Best digital cameras for students

— -- Digital cameras remain one of the most popular holiday gift items, especially for high school and college students. We've rounded up some of this year's best shooters for any kind of student shutterbug—whether they're social media butterflies or artists in training.

The Facebook Friend

Samsung Dualview PL120 (MSRP $139.99, holiday sales as low as $99.99)

For students that just want to post a few photos of their extra-curricular activities to Facebook, a simple pocket camera will do the trick. The Samsung DualView PL120 features a front-facing LCD to help frame self-portraits (fewer vanity shots will end up as digital detritus) and the photos are mostly clean and color accurate, considering the low price.

But some of the best moments of the college years happen where the lights are down low, and that presents a challenge for most budget-friendly point-and-shoots. The Canon PowerShot ELPH 100 HS gets the job done better than any sub-$200 compact, making it easy to snap decent photos even at dimly lit house parties, bars and, uh, the library.

The student lifer

Casio Exilim EX-ZR100 (MSRP $299.99, holiday sales as low as $249.95)

Believe it or not, most colleges do actually host plenty of wholesome, sanctioned student life events and activities. If outdoor adventures, stage shows, or even just kickball on the quad are in the course catalog, something more versatile than a regular point-and-shoot will come in handy.

A compact long-zoom model like the Casio Exilim EX-ZR100 is a great compromise between portability and power. It packs a 12.5x zoom ratio to capture scenes near and far, as well as tons of fun features like sweep panoramas. Even better, it's small enough to fit in a pocket or purse.

If size isn't an issue, the Panasonic Lumix FZ150 superzoom offers the best balance of range, speed, and image quality of any fixed-lens camera right now. Its less-expensive sibling, the FZ47, is also worth a look.

The budding auteur

Nikon D5100 (MSRP $849.95 w/ 18-55mm kit lens)

There's no better time or place than college to explore an artistic endeavor, like serious photography. A proper interchangeable-lens camera was a huge investment even just a few years ago, but now a decent kit costs just a few hundred bucks. Most students will still have a tough time footing the bill on their own, but if they've studied hard, earned good grades, and want to indulge photography as a real hobby (or even as a course of study), an entry-level DSLR makes for a great gift.

The Nikon D5100 is the best beginner's DSLR on the market right now, offering stellar image quality, great handling, and speedy performance for under $1,000. Even the basic Nikon D3100 is a good choice, and costs a few hundred dollars less. For Canon fans (or Canon lens owners), the Rebel T2i is another excellent starter DSLR.

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