision. Not too shabby for a camera that costs $500 less! Feature wise, the camera has a lot to offer over the D70s. Thrown into the mix are 10.2MP capabilities that result in 3872*2592 sized images. ISO settings are also improved, ranging from 100 – 1600, but with proper configurations can be pushed to 3200. The D80 screen is not only larger, but offers a much crisper image thanks to it’s 230,000 dot resolution.

Another reason that Nikons high-end cameras are favored is due to the sheer amount of lenses to choose from. In addition to official Nikkor lenses, Sigma and Tamron offer a slew of F-mounts for your choosing. If you choose to pick up the camera in a kit, you will receive the 18-135mm (28-200mm 35mm equiv.) f/3.5-5.6 lens which offers a 7.5x zoom. I can attest to the quality of the lens; it’s well worth picking up with the camera. Just be warned that vignetting occurs at both ends. If your camera know-how is more advanced, then you will likely be better off choosing a separate lens alongside the D80 body.

In addition to all that we’ve mentioned, the D80 is perfectly suited for the advanced shooter, but also the beginner looking to make photography a good hobby or even a profession. That said, if you want a great D-SLR to pick up this holiday season and don’t mind opening your wallet a little wider, picking up the D80 is an easy choice.

Great – Nikon D50

If you’ve been reading the site for a while, you are probably aware that I am drawn moreso to Nikon cameras than the leading competitors. There’s a few reasons for this, but the primary is the simple fact that Nikons DSLRs fit like a glove and offer superb performance. The D50, despite it’s lower price tag, is no exception. Debuted last Summer, the D50 was praised due to it’s solid specs and retail price. Even today, you can pick up the camera with an 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 DX lens for around $650. If you plan on macro photography or portraits, you can add the SB-600 speedlight which still keeps the kit at around $900.

Due to this fact, this is a great camera to pick up if you are a complete SLR beginner and want a solid camera that will treat you well for some time to come. The D50 is built for beginners, but can be executed by professionals for some amazing results. Due to the “novice” nature, it will act splendidly as a Point and Shoot if that’s all you want. Like most other cameras though, there are lots of customizations if you are feeling brave and want to experiment.

This camera uses SD cards and the Li-Ion EN-EL3 battery. I can attest to the battery being a great choice, because I was able to take well over 1,000 JPEG Fine images with the camera before the battery bar was showing half-full. Though the 6.2 Megapixel capabilities may seem a little gimped compared to the newer models, you have to ask yourself if you will really need images larger than 3,000*2,000. If you are printing, then that may be the case.

Like the other Nikon D-SLRs, the lenses are all interchangeable between models. Pick up a D50 now and upgrade to a D90 (Perhaps?) down the road and you will still be able to use your current lenses. If you, or a loved one, are looking to get into photography but are tired of the results that your small point and shoot gives you, then you will want to seriously consider the D50.

Our review of the Nikon D50.

Good – Canon PowerShot S3 IS

If you thought Nikon was going to steal the show here, then you were wrong! Canon is also well known for their D-SLRs and point and shoots, but also their higher-end point and shoots that fall right below their D-SLR line-up. Welcome to the PowerShot S3 IS, a feature-rich compact camera that boasts and incredible 12x optical zoom!

Yes, this is one extreme zoom for a camera of this price range, and the fact is, the zoom performance is actually quite unexpected. Like many Canon high-end D-SLR lenses, the IS in the title is for the image stabilization. This will prove very useful whenever you are using the zoom to it’s fullest, but it won’t help you as much in night scenes regardless of the IS. Another plus is the performance… it offers a fast continuous shooting mode and the battery life is top rate.

Perhaps one of the nicest features of the camera is the 2.0″ LCD screen. Not because it’s one of the clearest out there, but because you can “hide” it away whenever you are not using it, simply by turning it around to face the camera. This is a huge plus for those of you (including me) who love to keep their toys in pristine condition. Yes, the camera is not perfect. One of the main causes for grief seem to be issues with redeye and the lack of use for ISO 800 due to it’s extreme noise. If you require a camera that deals with RAW, then this is one to pass over. As it stands though, the S3 IS is a great point and shoot with an awesome zoom… that won’t break the bank.

Stocking Stuffer – Casio Exilim EX-S600

Ok, I admit this is not “stocking stuffer” material. But, I don’t recommend going with anything cheaper, because you will really be sacrificing quality. Casio may not get as much attention as the big boys, but make no mistake… they make good, simple cameras for everyday users. The EX-S600 is thin, and sleek. Perhaps sexy, if you think that way of technology. The camera takes around 250 pictures per charge, which is respectable for a camera of this size. The lens is not anything amazing either, weighing in at 6.2-18.6mm, resulting in a 3.0x zoom.

Where the camera lacks, it makes up in good image quality and overall functionality. It has the support for video recording at 640*480 resolution, images at 2816*2112, ISO up to 400 and a 2.2″ LCD screen. That brings up another downside for some… no viewfinder. No surprise given the small stature of the camera, though. When the EX-S600 first came out, it retailed for over $350, but now retails between $225 – $250. The drop makes the camera even more worth it today.

One thing to bare in mind though, that as cameras get smaller, their image quality deteriorates. This is an acceptable tradeoff for some, since the camera easily slides into a pocket or purse. For those who want better image quality from a camera with a bigger frame/larger lense should look around, because the choices are endless.

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