Cool Stuff: Your 2008 Holiday Gift Guide

18 economical, expensive, and just plain weird tech gifts for your friends and family

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Digital photography

These days, almost anyone can produce photos that look professional -- if they have the right equipment. If you want your friends or family members to have the right imaging stuff, make sure they have a really great camera and a really great photo editor. And for an extra thrill, you can give them the ability to show off in three dimensions.

On a Budget: IrfanView

If you've been into digital photography for more than a week, you know that you need photo editing software, an essential tool for removing that ugly green skin tone or cropping your ex-boyfriend out of the image. You could try the $700 Photoshop CS4, which is so complicated it will upgrade to CS5 before you learn to use it. Or you can get IrfanView, a free toolbox of digital photography utilities.

IrfanView software

IrfanView

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IrfanView was created by Irfan Skiljan, who calls the software a photo viewer. But it is much more. For example, I recently sent 50 TIFF images, all about 50MB, through the IrfanView batch conversion utility.

I asked it to resize the pictures to 300 dpi with the long dimension at 1600 pixels; to apply moderate sharpening; to "auto-adjust colors"; to rename the files; and to output them in JPG format. I could have also asked it to crop, flip or rotate; convert to black and white; adjust brightness, contrast, color saturation or color balance; or a half-dozen other things.

That's a huge amount of processing, but it took just 160 seconds, or about three seconds per image, on my midrange Dell desktop. It's the sort of thing you might want to do when preparing photos for production of a book (as I was), for uploading to a Web site, or for downsizing and making bulk improvements to your images before archiving them. Or when you simply want to make your ex disappear.

But wait, isn't this supposed to be a gift guide? If you must stand on ceremony, just download the software, put it on a CD, maybe make a nice CD cover, and voila! Instant stocking stuffer.

-- Gary Anthes

IrfanView from Irfan Skiljan

Price: Free

Summary: You want a good photo editor? You want a good free photo editor? IrfanView isn't quite Photoshop, but it will do a lot that other apps won't.

Over the Top: Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital SLR camera

If you really want to spend this season, you could go for the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III SLR digital camera: $7,999 with free shipping but no lens. On the other hand, you don't need to bust your FDIC-insured savings account to buy a digital SLR camera that would bring smiles to a pro picture-taker at National Geographic.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital SLR camera

Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital SLR camera

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For less than half that price -- $2,699 without lens -- you can get the brand new and amazing Canon EOS 5D Mark II digital SLR camera. In some ways, it's better than the venerable 1Ds Mark III.

Skip this if you are not a spec head: 21-megapixel, full-frame sensor; 14-bit A/D conversion; 9-point focus with 6 assist points; ISO speed range of 100-25,600; exposure metering in 35 zones; new ultrasharp LCD monitor; 3.9 frames per second shooting; state-of-the-art DIGIC 4 image processor; and built-in automatic sensor cleaning.

Translation: This is one awesome camera, with performance unimaginable a few years ago at any price. It may exceed the capabilities of your lenses, let alone your skills as a photographer.

Oh, I almost forgot -- you can make home movies with this camera. Seriously.

-- Gary Anthes

EOS 5D Mark II from Canon USA Inc.

Street price: $1,810 to $3,800  |  Tech specs  |  Store locator

Phone: 800-828-4040

Summary: If you want your digital photos to look professional, you need the best -- and latest -- camera from Canon: the EOS 5D Mark II.

Off the Wall: Minoru 3D Webcam

You think having a conference with a colleague using a webcam is futuristic? Wait until you try it in 3-D -- using the Minoru 3D Webcam.

Minoru 3D Webcam

Minoru 3D Webcam

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Designed for 3-D Web chat, the Minoru (Japanese for "reality") has two cameras spaced the same distance apart as human eyes, creating a stereoscopic effect.

"This creates an anthropomorphic look that means users tend to look into the eyes of the camera as they light up," says the maker, Promotion and Display Technology Ltd. in Manchester, England. Anthropomorphic is right -- the Minoru looks like the latest take on one of Pixar's cartoon robots.

The webcam has a multiposition stand that can sit on a desk or monitor. Viewers wear special colored glasses to see the 3-D image. It will sell for under $100 when it ships in December, according to the company.

Does it work? Heck, I don't know. I just want one because it looks so cool. In fact, I'd buy one for each member of my family if I could afford it.

OK, I suppose I could sell my Lehman stock.

-- Gary Anthes

Novo Minoru 3D Webcam from Promotion and Display Technology Ltd.

Price: Less than $100 when it becomes available in December

Phone: 415-839-5503

Summary: Let everyone see you in 3-D with the help of the robotic-looking Minoru webcam.

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