Plugged In: Picture-perfect holiday gift ideas

By Joe Kashi, for the Redoubt Reporter

With the Christmas shopping rush nearly upon us, it’s time for our annual holiday suggestions.

v Sharing memories: Many Alaskans have relatives who live far away and whom we see only infrequently. This Christmas, why not send a nicely printed and bound book of family and Alaska photos to far-away family? I’ve done this for some years now and have found it to be a welcome, personalized gift.

I’ve generally used a service called MyPublisher, found at You’ll need their free software to build your book, but it’s easy to use. Generally, the quality is more than adequate and the company offers books in larger sizes than other print-on-demand companies, up to 11-by-15 inches. Having used this company for some years, I’ve found that the regular prices are rather steep but that frequent sales reduce per-book prices by up to half. If you decide to try this self-publisher, I suggest downloading their software, preparing your book ahead of time and then uploading and purchasing the book when there’s a good sale.

I suggest avoiding the leather-bound premium volumes because the leather covers tend to delaminate. I use the “Photo Finish” hardbound style and find it more durable.

When making books intended to send as gifts, first consider what ideas and themes you want to convey, and then choose photos that work together to showcase your “message.” Whenever you undertake a project like this, first ask yourself what you are trying to convey, whether you successfully did so, and is it a “message” that’s worth the effort? Family photos never fail this test but some other, perhaps more esoteric, projects might.

  • What about camera gear as Christmas gifts? I suppose that it depends upon the “naughty/nice” factor, but some items stand out for various age and interest groups:
  • Two of the best first cameras for elementary- and high-school students new to photography are Canon’s Powershot SX170 ($180 list) and Powershot SX510 HS ($250). The SX170 is an evolutionary development of Canon’s well-regarded, superzoom camera that includes an image-stabilized zoom lens that starts at a 28-mm wide-angle equivalent through a 450-mm, high-magnification telephoto. The Powershot SX170 is not a really sophisticated camera but it’s reasonably rugged, not too expensive and includes decent still photography and video capabilities. The Powershot SX510 is a somewhat more polished version with higher resolution video, a better rear LCD screen and a higher-magnification zoom lens. You will not go wrong with either camera.
  • Comparable Fujifilm and Nikon cameras oriented toward the same student audience include the FinePix S8400W ($279-$320), which includes a really high-magnification zoom lens and an electronic viewfinder, the more compact AX650 ($80-$170) and the F900EXR cameras, and Nikon’s S9500 ($235-$300). Most cameras in this group include sensors with 16 or more megapixels and zoom lenses with huge zoom ratios.

While those numbers seem impressive on paper, remember that high zoom-ratio lenses tend to be less sharp than conservatively designed lenses with a low zoom ratio. Remember, too, that all high-zoom-range cameras use very small sensors that can be quite noisy, especially when loaded with too many megapixels. In many cases, a small, 12-megapixel sensor may actually be sharper than a similarly sized sensor with more megapixels. For these reasons, if buying a camera for a student or beginner, I would be inclined toward the least-expensive camera in this group, Canon’s SX170.

  • If you’re outside frequently in Alaska, then a good weather-sealed compact camera might be the right camera for you. As we mentioned a few weeks ago, the top-rated cameras in this group include Olympus’s TG-2 ($360-$380) and Canon’s well-proven D20 ($350). Don’t forget Nikon’s large-sensor AW1 ($800), a unique compact-system camera with interchangeable lenses that claims to be waterproof to several meters. If you want a highly sealed, ruggedized camera with good image quality, then the AW1 is probably worth the additional cost.
  • “Premium compact” cameras simply refuse to go away even though I’ve predicted their imminent demise for years. Instead of fading quietly away, even more models are now on the market. Canon’s S120 is the smallest ($350-$400) and a favorite of mine. The S120 provides nice image quality in a really compact package. Other good models include Pentax’s MX-1 ($450-$500), Panasonic’s LX-7 ($400-$500), Canon’s latest G-series, the G16 ($550), Olympus’ XZ-2 ($500), Sony’s RX100 and RX100 II, and Fujifilm’s X20 ($600). Except for the larger sensors used in Sony’s RX100 and Fujifilm’s X20, all “premium compact” cameras use a midsized 1/1.6-inch or 1/1.7-inch sensor. You’ll likely be satisfied with any of these “premium compact” cameras, all of which have more-than-adequate image quality for most purposes. Relative size, cost and handling characteristics that are comfortable for you will likely be the most important factors influencing your choice. If you expect to frequently use a camera in dim light, then the larger sensors in the RX100 and X20 might justify their extra cost. The Panasonic LX-7 also does well in dim light.
  • The next step up is entry-level, compact-system cameras with interchangeable lenses. In this group, the best buy remains the Olympus E-PL5 with its 14- to 42-mm kit zoom lens ($550). Micro Four-Thirds compact-system cameras, like the E-PL5, can use a wide range of very good, often readily affordable lenses. Used knowledgeably, the E-PL5 can produce professional-quality results. Panasonic’s new GM1 ($750) Micro Four-Thirds camera is even more compact and produces fine-quality still and video imagery.
  • Beyond entry-level Micro Four-Thirds cameras, buying cameras as gifts becomes a more serious and highly specialized proposition that’s best done in consultation with your recipient.

Don’t forget this year’s annual Arts and Crafts Fair at Kenai Central High School on Friday, Nov. 29, and Saturday, Nov. 30, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. There’s free public admission and more than 100 local art and craft vendors.

Local attorney Joe Kashi received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from MIT and his law degree from Georgetown University. Many of his technology and photography articles can be accessed through his website,


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