Who says digital cameras aren’t cool anymore?  With the majority of casual point-and-shooters reaching for smartphones as their go-to capture devices these days, it seems that less interest is being paid to the dedicated camera segment compared to hotter CE gadget categories that are emerging onto the scene, which I admit, is understandable.

However, as the resident Digital Camera Analyst here at gap intelligence, the holidays are always the time of year that I can count on everyone that I know, from coworkers to family to long-lost friends, bombarding me for information on what cameras are good, what a decent price is, where they should buy one, or other similar advice that they know I’m good for.

Following the swirling momentum of numerous “Holiday Camera Roundups” and the increasing demand that we have for smartphone connectivity, outlined below are a few of the digital cameras available for purchase today that I would happily spend my own hard-earned dollar on in this edition of…
Scott’s One Cool Thing.

That’s right, every model below is easily accessible in brick-and-mortar retail for us last-minute gift-givers who don’t have Amazon Prime, and every camera listed plays nice with smart devices to appease that tech-savvy social networker on our list!

Superzoom Compact

Noting that capable smartphones are negating our need for basic compact cameras, models armed with strong zooms can still prove valuable companions in our pockets.  Combine their ability to magnify distant subjects with WiFi connectivity, and the act of using a dedicated camera becomes all the more attractive.  Two models that immediately jump out within the superzoom segment are Canon’s PowerShot SX280 HS and Samsung’s WB 250F, both of which can be grabbed for under $250.

Canon’s PowerShot SX280 HS is its first SX-series model to boast built-in WiFi, and also serves as the debut appearance of Canon’s Digic 6 image processor, which helps for low-light and speed (14fps burst!).  The model packs a 20x optical zoom lens (25-500mm), built-in GPS, and offers manual overrides for the more creative shooter.

The PowerShot SX280 HS’ WiFi links with Canon’s CameraWindow app (iOS, Android), which allows users to wirelessly transfer content to smart devices, other PowerShot models, and the company’s range of wireless printers, as well as social networking sites (through Canon’s iMAGE GATEWAY service).

Samsung’s WB 250F is a direct competitor to the Canon, and although it sports a slightly-weaker zoom strength of 18x (24-432mm), it more than makes up for this with its rich connectivity!  The WiFi-equipped WB 250F is based off of a similar concept as last year’s WB 150F, but has several noteworthy upgrades including its use of a BSI CMOS sensor for enhanced low-light capture capabilities, and its 3-inch touchscreen LCD that allows smartphone-style navigation.

While not one of the Samsung’s Android-powered Galaxy Cameras, the WB 250F has an app-style interface that bears a strong similarity to a smartphone.  The UI gives shooters the ability to post content directly to social networks, backup files onto home computers or cloud-based sites, and even beam footage to your new smart TV!  Especially beneficial to smartphone addicts is the camera’s “Auto Share” feature, which literally saves each picture taken into your phone’s album to immediately/easily share.

Bridge

Bridge cameras set themselves apart from basic point-and-shoots by their massive zoom lenses and external appearances reminiscent of DSLRs (they “bridge” the gap between the basic and advanced).  These cameras are designed to appeal toward more advanced shooters, families looking for an all-in-one option, and avid world travelers, as their lens versatility rivals a backpack full of gear.  Canon’s PowerShot SX510 HS is one of my favorite bridge camera picks, not as the most capable option on the market, but as one of the best deals under $250.

The PowerShot SX510 HS is Canon’s second generation “budget bridge” camera, headlined by a switch to CMOS sensor technology for better low-light performance, and the addition of built-in WiFi.  The move to a CMOS chipset also gives the camera its ability to film 1080p HD video (vs. 720p), and a fast burst rate of 3.8fps.  The model is equipped with a 30x optical zoom lens (24-720mm), which is now dwarfed by the bridge segment’s 60x zoom leaders, although it has a very compact body that will not burden travelers.

Much like Canon’s other WiFi cameras, the PowerShot SX510 HS leverages the company’s CameraWindow app (iOS & Android) for transferring still and video content to smart devices.  Other WiFi-ready PowerShot models can also receive footage from the camera, as can Canon’s wireless printers to instantly appease our relatives who value printed memories, and that we haven’t befriended on social networks.

ILC

ILCs, or Interchangeable Lens Cameras, consist of traditional DSLRs as well as their compact-bodied mirrorless counterparts, both of which share the benefit of using swappable optics.  While these cameras are more of an investment in both dollar and space requirements, their large image sensors, specialty lenses, and fast performance provide a distinct edge over smartphones and compact cameras.  Toss in WiFi and app compatibility, and ILCs play a valuable role as performance-rich partners to our smart devices, especially for the status-seeking hipster or true photo buffs in our lives.  One of my favorite options that will not break the bank this season is Samsung’s mirrorless NX 2000, which is commonly-found under $600.

The NX 2000 sports a 20.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor, which is the same size as most DSLRs, and boasts a fast 8fps burst shooting speed.  The core of the NX 2000 is its user experience, which consists on an “Android-style” interface on a 3.7-inch touchscreen LCD display that ranks as the largest panel fitted onto a mirrorless camera to date.

The NX 2000 introduced Near Field Communication (NFC) technology to Samsung’s lineup, which facilitates connection to compatible smart devices by simply touching them together.  The added convenience feature supplements Samsung’s already rich WiFi connectivity suite, and leverages the company’s SMART CAMERA App (Android, iOS) to control features such as Mobile Link, AutoShare, and Remote Viewfinder.  The latter function is extremely fun in group settings and will solidify your “rock star status” to tech-savvy onlookers this season.