Photography / Hands-on Review

Holiday 2012: Gifts for Parents


Coming up with gift ideas for a kid isn’t terribly taxing. However, shopping for their parents often proves to be a little more difficult. When pressed, mom or dad may divulge that they could use a new ice cream scoop or some wool socks, but in you can’t imagine their face lighting up when they unwrap such conventional gifts. You know you can do better, and perhaps that’s what brought you here. Below we’ve listed a number of gift ideas for parents that are designed to surprise and delight. Besides, the best gifts are often the ones they didn’t realize they needed. Or wanted.

Say Cheese!

Taking pictures of small children is always a struggle. It’s difficult to get infants to look into the lens of a camera, and when they do eventually glance toward the glass, you then want to make them smile without averting their attention from the camera. Toddlers and preschool-aged children present an entirely different challenge. They often understand that you want them to pause and smile at the camera, but they’re only willing to do so for a maximum of 0.5 seconds, before they turn and run away. The solution is to supply parents with a camera that won’t miss the shot.

Have you ever tried to take a picture with a digital camera, and ended up missing the moment because the camera was too slow to react after you pressed the shutter button? The time lapse between pressing the button and the photo being captured is called “shutter lag,” and for years it’s been one of the biggest drawbacks of digital photography. You can take measures to reduce shutter lag by setting your camera in a “Sports” or “Kids and Pets” mode, turning off the flash and half-pressing the shutter button before you shoot, but having an all-around snappier camera definitely helps. That’s why any of the following cameras make great gifts for parents.

Not only does the Sony RX100 have impressively little shutter lag for a compact digital camera, it powers up quickly and performs really well in low-light environments (such as inside a home). The RX100 was released in 2012 and quickly earned a reputation for being a pocket-size camera that can snap remarkably nice-looking photographs. When you’re trying to get a toddler to dedicate one second of their time to pose for a picture, you can set the RX100 in continuous shooting mode and use its BIONZ processor to capture ten frames per second with high-speed autofocus. So when they do eventually glance at the lens for that precious moment, you’ll grab ten sharp shots to choose from.

A surefire way to get great shots of family and friends is with a full-blown DSLR camera. Parents of children young and old shouldn’t have to struggle with smartphones and other sub-par cameras, only to end up with poorly exposed, low-resolution images. Even a beginner can shoot amazing-looking pictures with a DSLR. Their ability to capture detailed images with shallow depth of field encourages creativity. Besides, there’s a certain amount of gravity to recording images of children. They grow up so quickly, it makes sense to document the memories as best as you can.

A good option for those looking to upgrade from a basic point-and-shoot or bridge camera is the Nikon D3200. It features a 24.2-megapixel DX-format CMOS sensor and a powerful EXPEED 3 image processor, and there are built-in tutorials and guides that help you learn how to use it. In addition to great looking still images, the D3200 captures Full HD 1080p videos, and the included NIKKOR 18-55mm lens lets you shoot both wide angle and tighter shots. If you don’t want to give up the Internet-connected ease of photo sharing on a smartphone, you can add the separately available WU-1a wireless mobile adapter, and instantly share images from the D3200 with social networks, wirelessly, through an Internet-connected mobile device.

Another reasonably priced DSLR that performs really nicely for both still images and HD video is the Canon T4i. Equipped with an 18-megapixel CMOS APS-C sensor and a DIGIC 5 processor, the T4i is capable of continuously shooting up to five frames per second. Its mount is compatible with all of Canon’s EF and EF-S series lenses, and the 9-point autofocus system is fast and precise. Besides the optical viewfinder, you can frame and review shots with its vari-angle touch screen LCD. Users of this camera often remark on how useful they find the touch aspect of the display to be.

If you’re taking pictures of children, and you’re using a lens with a diameter up to 90mm, you should definitely consider using a Shutter Hugger. They are lens-mounting stuffed animals that help grab and hold the attention of the kids in front of the camera. Take your pick of a dinosaur, elf, giraffe, elephant, panda, Dalmatian or a monkey. A competing brand called Camera Creatures ups the ante by adding a built-in squeaker to the stuffed animal. If you want to go the squeaking animal route, you can use the Outrageous Owl, Look-At-Me Ladybug or the Dapper Dog. Another option is to mix things up by getting all three in the Camera Creatures Assorted Kit.

Shoot Family Videos Worth Watching

Besides having low-quality optics, tiny image sensors, poor image stabilization and inefficient low-light performance, there are numerous other reasons why shooting video with a smartphone or similar gadgetry isn’t a good idea. The ergonomics of a traditional video camera help you capture steadier-looking shots, and you’re free to shoot long takes without worrying about filling up a gadget’s limited memory. Plus, most video cameras feature motorized zoom lenses as well as rechargeable batteries that are easy to swap out, so you can keep on shooting.

There are high-quality video cameras available for relatively low prices, such as the Canon VIXIA HF M500, which features a 10x optical zoom lens, full 1920 x 1080 HD video, intelligent image stabilization and a 3” (76.2mm) touch panel LCD screen. The M500 records to SD/SDHC/SDXC cards, features an external microphone input with level control, and can record with the cinematic 24p frame rate, so parents can shoot videos that look like Hollywood flicks. With a maximum aperture of f/1.8 and its improved CMOS Pro Image Sensor, the M500 is capable of excellent low-light performance.

Parents who find themselves shooting from the sidelines at sporting events, and from the audience during school plays will appreciate the 21x optical zoom lens found on the Panasonic HC-V700 camcorder. It also gives you the ability to take still pictures while the camera rolls, shooting 1080/60p Full HD video. The HC-V700 also performs well in low light, and it has a built-in LED light that makes shooting in the pitch dark a possibility.

If the purpose of creating family videos is to relive memories when you gather around the TV, the Sony HDR-PJ260V begs the question, "why wait?" Featuring a built-in projector with a 16’ (4.9 m) maximum throw distance and the ability to cast a 100” (254 cm) diagonal screen, this is a camcorder capable of transforming any room into a movie theater. It records 1920 x 1080p Full HD video and has 16GB of internal flash memory.

Watch Baby from Afar

Parents with babies and young children will appreciate the ability to keep an eye and an ear on their little ones with a video-enabled baby monitor system. These kits are pretty painless to get up and running, and help supply peace of mind to parents when their kids are sleeping or playing in separate rooms at home.

The Lorex LW2401 LIVE Sense Video Baby Monitor lets you view a video feed wirelessly from a single remote camera, and it lets you listen and communicate with audio as well. Three more cameras can be added to cover other rooms of the home. If the kid starts doing something cute, footage can be recorded on a microSD card (a 1GB card is included). When rooms get dark, the cameras' automatic night vision kicks in. The temperature of the room can also be remotely monitored, and when you connect the remote viewing device to a computer via USB, you can link the system to Skype, so far away loved ones can keep an eye on baby, too.

Another option is the Samsung SEW-3035 SecureVIEW, which does nearly everything that the Lorex LIVE Sense system can do, including the Skype connectivity. It features a white remote viewing device with a 3.5” LCD screen. It’s possible to record and save videos on a microSD card, and then transfer them to a computer to upload to YouTube or Facebook.

There’s a great baby monitor option with really deep smartphone and gadget integration. The Withings Smart Baby Monitor connects to both Apple iOS devices like the iPhone and the iPad, as well as select Android devices with a dedicated app. When the Smart Baby Monitor is connected to a Wi-Fi network or an Ethernet connection, you can view through the camera and listen to the audio of the baby from another room, or from a distant location. You can also talk to the baby, control a built in nightlight, and play lullabies, all from your mobile device. The system even works without an Internet connection, through Bluetooth.

Liven Up Different Rooms in their Home

There are certain gifts that you can give parents that benefit the entire family. Speaker systems for the living room and other shared spaces of the home are a good example of this. With the  Home Theater Package, the whole family can enjoy the immersive entertainment of a 5.1 surround sound system. Designed for small- to medium-sized rooms, the HT-S3500 is like two gifts in one, because it includes an A/V receiver and surround sound speakers consisting of a center speaker, front and rear left and right speakers and an 8” down firing subwoofer. A USB port on the front panel allows direct connection of an Apple iPhone or iPod.

The way people discover, purchase and store music has radically changed in recent years, and not surprisingly, new kinds of speaker systems have emerged that offer an easier way to listen to and control music playback. A perfect example of this is the Sonos PLAY:3 music player, which is available in Black or White. The PLAY:3 connects to a wired home network, and it’s controlled wirelessly through a free app for Android and Apple iOS devices. The PLAY:3 can stream digital music libraries, and play content from Internet radio stations and services like Pandora, Rdio, Spotify, SiriusXM and more. With the separately available Sonos Bridge, the PLAY:3 can be used wirelessly, and you can add more Sonos products to cover other rooms in the home as well.

There’s another great wireless speaker option for parents who use Android and Apple gadgets like the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. The Sony NS410 is a powered speaker that streams audio wirelessly from Apple devices via AirPlay, and free apps are available for connecting wirelessly to Android devices. The NS410 has four built-in speakers and a subwoofer, and it’s designed to emanate sound in all directions. You can stream your libraries and listen to music from Pandora, Spotify and more. The Sony NS310 is a similar device with the same capabilities, with a more compact, single-speaker design.

Remember back in the 1990s when Bill Gates built his mansion, and it featured numerous digital picture frames and a trampoline room? While giving the gift of a trampoline room may be outside of the realm of possibility, giving your loved ones a digital picture frame is a perfectly sensible gift. Aluratek offers digital photo frames in 8-inch and 14-inch formats. Both frames feature 512MB of built-in memory, SD/SDHC card slots, a USB 2.0 port and a built-in speaker for playing video clips. They are powered by an AC outlet with an included power adapter, and they both feature an attractive black frame. 

If the parent you’re shopping for is a photography fanatic, the DIYP Camera Cookie Cutters make a really fun gift. The kit comes with three different cookie cutters and stamps that are made from BPA-free materials. There are three different camera shapes to suit various kinds of photographers: a DSLR, a rangefinder, and a twin-lens reflex. A cookie recipe is included, too. More than just a novelty the family can enjoy, professional photographers can bake up a batch to share with clients and at gallery shows.

Thanks for checking out this B&H InDepth article. If you have any questions about these products, we encourage you to submit a Comment below, stop by our SuperStore in New York City or give us a call at 1-800-606-6969 to speak to a B&H Sales Professional, or join us for a live chat.