A small, but powerful pocket camera, the WX50 is a great take-everywhere camera. It's loaded with many of Sony's latest automatic shooting options for excellent low-light photos and fun filter effects and is a very capable video camera, too.
The SX260 HS has what's probably the best photo quality you'll find for this category of camera. Its features and shooting performance are a bit behind competing models from Sony and Panasonic, but if the results straight from the camera are what matter most, get this.
The WX150 is very impressive for its size with a 10x, f3.3-5.9, 25-250mm lens tucked in a body that's less than an inch thick. Inside are a fast backside-illuminated CMOS sensor and image processor that give it the power to shoot excellent HD video, bursts of photos at 10 frames per second, and nice low-light pictures.
Giving the more expensive Sony WX150 some strong competition, the SZ7 has a 10x f3.1-5.9 25-250mm lens and Panasonic's Light Speed AF system. If you don't need all the Sony's bells and whistles or just want to save nearly $100, the SZ7 is the way to go.
Compact megazoom with Wi-Fi
The WB850F is a good choice for smartphone snapshooters looking for a long zoom lens, faster performance, and better pictures and video. Samsung's Wi-Fi features are the best around on a point-and-shoot -- from sharing direct to Facebook, Picasa, YouTube, and Photobucket to turning your smartphone or tablet into a remote viewfinder.
Those who need a camera to satisfy a couple different users will like the HX200V. Its 30x, f2.8-5.6, 27-810mm lens is good for a variety of subjects -- from close-ups to field shots from the bleachers. It has a wide selection of shooting modes, too, so whether you like to fiddle with settings or leave it in auto, the HX200V has you covered.
It may not have the longest zoom lens, but its large f2.8 aperture throughout its 24x, 25-600mm zoom range makes it one of a kind. It's a great choice if you're looking for a does-it-all compact camera for shooting kids, pets, and sports.
Olympus is no stranger to rugged compacts, but its Tough line was falling behind those from other manufacturers. It came back strong this year with the TG-1 and its bright f2 lens and backside-illuminated CMOS sensor, which lets you shoot with less light than competing models.
Though it's on the expensive side for a gift (or a compact camera), this is the best small camera you can buy for less than $1,000 and is sure to please the photography buff in your life.
Graduate from a compact
If you know someone who's ready to step up from a point-and-shoot, the GF5 will feel familiar but will provide all the added speed and image quality they're looking for. Plus, it supports interchangeable lenses, so you've got more options for gifts in subsequent years.
As an inexpensive entry point into dSLRs, the D3200 is probably the best of the cheap models. As a gift, it makes a solid, safe choice.
With kit price well under $1,000, this makes a good gift for someone who wants to update from an older Canon dSLR or wants to play around with video.
Old enough that its price has dropped substantially -- putting the body-only model within gifting territory for more generous givers -- this remains a great camera for someone who wants to shoot sports and other fast action, or just an all-around great camera. We recommend that you also include a 95MBpsec SD card with it if your giftee likes to do a lot of continuous shooting.