Panasonic Lumix GX7
Price: €950 (body only): €1,050
(with 14-42mm lens)
Last week, I was lucky enough to meet Dublin-based photographer Kevin Abosch, who shot the famous series of Irish portraits in Dublin Airport's Terminal 2. He took many of these intimate, detailed photos using mid-sized cameras that don't boast 'full-frame' sensors or ultra-posh lenses.
His portraits eloquently make the point that a superb camera does not have to be a large, bulky DSLR. I was reminded of this using Panasonic's new Lumix GX7, the latest replacement for its award-winning GX1 – a camera I loved.
Bar the full frame, the 16-megapixel GX7 has just about all of the features that give DSLR cameras their high-end quality.
This includes a superb, sturdy frame that is just over half the size of most full-frame DSLR bodies. (How sturdy? I accidentally dropped it from the height of a Talbot Street bar counter – sorry, Panasonic – and it didn't skip a beat.)
It also includes a top-end autofocus and the ability to shoot at one 8,000th of a second (for sports shots).
I've had the pleasure of using it with Panasonic's Leica 25mm (F1.4) Summilux lens which, truth be told, makes any photo look great. (You'll need about an extra €550 for this lens, though: the standard kit is a 14-42mm Panasonic lens.)
A fuller review of this system will follow in coming weeks. But this is one hell of a camera system.
Light up party season
Philips Friends of Hue Lightstrips
Price: €90 Rating: ***
Want to make your living room look like the inside of a party limo? Or a New Year's reception in Hull? Apart from SuperValu champagne, a spinning mini-globe and a Malaysian three-watt speaker system, you'll need lights.
Now that iPhones are the handsets of middle-aged mums, this lighting solution from Philips makes for an accessible, reusable resource. It's a two-metre strip with dozens of small LED lights on it.
You can adhere the strip to hard surfaces, including stairs, sofas, doorways or even around picture frames. The unit's party piece is that the lights can change colour to whatever tone you choose from an accompanying iPhone app. This is intended to make the lighting 'match your mood'. As it happened, I was rarely in the mood for a strip-club runway or a New Year's party in Scunthorpe. But kids will find it fun.
A long shot in this market
Canon Powershot SX270
Price: €250 Rating: ***
Let's be honest: there are probably as many people looking for BlackBerrys or fax machines as there are for mid-range compact cameras. And if you have recently bought a high-end smartphone such as Sony's Xperia Z1 or Apple's iPhone 5S, Canon has a tough task persuading you that its new 12-megapixel SX270 is a sensible purchase.
To sum up the device's positives, it delivers crisp, clear images with an optical zoom that extends to 20x (which is far, far more than any smartphone). It also has a series of modes that make it easy for you to get creative. Controlling the camera is a bit easier too, with a nice dial to switch between options. Anytime I used it, I was pleased with the shots: it beats top-end smartphones for overall image quality.
Its problem is that, in most situations, it only improves on top cameraphones by about 25pc. Is that enough to make you fork out another €250? For some it will be. For me, it is seriously squeezed between a smartphone and a better camera.
Sports camcorder with great stabilisation
Go Pro Hero 3+
Price: €450 Rating: *****
It's quite amazing how GoPro has almost single-handedly expanded niche sports video cameras into the lives of ordinary people.
For those unfamiliar with the genre, these are small camcorders that can be attached to sports equipment (such as helmets, skis, or bikes).
They have great stabilisation technology, meaning that home videos don't judder or wobble too much when you're playing them back. The Hero 3+ is a modest improvement on what was already an excellent sports video camera.
Its main upgrades are in its lens (which is brighter), its battery (which lasts longer) and its 'dynamic ranges' (meaning it can cope with sun a lot better). For snorkelers and divers, it has a case that makes it waterproof down to an impressive 40 metres.
This is really excellent.
Save your phone from bumps in night
Otterbox Defender Case for Nokia Lumia 1020
Price: €50 Rating: ****
Nokia Lumia smartphones are creeping up in popularity. Some estimates put them at close to 10pc of the market in Ireland. Many of these appear to be placed in the hands of corporate staff as BlackBerry replacements.
But corporate types are human, too. Some even go out at weekends. This is where much of the damage is done to handsets, with screens shattered and casing cracked. Otterbox has extended its Defender series of tough, lightweight polycarbon case protectors to Nokia's anchor cameraphone, the 41-megapixel Lumia 1020.
The case has a couple of layers and a built-in screen protector.
It bulks the handset up a wee bit, but makes your phone impervious to knocks, bumps and falls.