This might move things into the territory normally occupied by, say, religious views, political preferences and, gasp, how we spend money. (Sex, after all, seems rather standard discussion fare in many circles nowadays.) But I have a current preference in cameras, and its name is Nikon.
Whether at the low-ish end, or the until-last-week-rather-high end, the Nikon firm has it together, in my opinion, after I've tested two of their digital cameras.
At the rather high end of the spectrum is the D700, a digital SLR that'll set you back $2,999.95 for just the camera body, if you pay list price, or about $500 less at an online seller such as Amazon.com. Add a 24-120 mm Nikkor lens and you're up near the $3,000 total again. This isn't a camera to give your kid, unless said child is a reincarnation of Ansel Adams. It's a very serious camera.
Yet the D700 is easy to use, has tons of programmable features and, yes, takes wonderful pictures with a 12.1-effective megapixel Nikon FX-format sensor that measures 23.9-x-36 mm, which is nearly identical to the size of 35 mm film negative. Whip out your old copy of Paul Simon's "Kodachrome," because "my Nikon camera" is back.
The D700 delivers excellent pictures, in fact; pictures that I happily snapped all through Shenandoah National Park and other places during the fall. It's a great camera for spot photography such as capturing the action at a meeting or conference, or taking other photos for business. While much depends on the talent of the photographer (or, in my case, wannabe photographer), there is a power to the features of the D700 that helps smooth out some of the rough edges.
In short, I wasn't all that concerned about my skills when wielding this camera, because it allowed me plenty of automatic compensation, but also the chance to do better. Why? It features a rechargeable battery that provides ample firepower for a succession of shots. The more pictures I take, the luckier I get in finding a good shot. The D700 lets me shoot, and shoot, quickly and easily.
While a $3,000 camera is overkill for many folks, it's the kind of tool that serious photographers, amateur or professional, will appreciate. If you're that dedicated, the D700 is a camera to consider, unless you want to up the ante to around $8,000 and buy the just-announced D3x, which packs 24.5 megapixels. I haven't tested this model, and don't expect to any time soon.
More realistic in price for many of us would be Nikon's Coolpix P80, a 10.1-megapixel digital camera that has a fixed lens, an 18x Nikkor that zooms from 27 mm to 486 mm. It'll also shoots video for you.
What's nice about this camera is its all-in-one power: It will cover just about any situation amateurs might find themselves in. It's not pocket-sized, but it is compact enough to carry around town or on a trip. And the photos are very, very good.
I also like its "vibration reduction" feature, which won't stabilize the camera much if you're shooting while using a pogo stick, but it will steady less-jarring vibration. I was impressed with not having to worry so much as I shot photos.
The retail price for the P80 is around $350, but you can save about $90 by shopping online, again at Amazon.com. I recommend this very highly.
If getting to your destination is a problem, consider the TomTom ONE 125 Global Positioning System, on sale in several places, including Amazon, for just under $100. I'll admit it: the ONE 125 had me at "You have reached your destination."
This is a good, solid, basic GPS with enough features for most of us. You can't run your mobile phone conversations through it, or load up a photo album, or play music. But you'll get from point A to point B, and if A and B are home and office, you can route to or from those places quickly and easily.
There are options to add low-price gas-finding and updated traffic reports, but even without these the ONE 125 is a great value. The device has a built-in suction mount for a windshield, can be updated and modified via hookups to PC and Macintosh computers, and it performs that function of finding directions superbly.
Moreover, a free add-on for the device will spot and warn of traffic cameras along your route, and in plenty of time to avoid those red-light "souvenirs" that are all the rage in the District and Montgomery County.
Until now, a device such as the TomTom would cost double or triple the price. For now, it's available at a reasonable cost, which is why someone on our Christmas list will receive one. You might want to gift yourself, too.
• What's in your stocking? E-mail Mark Kellner.