Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

Advanced compact
This is my favorite deal of the season. Should you care that this camera is more than 2 years old? Nah. It was an excellent enthusiast compact when it came out, and it's still faster than most of the newer models and as good or better than some. At $250, it's a steal, especially if you've been considering more-expensive models like the Canon PowerShot S110.

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Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF5

Entry interchangeable-lens camera
One of the problems with this market segment is price -- especially at the entry level, they're still too darned expensive. At least for the holiday season, we've seen a few prices drop below $500, and this one has reached an unbeatable $350 on Amazon. With a nice touch-screen interface but better speed and performance than you'd get from most similarly priced point-and-shoots, this camera makes a great step-up option. (Note that the model pictured here has the power zoom lens; that combo delivers an even more point-and-shoot-like experience but isn't so deal-friendly.)

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Olympus E-PL3

Entry interchangeable-lens camera
At $499 with the 14-42mm kit lens, this model, which has since been replaced by the E-PL5, becomes an attractive alternative as a speedy upgrade from a point-and-shoot or compact alternative to a dSLR but for people who want more streamlined manual operation than is offered by the less-expensive Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3.

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Sony Alpha SLT-A37

Entry dSLR
Competing models tend to be either older or feature-depleted models (such as lacking video capabilities) from Canon or Nikon or slightly more expensive. But at just under $500 from quite a few reputable retailers, the A37 is a fast modern dSLR with good photo quality.

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Nikon D3100

Entry dSLR
Though it's 2 years old, at around $480 from a variety of places, the Nikon D3100 with the 18-55mm kit lens is probably the best dSLR deal yet of the season. It's a solid camera for first-time dSLR buyers.

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