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Holiday Gift Guide: Cameras

Welcome to TUAW's 2011 Holiday Gift Guide! We're here to help you choose the best gifts this holiday season, and once you've received your gifts we'll tell you what apps and accessories we think are best for your new Apple gear. Stay tuned every weekday from now until the end of the year for our picks and helpful guides and check our Gift Guide hub to see our guides as they become available. For even more holiday fun, check out sister site Engadget's gift guide.

It's camera time here at TUAW, and we're going to help you pick out the best Mac-friendly camera gear for this holiday season. We've used our own experience with digital photography and consulted a pro or two to help us out. If you have suggestions for cameras we have not covered here, please leave them in the comments!

Buying Advice for Mac Owners

Before we dive into all the details, there are a few Apple resources you should consult before you start your camera search. First is an Apple tech support article that lists all the digital cameras with RAW files supported by OS X Lion. RAW file support lets you pull the original, uncompressed image file off your camera. This is essential for professionals who prefer to edit the original file, instead of the compressed one which might contain artifacts. Apple regularly releases updates and adds new cameras to this list.

Apple also maintains a list of still and video cameras compatible with iMovie '11. iMovie will easily import data from these compatible cameras. All you have to do is connect your camera to your Mac and iMovie does the rest. Take it from someone who regularly spends hours editing home videos, choosing a compatible camera will save you headaches in the long run. For a deep dive on iMovie's compatibility story, see our gift guide post for iMovie-compatible cameras.

Now that this basic stuff is behind us, let's get started with the cameras. We're going to give you a quick run-down of our top choices in each camera category. If you need more information on specific camera models, you can check out photography review sites such as dpreview, imaging-resource and Steve's Digicams. They'll have detailed reviews, sample images and all the information you'll need to make your decision.

Point and Shoot Cameras

Point and shoot cameras are consumer-grade gear -- they're affordable, easy to use and portable. They also tend to produce a lower quality image than the bigger, more expensive DSLR. This is the sacrifice you make to get the advantage of being able to fire off a quick shot wherever your are.

Recommended in this category is the Canon S95, a 10-megapixel shooter with Canon's DIGIC 4 image processor, a high-sensitivity sensor, image stabilization and support for RAW files. One step up is the Canon S100. It's a 12-megapixel camera with the DIGIC 5 image processor, 1080P HD video, a high-sensitivity sensor, image stabilization and support for RAW files. Another interesting offering is the Nikon COOLPIX S1200pj. It's a projector camera that'll let you display images from an iOS device onto a wall or screen. It's perfect for informal presentations and spontaneous slideshows.

DSLRs

DSLRs are your typical prosumer and pro-level cameras, based on the older film single-lens reflex cameras. Most have interchangeable lenses, external flash units and larger bodies. They're usually twice the price of a point and shoot and take much better pictures. They also have more bells and whistles such as manual focus rings, faster shutter speeds, and wider apertures.

The top DSLR cameras are made by old favorites Canon and Nikon. The best Canon DSLRs available are the Canon EOS Rebel T3i and the EOS 60D. The two 18-megapixel cameras have the same DIGIC 4 processor, 1080P HD recording, and ISO6400. The EOS 60D is a slight step up from the T3i and has some additional features, such as the ability to shoot at 5.3 frames per second, compared to the 3.7 of the T3i.

Nikon also makes some quality DSLRs including the D5100 and the D7000. The D5100 is a 16.2-megapixel camera with an 11-point AF system, 4 frames per second shooting and 1080P HD with continuous autofocus. One level up is the D7000. It, too, is a 16.2-megapixel shooter but captures photos at 6 frames per second, has a 37-point AF system and captures full time autofocus 1080P HD video.

Video Cameras

The video camera market is undergoing a transformation. Compact video cameras like those formerly made by Cisco's defunct Flip division are slowly disappearing now that we have smartphones which record at 1080P HD. Smartphone cameras can't match the quality of a dedicated video camera, but they're good enough for most people. If you need more than what your camera phone can deliver, you should take a look at the Canon Vixia HF M41. The M41 is a monster with 32GB of internal flash memory and dual SDCX slots in case you need even more storage. It shoots in 1080P HD and has a touch and track autofocus that lets you tap the screen to focus on a single subject. It's a solid performer and is compatible with iMovie '11.

Panasonic also makes quality video cameras both for the consumer and the professional. In its consumer line, a favorite is the Panasonic TM90 which has the HYBRID O.I.S. (optical image stabilizer) to produce crisp, clear, shake-free video. It records 1080/60P HD and can capture in 3D when a special 3D conversion lens is attached to the camera.

Shock and Waterproof Cameras

Canon and Nikon go head to head again with two cameras that are waterproof, cold-proof and shockproof. Both the 16-megapixel Nikon COOLPIX AW100 and the 12-megapixel Canon PowerShot D10 are rugged cameras that'll survive almost anything you throw at them.

Security Cameras

For some solid advice on security cameras, you don't have to look any farther than our own Auntie TUAW. She recommends the Logitech security systems which are easy to setup and have companion iOS software. NightOwl also provides an all-in-one security package that works with iOS. Surprisingly, Panasonic, one of the top makers of security cameras, doesn't have an iOS app, but their cameras are compatible with third-party surveillance apps like Mobiscope from Shape Services.

Baby Monitors with Video Cameras

We've had the chance to review two remote video baby monitoring system. Both the iBaby and WiFi Baby 3G let you watch your baby while you are in the next room or away on business. The iBaby has the edge if you need a camera that can pan and tilt, while the WiFi Baby 3G is better for those who a want a monitor that deliver a bright, crisp image even at night. You can read our review of the iBaby and the WiFi Baby 3G.

Camera Accessories

GorillaPod is a flexible tripod for photographers on the go. It fits in a bag, and it's bendable legs means its can be mounted on almost any surface.

Eye-Fi makes a series of WiFi-enable SD cards that'll let you transfer your images wirelessly from your camera to your computer. You can also transfer media to an online service like Photobucket.

Rogue FlashBenders and Professor Kobre's Lightscoop are two accessories to help you manage the output from a camera flash. The FlashBenders fit a shoe mount flash and help you direct and diffuse the output of the flash. The LightScoop is a similar product except it attaches to a camera with a permanent pop-up flash.

Optoma Pico PK301 Projector is a 16:9 projector small enough to fit in your pocket. The projector will display an 854 x 480 resolution image, up to 72-inches in size. It's terrific for anyone who travels to do presentations.

iPhone Camera Accessories

Photojojo's iPhone Lens Dial is a set of three lenses for the iPhone 4 and 4S. The lenses include a 0.33x fisheye lens, a 0.7x wide angle lens, and a 1.5x telephoto lens. All three are mounted on a rotating dial which is part of larger aircraft-grade aluminum case. The case-lens combo will both enhance your camera and protect your phone.

Olloclip is another camera lens set for the iPhone 4/4S. It's a little less expensive than the Photojojo, because it's a smaller slip-on device that sits on the corner of your iPhone. It includes a fish eye lens, a wide angle lens and a macro lens. The Olloclip can hold only two lenses at a time. You need to switch one out, if you want to use the third.

Glif is an elegant iPhone stand and tripod mount. It started as Kickstarter project and took off from there. I can see why; the design is simple, functional and beautiful.

GorillaMobile is a smaller version of the GorillaPod for the iPhone. It's perfect for those hard-to-get shots you can't reach with a conventional tripod.

RainBallet is a waterproof case with Sharpvue lenses on the front and back of the case. It takes your iPhone 4/4S and turns it a high-quality, waterproof camera.

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