Photo and Video Gift Ideas [2010 Cool Yule Tools]

Like computers, trying to see what’s new in the world of photography and video usually involves seeing what’s new in megapixels, features and sizes. Still, we were able to try out a variety of digital cameras, camcorders, some accessories and a couple of photo printers that should keep the shutterbug on your list happy this holiday season.

Products reviewed for this category:

  • Fujifilm FinePix Real3d W3 digital camera
  • Olympus Stylus Tough-8010 digital camera
  • Olympus PEN PL-1
  • GE Digital Camera - X5 (14 megapixel, 15x optical zoom)
  • Kodak EasyShare M590 digital camera
  • HP CW450t digital camera
  • Kodak PlayTouch video camcorder
  • Joby Gorillamate Magnetic tripod
  • Epson PictureMate Show photo printer
  • MIMO Monitors iMo Foto Frame Printer
  • Pandigital Photo Scanner/Converter
  • Kodak Pulse digital photo frame
  • Vizit - 10.4-inch photo frame with mobile network for updates
  • Dropcam Echo Wi-Fi Security Camera

FinePix Real 3D W3 digital camera, by FujiFilmThis year saw the emergence of 3D technology on TVs, but the real trend to watch regarding 3D will be whether consumers decide to take their own photos and videos in 3D. This camera by FujjiFilm offers users the chance to snap their photos and record videos in 3D.

The 10-megapixel camera has two separate lenses that shoot two different images, and then the camera merges those to show you a 3D picture on its 3.5-inch LCD monitor. The monitor can display its 3D image without the user needing to wear the special glasses. The photos and videos can also be converted to 2D images, by basically just using the file from one of the lenses.

A manual parallax switch on the camera lets you fine-tune the image before you shoot to try and get the best 3D image, and the camera features a 3x optical zoom lens. Photos and videos can be stored on an SD or SDHC memory card.After you’ve taken the photos, you can view them on a 3D TV via the camera’s HDMI out port, or you can upload them to a computer and use photo/video editing software to play with the images (The Roxio Creator 11 software supports the 3D images from this camera).

If you’re interested in trying out the new world of 3D photos and videos, this camera can get you off on the right foot without breaking the bank (other models we’ve seen are more expensive).

Cool Yule rating: 4.5 starsPrice: $433 at Amazon.comCompany Web  site Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Stylus Tough 8010 digital camera, by OlympusThe Olympus Stylus Tough absolutely lives up to its name. Even as I was taking it out of the box, I could tell that while it isn’t heavy, it sure feels sturdy and well built. It is one solid piece of equipment. It’s a 14-megapixel camera with 5x wide-angle zoom and 2.7-inch LCD monitor screen. Olympus says the camera will still work 33 feet underwater, after being frozen at 14-degrees Farenheit, after being dropped from up to 6.6 feet, and is crush-resistant up to 220 lbs of force.

You may be asking yourself how often do you even plan to do these things, and perhaps the answer is not that often. Yet, it’s still nice to know that you can take the camera snorkeling or to the beach and it will survive. Or take it on a ski vacation and it will 1) survive the cold temperatures and 2) it could survive if you happen to fall on it while skiing. That’s pretty sweet. This camera is definitely ideal for the active person in your life.

The Stylus Tough 8010 has some advanced functions, such as “AF Tracking”, which tracks unpredictable, fast-moving subjects such as kids and pets, and continuously adjusts the focus and brightness so you can capture these photogenic whirlwinds with ease; and “Creative Art Filters,” which can apply artistic effects like Pop Art, Fisheye, Drawing and Pinhole.

There is a lot going on with this camera, but is easy enough that even a child could take a few good pictures. I recommend that if you’re considering this camera, please check out all of fun features on the Olympus Web site. This camera is not aimed at the average user, because you could end up spending your money on features that you’ll never use. If you’re an advanced user, or just love testing out fun advanced features, you will love this camera. My favorite fun feature is beauty mode, where it smoothes out wrinkles and blemishes. It absolutely works.

Beyond the features of this camera, the design of the camera is sweet. It’s obvious that a lot of work was put into the design. All of the plug-in type things are all together. The battery, the charger port, the memory card slot are all placed behind the same door, so you don’t have to waste your time searching the camera for various ports. Besides that, the camera's buttons are raised and easy to push, even with larger fingers. Plus, the buttons are the essential buttons, there aren’t a lot of extras, nor are there too few that you’d have to remember where everything is hidden. They are all marked clearly. Plus, the HD video recording only requires the touch of one button, there’s no scrolling through menus. Push the button and it changes to video mode and starts recording at the same time.

One warning to anyone planning to buy this camera: read the manual before you start taking pictures! The Stylus Tough 8010 comes with cataloguing/archiving software loaded on the internal memory. You could accidentally write over this software by taking photos. Transfer the software onto your computer before taking pictures. This software will let you tag people, places, and events and search those various things. Most cameras have you upload photos and can only search that folder. This camera can find all pictures of whatever/whoever you’re looking for. After you’ve transferred the software, this camera has 2 GB of internal memory.

Really, this camera packs a lot into one small device. It’s strong and durable. It comes with a ton of features. It’s easy to use. It’s definitely worth its price as long as you’re going to use at least half of its features.

Cool Yule rating: 5 starsPrice: About $380Company Web siteReviewed by Jen Finn

EasyShare M590 digital camera, by KodakI’m a big fan of the Kodak M590. This 14-megapixel digital camera takes very crisp pictures. It also has a very powerful flash. If you’re taking a picture of something in a dark room, it will light the room up, making the picture so clear that you’d never know it was taken in a dark space.

One of the cooler features of the Kodak M590 is a stabilizer, and after taking a few pictures after a couple of glasses of wine, I can say the feature works like a charm. It also recognizes faces, which is a sweet feature because it focuses on them instead of anything else closer to the camera. For example, if your friends are sitting across a table from you, the camera will focus on your friends’ faces and not the water glasses on the table. As with all cameras, there are options to enhance photos of different concepts: portraits, landscape, action, at night, etc. What’s great about this camera is that you can choose which setting you want or you can leave it on auto and it will decide for you. Many cameras do that, but when on auto, the M590 will display which option it has chosen for you. If you think it’s wrong, perhaps you want to take an action shot and it thinks you are taking a picture of landscape, you can change the setting before you take the picture.

The Kodak M590 is really user friendly. Most of the options have their own button, so you don’t have to wade through menus to find what you need. Because of its usability, I think this camera would be a great gift for a wide range of users. Another easy thing is that the camera’s charger is the same cord that connects to your computer, the USB adapter fits into an AC adapter. I love having fewer cords to keep track of.

Kodak brags that the M590 is “the world’s thinnest 5x zoom digital camera.” I’m going to assume that this is an accurate claim because the camera is so slim, it can fit in the back pocket of women’s jeans. Speaking of size though, the memory card that comes with the camera is large enough for 450 pictures.

Because it’s a Kodak, it comes with EasyShare technology. Essentially, there is an easy-to-find button on the camera. If you push the “Share” button while reviewing a video or picture, you can then decide how you want to share the video.  Once you plug the camera into your computer it will automatically “share” to the location you chose (an e-mail address, YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, and a few lesser known locations).  You will however, have to download the application to your computer.

There is only one thing that I don’t love about the camera. It’s powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and not perhaps AA batteries. I do like that it has a USB/AC adapter for in-camera battery charging, so I’m less likely to forget the battery at home. However, the camera doesn’t really highlight how low it is on battery life. It does show it, but doesn’t flash anything at you as it gets low, so the camera died on me while I was out testing it and I didn’t even notice it was low. Plus, I couldn’t go buy a couple of batteries to remedy the situation. Beyond this battery issue, I really liked the camera and I think it would make a great gift for almost any user.

Cool Yule rating: 4.5 starsPrice: About $170Company Web siteReviewed by Jen Finn

Pen E-PL1 SLR Digital Camera, by OlympusThe Olympus Pen E-PL1, while actually at the low end of the Olympus Pen series, is a serious camera with a serious price tag. If you’re just looking for a simple point-and-shoot to take pictures of you and your friends, you could get something for far less money. But if you want something better (but still not on the high end), this product should be on your short list.

The tradeoff with digital cameras comes down to ease-of-use versus functionality. You want to be able to get quality photos, but you don’t want to have to figure out aperture settings when you’re trying to capture a moment.On the other hand, you want a decent flash, a powerful lens, the ability to shoot video and the ability to take lots of quick shots. The Olympus Pen handles all of those tasks with ease. It features a pop-up flash unit, an M. Zuiko 14-42 mm. lens, an easy-to-locate red button that triggers HD video, and a quick shutter action that allows you to snap multiple photos in a short period of time.

The controls are easy to find, relatively straightforward and the raised silver buttons on the black surface of the camera are easy to locate and have a solid feel. The Olympus Pen has a feature called Live Guide that lets you tweak the photo before you take it by adjusting color, brightness, fading the background, etc.

Other things we liked about the Olympus Pen: it has a Lithium-Ion battery (I just hate it when your AA batteries die just when you’re trying to get a once-in-a-lifetime shot.)  One minor quibble: I left the SD card in a computer at home and went out the door with the camera and it wouldn’t let me shoot at all. Apparently it has no internal memory. Apparently neither do I, so I guess we’re even.

Bottom line: This is a camera that’s a giant step up from a simple point-and-shoot. It takes great pictures, HD video and it’s relatively easy to use.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $599Company Web siteReviewed by Neal Weinberg

GE Power Pro X5 camera, by GE/General ImagingGE makes digital cameras. Who knew? The company that produces jet engines and owns NBC (at least until the end of the year) got into the camera business in 2007 under the name General Imaging. The idea was to deliver the same or better functionality at lower cost than existing camera companies.

With the Power Pro X5, GE has certainly succeeded in putting together a well designed, powerful digital camera at a ridiculously low price point -- $139. That buys you a 15X-wide angle zoom lens, 14.1 megapixels, and all the bells and whistles that you’d expect on a far more expensive camera.

On the plus side, the Power Pro X5 is clearly designed by a company with a rich history of making functional consumer products. There’s a hand grip that lets you hold the camera with your thumb and three fingers and then hit the zoom and the shutter button with your index finger. In other words, with image stabilization turned on, the idea is that you can take pictures with one hand.

The on/off is a clearly-marked toggle switch and the other controls are simple to use. There’s an on-board flash, and a feature that alerts you when you take a picture and the subject’s eyes are closed.

On the downside, the internal memory can only hold about three shots, the X5 takes AA batteries (a pet peeve), and this isn’t the most stylist camera you’re going to find. It’s black, boxy and clearly designed for function over form.

But at $139, it’s a significant step up from the base-level point-and-shoot models, and it delivers quality photos. If this were a car it would be a Toyota Corolla. And there are millions of happy Corolla owners on the road these days, so that’s not a bad thing.

Cool Yule rating: 4.5 starsPrice: $139Company Web siteReviewed by Neal Weinberg

CW450t digital camera, by HPIt’s a testament to the ease of use of this HP digital camera to tell you that my 4.5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son could quickly and easily take photos with this camera, and with about a 40% success rate actually take a decent photo. As long as their fingers weren’t in front of the lens, and they were pointing it somewhat close to the subject, they could expect a good photo for their efforts.

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