Digital camera buyer’s guide: the perfect gift

There are already plenty of articles written on choosing which digital camera is perfect for yourself. However, determining which digital camera is perfect for someone else can be particularly tricky. Besides all the general tips that go along with buying digital cameras, which you can read just about anywhere, there are specific camera-related questions a gift-buyer should consider.

Universal Features

Most importantly, there are 4 features that every camera should have, regardless of who is receiving the camera as a gift.

  1. Standard, removable, memory. You really don’t want to get locked into a non-standard (read proprietary, comparatively expensive) memory card. Anything that uses CompactFlash or Secure Digital/Secure Digital High Capacity (SD/SDHC) is a good choice. Removable is a necessity simply because it gives the photographer the option of storing more photos on long excursions. Plus, it’s a convenient way of transferring images to a computer or making digital prints at a convenience store.
  2. 6 megapixel minimum. Megapixel isn’t as important as many manufacturers would have you believe. However, it’s best to stay above 6. ((More on MegaPixels: Megapixels have long been the industry’s way of advertising that one digital camera is superior to another. Anymore, it’s a useless measurement. Camera-phones aside, almost all cameras available today sport a megapixel count close to 10 or above. However, any professional photographer will tell you that the size of the sensor is far and away the most important factor in image quality, not megapixel. For example, consider a camera that has a 1/2.3″ (smaller than 1/2″)  CCD and 10mp. The 1/2.3″ size means that the sensor has a 7mm (that’s right millimeter) diagonal length, and 28.45 square mm. Divide that by 10 million pixels and you get an area of about 0.0000029 square mm per pixel. Now, consider a professional 6mp camera, with a 1.8″ sensor, which has a 28.4mm diagonal measurement and 372 square mm. This gives each pixel an area of 0.000062, almost 22 times larger! Because of this per-pixel size difference the image quality is enhanced. The SIZE of the sensor has a much larger impact on picture quality than the megapixel!))
  3. Rechargeable, removable, lithium-ion battery pack. Unfortunately, standard rechargeable batteries (think rechargeable AA) don’t hold up to the hard draw of digital cameras. The lithium-ion battery packs far out-perform the rechargeable standards.
  4. Optical zoom. Digital zoom enlarges the image, and degrades the image quality!

Questions to consider:

1. Does camera size matter?
One of the first things you’ll want to determine about the gift recipient you’re shopping for is whether or not the size of the camera matters. Would they mind trekking across Europe with a robust, full featured, and full sized camera hanging from their neck? Would they prefer a smaller camera that could be tucked inside a purse or jacket pocket? Or a tiny camera that wouldn’t even be noticed in the pocket of the tightest  jeans?

2. Does color matter?
If black or silver just isn’t going to cut it, then you’ll be looking at small cameras – I can’t think of a single Digital SLR (single lens reflex) that comes in anything other than black, or possibly silver.

Cameras today come in a bevy of color choices, so if it’s important, look around and find the color that they would love the most.

3. Does simplicity matter?
If this is going to be their first camera – or if the person you’re shopping for is just not that technically inclined – then a smaller, simple camera is your best bet. Most compact cameras offer easy-to-use automatic, or “point-and-shoot,” modes that are perfect for those who might not care about making exposure adjustments. Most compact cameras offer few or none of the more complicated features.

If the person you’re buying for has used a film SLR, then they probably understand the finer points of manual focus, aperture, and shutter speed and could handle a more difficult camera. Not to fret – most high-end digital cameras that offer the complicated manual settings also offer automatic modes.

4. Are they an aspiring photographer?
Chances are, you are purchasing a camera for someone who has fallen in love with photography as a hobby or would like to pursue photography as a professional venture. In either case, a DSLR is the best choice. There was a time when DSLR cameras were very expensive, but these days all of the major players have (more) affordable, entry level DSLR cameras.

The Nikon D40 is a good example of a solid, entry level DSLR that offers all of the features a hobbyist or learning photographer could hope for. A D40 with lens is often available for around $450. However, if you’re sure that your hobbyist or aspiring Ansel Adams wants a compact camera, then the Canon S90 is highly recommended. Of course, both of these could still be out of budget. If that’s the case, your best bet is to find a solid, well made compact camera that have the 4 key features mentioned above.

5. Do they deserve the absolute best?
If money is no object, then I would highly recommend the Hasselblad H3D II 50. At only $25,500 this camera is a steal! Offering a 50 megapixel sensor that is twice the size of the largest DSLR competitor, the image quality is unmatched. Each image weighs in at 50mb in size! Hasselblad also guarantees with each purchase that you will become a famous and talented photographer! ((No they don’t.))  Hasselblad employees will also come to your house and give you a massage daily! ((No they won’t.)) Everyone will love you. ((It could happen, but it’s doubtful.)) And owning one makes you a better person. ((No comment.))

Bottom line
A digital camera makes a great gift, and finding the right camera for that special someone doesn’t have to be difficult. If you remember the 4 key features, and consider what is most important to that person, you can’t go wrong.