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Five great enthusiast camera deals for less than $500

This time of year, you don't have to pay a fortune for a camera that's designed for more than snapshots.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5 for $250 is my favorite deal thus far. Sarah Tew/CNET

When it comes to holiday shopping, I tend to take a conservative approach: decide what you want, then look for good prices. That makes you a little less likely to be swayed by faux bargains, like bundles with mediocre bags or accessories you really won't use. The one exception is for lenses -- provided they're ones you'll actually use -- which do increase the value of a bundle, though you don't want to buy a mediocre body just because the two-lens kit is cheap. With that in mind, I found a handful of models that take you beyond the point-and-shoot, but which are now even more attractive buys now that the seasonal price cuts are kicking in.

As I was researching this, there were a few now-you-see-them-now-you-don't deals that I suspect might pop up again over the course of the spending season, so you might want to keep an eye out and consider nabbing them if they repeat. These include the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 kit with a 14-42mm lens for only $499.99, which is an amazing bargain for video enthusiasts who want an interchangeable-lens entreé into digital videography, and two dual-lens dSLR kits: the Canon EOS Rebel T3 and the Nikon D3000, both with an 18-55mm lens and a second telephoto lens for under $500.

Don't forget to check out our overall holiday camera picks, too, and if you still need help deciding, try "Four steps to the perfect camera purchase." I wrote it last year, but really, shopping doesn't change that much over time.