Engadget's Holiday Gift Guide: Digital Cameras

Welcome to the Engadget Holiday Gift Guide! The team here is well aware of the heartbreaking difficulties of the seasonal shopping experience, and we want to help you sort through the trash and come up with the treasures this year. Below is today's bevy of hand curated picks, and you can head back to the Gift Guide hub to see the rest of the product guides as they're added throughout the holiday season.

Digital cameras are the bread-and-butter of holiday gadget giving -- everyone wants one, and everyone wants a better one. But you can't just dole out any shooter you can find -- you need to find the right balance of image quality, features, and usability for your intended recipient, and hold the line on your bank account as well. Sounds daunting, but we've pulled up a few of the more interesting models out there to help you out.

Stocking stuffers

Samsung SL420 - This 10 megapixel shooter just does the basics, but it does them well -- and unlike many other cameras in this price range, it's got an optical image stabilizer, a 5x optical zoom, and face detection to help you take great shots.

$103 - Buy from Amazon

Canon SD1200 IS Digital ELPH - In terms of basic cameras, the SD1200 IS might be our favorite. It's tiny, it comes in a bunch of colors, and Canon's been refining the basic PowerShot UI for so long that even a baby can use it. Plus it takes great photos with its 10 megapixel sensor -- it's hard to go wrong with this one if all you've got is a buck fifty.

$139 and up - Shop for Canon PowerShot SD1200 IS Digital ELPH

Casio Exilim EX-Z450 - It's not the world's most exciting camera, but Casio's Exilim EX-Z450 boasts a 4x optical zoom, a 12 megapixel sensor, and a 720p24 movie mode that can export straight to YouTube. Not bad for a tick under $200, you know?

$188 and up - Shop for Casio Exilim EX-Z450

Oh, you shouldn't have

Nikon S1000pj - Arguably one of the most interesting new cameras to hit this past year, the S1000pj features an integrated LED pico projector that lets you beam your photos and videos on the wall just as soon as you take 'em. That'll get people talking -- especially since the chunky point-and-shoot's 12.1 megapixel sensor, five-way VR image stabilization, and 5x wide-angle zoom should help you take some stunning shots to show off.

$349 and up - Shop for Nikon S1000pj

Sony DSC-TX1 with Party-shot dock - Sure, you want to give your loved on a camera. But do you also want to give them the hassle of actually taking photos? Sony's CyberShot DSC-TX1 and optional Party Dock take all the headache away: the motorized Party-shot dock combines with the TX1's face-recognition system to look around the room and automatically take photos when it locates a person. Perfect for low-impact party shots -- just make sure your giftee's friends are cool with remote robot surveillance.

$300 and up - Shop for DSC-TX1
$135 and up - Shop for IPT-DS1 Party-shot Dock

Canon EOS Rebel T1i - Picking just one consumer-level DSLR here is pretty tough business -- there are plenty of amazing choices from Canon and Nikon alone, not to mention Sony, Pentax, and Olympus. But we're going to call it in favor of the T1i, since it's a pretty great deal at around $700 for a kit from a reputable seller: you get a variant of the EOS 50D's 15.1 megapixel sensor, a 1080p movie mode, a 3.0-inch Live View display, and a UI we've found novices pick up quite easily. Sure, you can spend a little more and get a Nikon D90, which is a little more flexible and rugged than the T1i, but in terms of sheer bang for the buck the T1i's hard to beat.

$600 and up - Shop for Canon EOS Rebel T1i

We can't afford the rent now, can we?

Olympus PEN EP-2 - It's quirky and expensive for what it offers, but it's hard to deny the Olympus PEN E-P2's striking good looks and image-quality charms. The rangefinder-esque body is compact but still allows for interchangeable lenses, and inside the 12.3 megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor also functions in a fully manual HD movie mode with continuous autofocus. Oh, and if you're not feeling the Olympus, you can also look at the similar Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1, which comes in a hair less expensive at $899 -- but it's not shipping yet, so you'll be playing with holiday fire.

$1,099 and up - Shop for Olympus PEN E-P2
$866 and up - Shop for Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

Canon EOS 7D - A couple of big steps up from the T1i, we're pretty much in love with the Canon EOS 7D right now -- we use one to shoot Engadget Show segments and other interviews in 1080p HD. Believe it or not, it's also a pretty damn good camera, with dual DIGIC IV processors, an 18 megapixel sensor, and solid low-light performance up to ISO 1600. And it's actually sort of "affordable," as far as expensive cameras go. What's not to love?

$1,600 and up - Shop for Canon EOS 7D

Nikon D3S - We've been playing with the D3S for a couple weeks now, and it's unequivocally one of the hottest cameras we've ever laid hands on. Why's that? The incredible, mind-blowing ISO 102,400 sensitivity, which is basically night vision. Sure, it's a little grainy when you jack it that high, but you can always step it back to 12,800, which lets you take terrific pictures without a flash in places you never thought possible. What's more, you can shoot some pretty incredible 720p24 movies with that sensor, so you've got a filmmaker's dream in your hands -- although you won't have too much cash left in your pockets.

$5,199 and up - Shop for Nikon D3S