If ever there was a time that you could justify treating yourself or a loved one to some delicious tech gadgetry, it’s Christmas. Here we take a look at some of the best digital cameras that are out there this Yuletide.

Each of the products featured here has been put through its paces in our Test Centre, and we’ve provided links to their full reviews on. This is useful if you want to know more about a particular product or compare it with some similar, perhaps cheaper, alternatives.

Digital Cameras: Christmas gift guide

Canon Ixus 230 HS

£200 inc VAT 

Canon Ixus 230 HS Perhaps the most desirable camera in our group of suggested models, the Canon Ixus is as beautiful a compact camera as you’re ever likely to encounter. It comes in black, silver, purple, brown or red and is very slim, given the mechanics inside.

The follow-up model to last year’s popular 220 HS, it’s a 12.1Mp compact with a 28mm wide-angle lens and an 8x optical zoom. Compared with the zoom range of some of the compact cameras we’ve tried, the Canon’s is modest. However, the HS in its name refers to its combination of high speed and high sensitivity – something that wouldn’t work well over a 15x zoom. The 22mm-thick body would be hard-pushed to accommodate a larger lens anyhow.
Controls are geared towards point-and-shoot photography, with a simple dial to adjust the zoom and an onscreen indicator if your hands are shaking. Video can be taken at 720p and has a dedicated record button. A switch that lets you change from automatic to manual operation resides on the righthand side, while flash and macro options can be adjusted via a navipad on the rear. Other settings are changed via the onscreen menu.

As with other HS cameras (Canon offers Ixus and PowerShot models with this feature), the 230 is capable of capturing blur-free photos under challenging low-light conditions, so you can take party shots without blinding everyone with the flash. Canon cites 210 shots before the battery needs to be recharged. Expect around 40 minutes of video footage to deplete the battery.

Fujifilm FinePix X100

£999 inc VAT

The X100 is expensive, but there are enough committed camera fans out there for Fujifilm to have judged it worthwhile investing development resources in this fixed-lens camera.

Fujifilm FinePix X100 The fully manual 12.3Mp camera is built from magnesium-alloy and has an APS-C sensor crammed in. The aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation settings can all be checked before you switch on the X100. A 2.8in LCD offers an alternative viewing and composition option. There’s also a dedicated RAW button, which lets you switch between uncompressed shooting and processing mode.

The camera weighs 445g and is a chunky 54mm thick, so you won’t want to take it out and about on the off-chance it will get used. It’s anything but a point-and-shoot model, and has plenty of quirks.

Having spent some quality time with this camera this summer, we can attest to the fact that the Fujifilm X100 amply rewards patient use. A less complex (and less expensive) model, the £560 Fujifilm FinePix X10, is also available.

Lomo La Sardina El Capitan

Loma La Sardina El Capitan

£89 inc VAT (with flash)

£49 inc VAT (without flash)

A camera doesn’t need to be packed to the gills with fancy electronics in order to take decent photos. Lomo’s La Sardina analogue film cameras deliberately allow you to produce photos containing images laid over each other. In fact, the guide that comes with this 35mm camera suggests creative subjects for multi-exposure photos.

The oversized flash bulb is detachable and is the one concession to electronics. The La Sardina’s flash requires a single CR123A battery.

Coloured filters that fit over the camera lens offer a low-tech means of adding variety to your shot in the absence of zoom, art filters and f-stop adjustments. The La Sardina’s very simplicity allows you to focus on the subject and how they’re framed, rather than the mechanics of taking the shot.

Kodak EasyShare Touch M5370

£129 inc VAT

Kodak EasyShre Touch M5370 Not everyone wants to spend hundreds of pounds on a digital camera. The Kodak EasyShare M5370 packs in plenty for its £129 price tag. You get a 16Mp CCD, video capture, support for direct uploading to a range of photo-sharing sites and social networks, plus in-camera editing to finesse your images.

EasyShare software can automatically recognise that there’s someone in shot that looks a lot like a person in a previous photo and suggest they might be one and the same. If so, the face detection and tagging beloved of Facebook form a formidable alliance and pre-tag your photos ready for uploading. When you next turn on the camera, it’ll group photos in the gallery by subject, making it faster to find the best photo of a particular person.

A 5x optical zoom, image stabilisation and 20 scene presets all feature on this likeable budget camera.

Olympus PEN Mini

£449 inc VAT

Olympus PEN Mini As with the Fujifilm camera on the previous page, Olympus’ PEN range ploughs the retro vein. The Mini is the most stripped-down model in its PEN Micro Four Thirds line-up, offering simple point-and-shoot photography on to which you can put your own stamp thanks to art filters and special effects. Dramatic contrast, fish-eye lens and pop art options make even the most mundane scene stand out. A Live Guide on the preview screen aids composition.

Experiment with what the Mini can do using exposure bracketing, autofocus override and ISO light settings; when you’ve found a setup you like, you can save up to four custom settings as My Mode shortcuts. Scene modes and auto scene-detection are provided, while this capable camera can also shoot 1920x1080i video at 30fps.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2

£360 inc VAT

There’s a very good reason why the Lumix DMC-G2 has dominated our interchangeable-lens camera chart (page 143) for the past six Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 months: it’s a great-value 12.1Mp Micro Four Thirds camera with a tiltable 3in LCD touchscreen for image composition. This makes it easy to specify what you’d like the focal point of your photo to be.

A good range of scene presets and an intelligent Auto setting make for a shallow learning curve, while advanced options span aperture priority – from f3.5 to f5.6 – and adjustments to light levels. ISO settings from 100 up to 6400 are supported. For unusual compositions, in-camera effects can be applied.

The DMC-G2 can record video at 720p to the Blu-ray-compatible AVCHD format. The standard camera kit includes a 14-42mm lens.
While a newer £629 Lumix DMC-G3 model is now available, there’s very little wrong with this high-quality camera at little over half that price.

Sony Cyber-shot HX9V

£250 inc VAT

Sony Cyber-shot HX9V The best of the advanced compact cameras crop, the Sony Cyber-shot HX9V eschews manual settings, such as aperture priority and user-controlled shutter speeds, and doesn’t support RAW file formats. Nonetheless, it produces excellent digital photographs – the most important factor in any camera.

The Sony’s 16Mp CCD promises plenty of detail (we don’t advise buying a camera based on megapixel count alone, but this model is a safe bet) and there’s also a 16x optical zoom so you can capture extreme close-ups even from over the road. Dual-image stabilisation helps ensure shots are crisp.

All that zooming in ought to pound the battery, but the CIPA rating for the HX9V is an astounding 410 shots between charges. Really, though, it’s the 3D capabilities of this camera that will astound.

Rounding things off are support for geo-location tagging and some clever in-camera trickery to make the most of your photo artistry.

Kodak PlaySport Zx5

£90 inc VAT

Kodak PlaySport Zx5 The PlaySport Zx5 is a pocket-sized video camera that captures 1080p video footage.

Its ruggedised design makes this camcorder ideal for sports fanatics who want to show off their snowboarding escapades, but it’s also a decent 5Mp stills camera.

The Kodak is waterproof to 3m, so daredevils can record their encounters with sharks too.

Previous models in the PlaySport range had a rather cramped button layout, but the Zx5 takes into account the fact you may want to use it while wearing gloves.

Kodak EasyShare software recognises people in a series of shots and tags them before letting you directly upload photos to Flickr, Facebook, the Kodak Gallery and more.