Welcome to Engadget's Back to School guide! We know that this time of year can be pretty annoying and stressful for everyone, so we're here to help out with the heartbreaking process of gadget buying for the school-aged crowd. Today, we've got our optical viewfinders set firmly on digital cameras -- and you can head to the Back to School hub to see the rest of the product guides as they're added throughout the month. Be sure to keep checking back -- at the end of the month we'll be giving away a ton of the gear featured in our guides -- and hit up the hub page right here!


Welcome to Digital Cameras 101. This single-lecture class will feature a handful of top cams for every budget, and since you're just getting back from a summer of wild shooting, we'll try to keep things brief this time around, giving you one last chance to enjoy that crisp natural light. There won't be a pop quiz, but if you're feeling lucky and don't mind following our simple instructions, we may just be able to send you home with your very own Sony NEX-C3. Simply leave a comment below to be entered to win, and check out our giveaway page for more details. So wipe off the glasses, grab your clicker, and get ready to jump past the break for a top-level overview of this year's picks for back to school.

On the cheap

Samsung EC-SH100

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We imagine that the DualView feature that Samsung included on its 2010 models came in handy at many a frat party last year, but the EC-SH100 expands on that concept, letting you use the display on your Galaxy S Android phone to control the camera over WiFi. Set it down on a table to zoom and fire the shutter during remote group shots, or help guide that stranger that you flagged down on the street. There's also a 3-inch touchscreen, 26mm wide-angle lens, and a price tag that won't require an interest-free loan from mom and dad.

Key specs: 14.2-megapixel CCD sensor, 5x optical zoom, 720p / 30fps HD video.

Price: $139 on Amazon

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Olympus Stylus-5010

On a tight budget? Like, $100 tight? Last year's Stylus may not pack fancy features, but its 14-megapixel sensor, 5x optical zoom, and 720p movie mode should get the job done, and leave enough money for you to practice your macro photography while eating a real meal.

Price: $86 from Amazon

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Canon PowerShot ELPH 100 HS

You generally can't go wrong with a PowerShot. This model has a 12-megapixel CCD, 4x optical zoom, and full 1080p video. Canon's HS system promises high quality images in low-light, letting you shoot at parties without the flash.

Price: $179 from Amazon

Mid-range

Canon S95

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Canon's S95 may look small, but boy does it pack a punch. That 3.8x optical zoom lens features an f/2.0 wide-angle aperture, letting you shoot crisp photos in low light, and with shallow depth of field. There's also RAW and full manual shooting, stereo 720p video, and a maximum sensitivity of ISO 12,800.

Key specs: 10-megapixel CMOS sensor, 3.8x optical zoom, f/2.0 lens, 720p / 24fps HD video.

Price: $379 on Amazon

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Nikon Coolpix S8100

This 12.1-megapixel point-and-shoot doesn't have the high-ISO sensitivity of its Canon counterpart, but it also costs $150 less, so we're not complaining. There's also a high-res 3-inch display, and full 1080p video capture at 30fps.

Price: $225 on Amazon

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-TS3

Planning to enroll in Scuba 101 for an "easy A?" You'll probably want a waterproof camera, and while you can't take this ruggedized cam more than 40 feet down, it'll do just fine at the campus pool, or on sprint break.

Price: $308 on Amazon

Interchangeable lens

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens

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Sony's NEX-C3 delivers DSLR image quality in a much smaller body, packing the same size APS-C sensor found in many larger (and much pricier) digital SLRs. The camera's tilt-enabled 3-inch display lets you shoot overhead at concerts or parties, and its full manual control and interchangeable lenses make it a perfect fit for your next photography class. It won't be shipping until later this month, but we promise that it's worth the wait.

Key specs: 16.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, 720p video, 3-inch articulating LCD.

Price: $650 on Amazon

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Nikon D7000 with 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 lens

If you're looking to step up to a full-size DSLR and you already own (or have access to) some quality Nikon lenses, the 16.2-megapixel D7000 should do the trick. It offers 1080p video capture, 39-point autofocus, a wide-view 3-inch LCD, and a top ISO sensitivty of ISO 25,600.

Price: $1,470 on Amazon

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Canon EOS 5D Mark II with 24-105mm f/4 L lens

Sure, it might be fast approaching its third birthday, but the 21.1-megapixel Canon 5D Mark II is still our go-to cam for liveblogs and product shoots. Its full-frame image sensor means top-notch image quality, phenomenal low-light sensitivity, and gorgeous bokeh. We just wish it didn't cost so much.

Price: $3,299 on Amazon



Engadget's Back to School Giveaway
Official Rules
No Purchase Required to Enter or Win

Eligibility: Engadget's Back to School Giveaway (the "Giveaway") is open only to individuals who are legal residents of the fifty (50) United States (including the District of Columbia) and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 years of age or older. Employees of Weblogs Inc. LLC, AOL Inc., their advertising or promotion agencies, those involved in the production, development, implementation or handling of Giveaways, any agents acting for, or on behalf of the above entities, their respective parent companies, officers, directors, subsidiaries, affiliates, licensees, service providers, prize suppliers any other person or entity associated with the Giveaways (collectively "Giveaway Entities") and/or the immediate family (spouse, parents, siblings and children) and household members (whether related or not) of each such employee, are not eligible. All U.S., federal, state and local and Canadian federal, provincial, and municipal laws and regulations apply. Void in Quebec, Puerto Rico and where prohibited by law.

Sponsor: The Giveaway is sponsored by Weblogs Inc. LLC, 770 Broadway, New York, NY 10003 ("Sponsor").

Agreement to Official Rules: Participation in the Giveaway constitutes entrant's full and unconditional agreement to and acceptance of these Official Rules and the decisions of the Sponsor, which are final and binding. Winning a prize is contingent upon fulfilling all requirements set forth herein.

Giveaway Period: The Giveaway begins at 12PM ET on August 2, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011 (the "Giveaway Period"). The Giveaway Period shall be divided into fifteen (15) separate Entry Periods:

Entry Period 1 begins at 12PM ET on August 2, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 2 begins at 12PM ET on August 2, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 3 begins at 12PM ET on August 3, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 4 begins at 12PM ET on August 5, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 5 begins at 12PM ET on August 8, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 6 begins at 12PM ET on August 10, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 7 begins at 12PM ET on August 12, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 8 begins at 12PM ET on August 15, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 9 begins at 12PM ET on August 17, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 10 begins at 12PM ET on August 19, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 11 begins at 12PM ET on August 22, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 12 begins at 12PM ET on August 24, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 13 begins at 12PM ET on August 26, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 14 begins at 12PM ET on August 29, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.
Entry Period 15 begins at 12PM ET on August 31, 2011 and ends at 12PM ET on September 9, 2011.

Entry: During the Giveaway Period, go to http://www.engadget.com/2011/08/02/engadgets-back-to-school-2011-sweepstakes-were-giving-away-3/ and follow the instructions to submit your entry. The use of any agencies or automated software to submit entries will void all entries submitted by that person.

Drawing: At the conclusion of the Giveaway Period, Sponsor will select the name of one (1) Grand Prize Winner from each of the fifteen (15) Entry Periods in a random drawing of all eligible entries received during each Entry Period. The odds of being selected as a potential winner depend on the number of eligible entries received during the applicable Entry Period. Potential Winners will be contacted via email and asked to provide their full name, age and mailing address within a specified time period. If a potential winner does not respond within the timeframe stated in the notification email, the Sponsor may select an alternate potential winner in his/her place at random from all entries received during the Entry Period. Non-winning entries from one Entry Period do not carry over into subsequent Entry Periods.

Requirements of the Potential Winners: Except where prohibited, the potential winners will be required to complete and return an affidavit of eligibility and liability/publicity release (the "Affidavit/Release") and IRS W-9 form within seven (7) days of being notified. If a potential winner fails to sign and return the Affidavit/Release and W-9 form within the required time period, an alternate entrant may be selected in his/her place in a random drawing of all entries received. Acceptance of a prize constitutes consent to use winner's name and likeness for editorial, advertising and publicity purposes without additional compensation, except where prohibited by law. In the event the potential winner of any prize is a Canadian resident, he/she will also be required to correctly answer a time-limited mathematical question to be administered by email, mail or phone to receive the prize. Limit one (1) prize per household.

Prizes: Fifteen (15) Grand Prize Winners will each receive a Back to School Prize Pack containing the following items: HP Pavilion dm1z laptop, Sony NEX-C3 digital camera, Samsung 7" Galaxy Tab, Motorola Photon 4G (Sprint) smartphone, Altec Lansing Octiv 650 speaker doc, Bowers & Wilkins C5 headphones, Nook E-reader, Timbuk2 Command Messenger bag, Elgato HDHomeRun TV tuner, Kingston Wi-Drive, 1-year Premium Spotify subscription, Scosche: goBAT II, iMainGo: X, G-Form 11" Extreme Sleeve, Canon X Mark I Mouse Lite, 1-year Premium Skype subscription, Sonic Bomb Alarm Clock, Red Swingline Stapler, Toddy Smart Cloth and Pogo Sketch. Approximate Retail Value of each Prize Pack is $3,141. Subscriptions are subject to issuer's terms and conditions. Activation fees and monthly service fees not included with any smartphone/digital devices. No cash or other substitution may be made, except by the Sponsor, who reserves the right to substitute a prize or portion of a prize with another prize of equal or greater value if the prize is not available for any reason as determined by the Sponsor in its sole discretion. Winners are responsible for any taxes and fees associated with receipt or use of a prize.

General Conditions: In the event that the operation, security, or administration of the Giveaway is impaired in any way for any reason, including, but not limited to fraud, virus, or other technical problem, the Sponsor may, in its sole discretion, either: (a) suspend the Giveaway to address the impairment and then resume the Giveaway in a manner that best conforms to the spirit of these Official Rules; or (b) award the prizes at random from among the eligible entries received up to the time of the impairment. The Sponsor reserves the right in its sole discretion to disqualify any individual it finds to be tampering with the entry process or the operation of the Giveaway or to be acting in violation of these Official Rules or in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner. Any attempt by any person to undermine the legitimate operation of the Giveaway may be a violation of criminal and civil law, and, should such an attempt be made, the Sponsor reserves the right to seek damages from any such person to the fullest extent permitted by law. The Sponsor's failure to enforce any term of these Official Rules shall not constitute a waiver of that provision. In case of a dispute as to the owner of an entry, entry will be deemed to have been submitted by the authorized account holder of the screen name from which the entry is made. The authorized account holder is defined as the natural person who is assigned to an e-mail address by an Internet access provider, online service provider, or other organization responsible for assigning e-mail addresses for the domain associated with the submitted e-mail address.

Release and Limitations of Liability: By participating in the Giveaway, entrants agree to release, defend indemnify and hold harmless the Giveaway Entities from and against any claim or cause of action, including without limitation, any third party claim, arising out of participation in the Giveaway or receipt, use or misuse of any prize, including, but not limited to: (a) unauthorized human intervention in the Giveaway; (b) technical errors related to computers, servers, providers, or telephone or network lines; (c) printing errors; (d) lost, late, postage-due, misdirected, or undeliverable mail; (e) errors in the administration of the Giveaway or the processing of entries; or (f) injury or damage to persons or property which may be caused, directly or indirectly, in whole or in part, from entrant's participation in the Giveaway or receipt, use or misuse of any prize. Entrant further agrees that in any cause of action, the Giveaway Entities' liability will be limited to the cost of entering and participating in the Giveaway, and in no event shall the Giveaway Entities be liable for attorney's fees. Entrant waives the right to claim any damages whatsoever, including, but not limited to, punitive, consequential, direct, or indirect damages.

TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, THE PRIZES AND ALL ELEMENTS THEREOF ARE PROVIDED "AS IS" WITHOUT WARRANTY OR CONDITION OF ANY KIND. SPONSOR DISCLAIMS ALL EXPRESS AND IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING WITHOUT LIMITATION, OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE, TITLE AND/OR NON-INFRINGEMENT. Some jurisdictions do not allow the disclaimer of implied warranties. In such jurisdictions, some of the foregoing disclaimers may not apply to you insofar as they relate to implied warranties.

Disputes: Except where prohibited, entrant agrees that any and all disputes, claims and causes of action arising out of, or connected with, the Giveaway or any prize awarded shall be resolved individually, without resort to any form of class action, and exclusively by the appropriate court located in the Commonwealth of Virginia. All issues and questions concerning the construction, validity, interpretation and enforceability of these Official Rules, entrant's rights and obligations, or the rights and obligations of the Sponsor in connection with the Giveaway, shall be governed by, and construed in accordance with, the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia, without giving effect to any choice of law or conflict of law rules (whether of the Commonwealth of Virginia or any other jurisdiction), which would cause the application of the laws of any jurisdiction other than the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Giveaway Results: To request the names of the winners, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to Engadget Back to School Giveaway Winners, Zach Honig, 770 Broadway, New York, NY 10003. Requests must be received by September 30, 2011.

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Engadget's back to school guide 2011: digital cameras