Cool Stuff: Your 2006 Holiday Gift Guide

All the best technology gifts to give (and get) this holiday season

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Digicams

We really want one of the cameras below this year. We've been so good!

Digital SLR camera: Nikon D80

This is the year of affordable, high-performance digital SLRs, with several impressive models hovering around the thousand-dollar mark. But Nikon has hit the market sweet spot with its D80.

Nikon has built so much into the 10-megapixel D80 that some reviewers wonder if it will cannibalize sales of the pricier D200. The D80 ($880 to $990, body only) features a large 2.5-in. viewing LCD (up from 2 in. in the older D70), along with the image processing capabilities of more expensive Nikon models. It's got 11-area autofocus, customizable menus, the ability to do multiple exposures in one image, just 80 milliseconds of shutter lag, 3-frames-per-second continuous shooting, 0.18-sec. power-up time and ISO settings from 100 (shooting in bright light) to 1600 (low light).

The D80 hits the market sweet spot for digital SLR cameras. Courtesy of Nikon

The D80 hits the market sweet spot for digital SLR cameras. Courtesy of Nikon

(Click image to see larger view)

There are also substantial in-camera editing capabilities, such as cropping and red-eye correction. Those features may sound unnecessary if you download your photos to a PC and edit, but they can be surprisingly handy when showing off your in-camera pictures right away. (product details)

If you've already got lenses for an older Nikon camera (either digital SLR or film), they'll work on the D80 as well. If you don't have a lens, Nikon's new 18-135mm offering is the $300 "kit lens" usually recommended with the D80. An even better option is the AF-S VR DX, offering 18-200mm capability and vibration reduction, which allows handheld shooting in lower light. At $750 or so it's a substantial added expense, but it's a great multipurpose lens for those who are serious about their photography. Alas, it's unavailable just about everywhere right now because demand is heavy and supplies are limited.

Honorable mention: For those who might not need all the customization and features of the D80, the 10-megapixel Canon Digital Rebel XTi is a less expensive ($725 to $800, body only) and highly popular option. It offers a "self-cleaning" sensor to protect against dust and is somewhat smaller and lighter than the Nikon D80. (product details)

—Sharon Machlis

Subcompact digital camera: Canon PowerShot SD800 IS

Do you know cameras? If you do, you'll be agog at all the power the Canon SD800 IS delivers in a svelte form factor. "Cool" is something that fits easily in your pocket -- and does all the things this camera does. Forget Sony and Casio; this is it!

The SD800 IS is a 7.1-megapixel subcompact camera with a 2.5-in. LCD that uses SD, SDHC or MMC memory. It has 3.8x optical zoom and 4x digital zoom. The focal length is the 35mm-SLR-equivalent of 28mm-105mm. It also offers image stabilization, which is especially useful for this camera's excellent video capabilities.

This model was just introduced in October, and it includes all the latest bells and whistles, including Canon's latest image processor, support for ISO 1600, PictBridge and USB 2.0.

The SD800 IS subcompact packs plenty of power. Courtesy of Canon.

The SD800 IS subcompact packs plenty of power.

Courtesy of Canon.

Many subcompact digital cameras make video an afterthought. Not the SD800 IS. The IS stands for image stabilization, for starters. It has a widescreen mode, for another. And it supports 60-frames-per-second QVGA (320-by-240-pixel resolution) as well as 30-fps standard VGA (640-by-480-pixel) video.

One of our editors bought the SD800 IS for himself, and another bought it as a holiday gift for his wife. So we're putting our money where our mouths are. At $340 to $400, the SD800IS isn't among the less expensive subcompact digital cameras, but it's clearly among the very best. To us, it's tops. (product details)

Honorable mention: For a great value in a compact digital camera, check out the 8-megapixel Canon PowerShot A630 ($225 to $275). Although it has fewer bells and whistles, it takes excellent pictures and acceptable video. It's quite a bit larger than the SD800 IS, though; it's not really a pocket camera. But, then, it's quite a bit less expensive too. (product details)

—Scot Finnie

Digital camcorder: Sony HDR-SR1 Handycam

The new Sony HDR-SR1 raises the bar in cool camcorder features by combining high-definition (HD) video recording with hard disk drive storage. Never before have these two advancements been available in the same model.

HD is the wave of the future, and this baby lets you get onboard in style with up to 1,080 lines of horizontal resolution. And the hard disk drive storage lets you do away with those pesky tapes and discs. The 30GB disk lets you store up to four hours of HD video (You also have the option of recording standard-definition video).

Join the HD revolution with the HDR-SR1 Handycam. Courtesy of Sony.
Join the HD revolution with the HDR-SR1 Handycam. Courtesy of Sony.

The key word for the HDR-SR1 is "new." Sony uses a new HD format, called AVCHD, to compress and store the video. This lets you burn the HD video onto standard DVD discs and play them in an AVCHD-compatible player, rather than having to choose between the dueling Blu-ray and HD-DVD burners. One caveat: because AVCHD is so new, choices of software for editing and playing the resulting .m2ts files are extremely limited right now. The camera comes with software for basic editing and viewing on a PC.

The HDR-SR1 also uses a new sensor technology, CMOS, instead of the traditional CCD. Sony claims its CMOS sensor technology is better than the older CCD for a variety of reasons, such as lower power consumption, which means longer battery life.

But wait, there's more! This cool camcorder includes Dolby 5.1 channel audio recording, a 3.5-in.-wide LCD display with touch-panel controls, a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar Lens, 4.0-megapixel still image recording to Memory Stick Duo media and image stabilization, among other features. Connection choices to a PC or TV include HDMI, USB 2.0, component and composite.

The sleek black-and-chrome design feels good in your hands, and the controls are easy to learn and use. You have the option of operating many of the controls from the LCD touch panel or from the hardware.

Available for about $1,200 to $1,500, this unit is sure to elicit many "oohs" and "aahs" when it's unwrapped at holiday time. (product details)

—David Ramel

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