Canon EOS Rebel XSi with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Canon EF-S IS lens

It may be last year’s model, but the Rebel XSi could be new for all it has going for it: 12.2MP CMOS sensor with 14-bit A/D conversion, live view on a big 3-inch LCD, speedy AF and burst rate, and image quality near the top of its class. Plus, the standard kit lens is image-stabilized. What’s missing? Video. But for $690 (street) for the kit, we’re cool with that. (www.canoneos.com)

Nikon D5000 with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 Nikkor AF-S DX VR lens

The D5000 is this year’s model, but, at a street price with this kit lens now hovering at around $760, it is, at press time, the least expensive DSLR with HD video. That HD is 720p, not the higher-res 1080i, but in our tests of the camera, the video looked plenty good, thank you. On the still-image front, the D5000 inherits much from the Nikon D90: top-notch imaging for its class, rapid autofocus, speedy burst rates-and don’t forget that groovy flip-down-and-swivel LCD. (www.nikonusa.com)

Pentax K2000 with 18- 55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax DA lens and AF-200FG flash

With a street price of $495, this kit is currently the rock-bottom deal in DSLRs, but far from a rock-bottom outfit. You get 10.2MP capture, ISOs to 3200, sensor-based image stabilization that works with any lens you can put on the camera (and there are a lot of them), and an accessory flash with output about double that of the built-in unit. It’s light, simple to operate, and a great way to wean yourself off compacts. (www.pentaximaging.com)

Sony Alpha 230 with 18-55mm f/3.5- 5.6 and 55-200mm f/4-5.6 Sony DT SAM lenses

We’ve seen a lot of sweet deals in twolens kits, but Sony’s latest 10.2MP outfit, at a street price of $750, is practically sugar-coated. Spanning an 11.1X range that’s equivalent to 27-300mm in fullframe terms, we can see this as an ideal backpacker’s kit. Given the light weight of the individual pieces, as well as the sensor-shift image-stabilization, you could get away with leaving your tripod at home. (www.sonystyle.com)


Samsung SL420

One look at the slim, elegant, brushed-metal SL420, a 10.2MP compact with 35-175mm equivalent 5X zoom, and you’d probably guess it cost way more than $180 (street). It’s designed as a people-snapper, with face detection, smile shutter, and blink detection. If those aren’t enough, a Beauty Shot mode automatically retouches portraits. Sensor-based image stabilization keeps the shots steady for all that cosmetic work, and Smart Auto figures out the best camera settings for the job. (www.samsungcamera.com)

Casio Exilim EX-S5

With most electronics, smaller means pricier, and ultraslim cameras are no exception. Casio, which essentially invented the ultraslim, counters the trend with the $130 (street) EX-S5. At just under ¾-inch thin, you could fit two of these metal-clad cuties in a shirt pocket. It has 10.1MP capture, 2.7-inch LCD, and plenty of modes, including one for YouTube. While it lacks HD video, you can shoot in 848×480-pixel standard-def that matches the 16:9 widescreen. And it comes in five colors. (www.casio.com)

Fujifilm FinePix S1500

You want a 10MP camera with a 12X optical zoom and lots of features-but don’t want to spend more than $200? Not the impossible dream with the $190 (street) S1500. The 33-396mm (equivalent) zoom is pretty bright at f/2.8-5, and images are stabilized via a shifting sensor. The S1500 can take bursts up to 7.5 frames per second at 2MP resolution, and it can stitch together three frames into a panorama right in the camera. Frame your shots in an electronic viewfinder- better for holding it steady-or on the 2.7-inch LCD. (www.fujifilmusa.com)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS15

What we like about many Panasonic compacts is that they give you a little more of everything. For instance? Optical zoom range: the FS15 gives you 5X instead of 3X. Wider angle of view, with the 29-145mm (equivalent) zoom. A couple more megapixels; 12.1 instead of 10. Add the usual Lumix virtues of lens-based image stabilization, Intelligent Auto mode that adjusts everything according to the scene and subject, and a 2.7-inch LCD that automatically varies brightness for lighting conditions. You get a lot for $200 (street). (www.panasonic.com)

Kodak EasyShare M1093 IS

If you take all the features that make a good compact camera-10.1MP capture, 35-105mm (equivalent) 3X zoom lens, sensor-shift image stabilization, 3-inch LCD with wide viewing angle, plus clear and intuitive controls-and keep the price to $140 (street), you’ll get an EasyShare M1093 IS. What makes it all the more impressive is that it takes 1280×720-pixel HD video, and even provides some in-camera editing controls. Plus, it connects to an optional EasyShare G610 Printer Dock ($300, street) for simple 4×6 printing. (www.kodak.com)


Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX

Sometimes 35 is the new 50. This digital-only lens scales up to 52mm on APS-C-sensor Nikon DSLRs for a fast optic with normal perspective. How good can a $200 (street) lens be? In our test (June 2009), we found it “nearly flawless,” with stellar sharpness and control of distortion and light falloff. Forget your zoom and shoot with just this lens-you’ll become a better photographer fast. (www.nikonusa.com)

SIGMA 28-70mm f/2.8-4 DG

This lens has been around in some form for more than a decade. In our 1996 test of the original, we called it “hard to beat, or even to equal, at the price”-$250, then. Today, you can pick up the newest DG version for $160 (street), in mounts for Canon, Nikon, Pentax/Samsung, and Sigma. Note that the DG designation does not mean digital-only-this lens covers a full 35mm frame, making its fairly fast apertures all the more impressive. (www.sigmaphoto.com)

Olympus 35mm f/3.5 Macro Zuiko Digital

If 35mm sounds like an odd focal length for a macro lens, remember: On a Four Thirds system Olympus (or Panasonic), it’s the equivalent of 70mm-an ideal short tele that doubles as a tight portrait lens. And if you want to fill the frame with an eye, you can, because it focuses to a very satisfying 1:1. At $210 (street), this close encounter won’t close your bank account. (www.olympusamerica.com)

Sony 30mm f/2.8 DT SAM Macro

Sony’s SAM (Smooth Autofocus Motor) lenses are aimed squarely at budgetconscious shooters who want more than kit zooms. For APS-C-sensor Sonys only (every model save the Alpha 900), this lens scales up to an equivalent of 45mm, so you could use it as a fairly fast normal for everyday work. But close-ups are where this true macro shines, getting to a gnat’s-eye-view 1:1. Hard to beat at $200, street. (www.sonystyle.com)

Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro

Another old favorite whose current price-$170, street-is lower than when it first came out, this short-in-size but long-in-reach telezoom boasts genuine macro focusing: 1:2 at 300mm. While it carries the Di (digitally integrated) designation, indicating that it’s been tweaked for digital sensors, this is a full-framer, so it can work across formats. (APS-C cameras get an equivalent of 105-450mm, a boon for wildlife and sports.) Get it in mounts for Canon, Nikon, Pentax/Samsung, and Sony. (www.tamron.com)

Tokina 12-24mm f/4 AT-X Pro DX II

When we tested the original 2005 version, we noted its “superb performance at a great price.” The newer DX II costs the same $500 (street) but adds improved multicoating and one-touch manual focusing-just push or pull on the focusing ring to switch between AF and MF. Designed strictly for APS-C sensors, it scales up to equivalents of 19-38mm on Canon DSLRs and 18-36mm on Nikons, the two mounts available. Want an even better buy? You can still find the original DX version from some retailers for about $100 less. (www.tokinalens.com)


Adorama Commander Camera and Notebook System Bag

Want to carry your gear to work without looking like a camera geek, or worse, a target? The subtle black or gray Commander looks like a messenger bag, but it has a compartment with a padded camera cradle and dividers for lenses. Another pocket swallows a 15-inch notebook computer, and a third holds your office stuff. There’s a mesh water-bottle holder, and a Velcro strap to attach the bag to a wheeled trolley. And at $30, direct, you know you can afford it. (www.adorama.com)

Vanguard VGP-300W aluminum case

If you travel a lot- especially by plane-you need a hard-sided case, but prices can be stratospheric. Vanguard brings it down to sea level with this $100 (street) case. Measuring 14x21x8 inches (sufficient for one or two DSLR bodies and a few lenses), it has a customizable foam insert, well-padded shoulder strap, extendable handle, and wheels. It gives a new meaning to “hard bargain.” (www.vanguardworld.com)


Benro Travel Angels

This new line from the largest tripod maker in China has the weight and compactness that globetrotters look for. The four sizes, available in either aluminum or carbon fiber, also offer generous maximum load capacities and extended heights. Case in point: The 3.5- pound C-269M8 (shown) will bear loads of more than 26 pounds and extends to 61 inches. With a street price of $475, it’s a fraction of the cost of most comparable carbon-fiber ‘pods, and the price includes a B1 ballhead and carrying case. (www.benro.com)

Flashpoint 8 Channel Radio Remote Control Set

Remote strobe triggers keep your studio floor clear of sync cords; on location they let you put flash units anywhere within radio range. With this set ($34, direct), that’s 90 feet, and the eight channels help you avoid interference. The transmitter is rated for 20,000 firings on a single 12-volt alkaline battery, and the receiver works off the AC line voltage of the flash unit. No hot-shoe? You get a PC connector, too. (www.adorama.com)

Westcott Photo Basics 404 uLite Two Light Kit

Hot lights are hot again, thanks to their what-you-see-is-what-you-get lighting. This kit has a price that won’t singe you-$180 (street). You get two 500-watt lamps, two 20-inchsquare collapsible softboxes, two 7-foot lightstands, and a coupon for a free weeklong backdrop rental. Want an extra accent light? Add 50 bucks for the Three Light Kit. (www.photobasics.net)


Epson Stylus Photo 1400

When the 1400 arrived a few years ago, we thought it was an excellent buy for about $375. Now that it costs $265 (street), it’s really a bargain. This 13-inch, six-color inkjet uses Claria dye-based inks, rated for a longevity of nearly 100 years. It produces photo-quality prints at very fast speeds on glossy, semi-gloss, matte, and even some uncoated papers not designed specially for inkjets. It prints on CDs and DVDs. Even though it doesn’t have a special driver for black-and-white, its b&w prints are impressive. (www.epson.com)


Adobe Photoshop Elements 7

We love Photoshop CS4, but its $640 street price? Ouch. For $90 ($80 for Elements 6 for Mac), you get much of what the big guy has: Layers, Adjustment Layers, and Levels, plus junior versions of such tools as Highlight/Shadow and Curves. Missing? The full Curves for meticulous color correction, Masks for heavy compositing, and other power tools. You may never miss them. (www.adobe.com)


Eye-Fi Share 4GB Wi-Fi SD card

Another way to save with last year’s model, the Eye-Fi Share Video card has almost all the capabilities of the newer Pro. It uploads your images automatically to such photo-sharing sites as Flickr, and it sends images to your computer via Wi- Fi. Unlike the Pro, this older card can’t transmit RAW files. If that’s not a dealbreaker, here’s the dealmaker: The 4GB Share card is $80, street; the Pro card, $150. ‘Nuff said? (www.eye.fi)

Western Digital 1TB My Book Essential Edition USB 2.0 External Hard Drive

Now that you shoot huge RAW images, it’s good that storage is getting cheap. This is one of our favorite low-cost byte boxes-the size of a large paperback, it holds a terabyte (about 1,000 gigs), costs $120 (street), and can make mirror backups of your files automatically (“RAID 1,” to geeks). Want to connect via FireWire or eSATA port? Throw in another 10 bucks and get the Triple Interface version. (www.wdc.com)