So you want to buy a gift of sorts for someone special and that person happens to be a budding mobile photographer. Well, you can't go wrong with a Lens Camera but then, some might prefer an all in one camera phone device.
Most people would already have had an iPhone 5 or 6, meaning they will be after something that is better than what they already have. Fortunately, Apple hasn't really upgraded the its own camera in a while and even though it is a decent device for photography, it doesn't have the chops to compete head on with the newer Android devices in the market. You must remember that Apple is a hardware manufacturer, it makes money through selling you hardware so the having the latest technology in an iPhone isn't part of their business plan.
Therefore if you want give a gift that ups the ante on smartphone photography, you can't go wrong with these few choices.
Panasonic Lumix CM1
This little gadget has everything a mobile photographer would want. Great lens and imaging, 20 megapixel sensor found normally in compact cameras and RAW file capability. It's got manual mode too with full aperture control. This is pretty impressive as aperture control isn't something you get with most smartphone cameras.
The downside is probably that the camera isn't quite as fast in focusing. The zooming or cropping of the frame is ideal for a 20 megapixel image as even if you were zoom crop a scene by half, you still get a 10 megapixel image. It's low light handling is excellent too, allowing you to use up to 1600 ISO without those ugly pixelated chroma noise intrusions. Video capture is good at 1080p but suffers from slow frame rates in UltraHD 4K mode.
The downside is the 2GB RAM, which is barely enough to run Android Lollipop but it is sold with KitKat. If you shoot in RAW, you only need to add a bigger microSD card (which this phone supports up to 128GB). The retail price in the US was US$999 when launched earlier this year but expect to find some Christmas offers to offer less than the quoted price.
Samsung Galaxy S6
Coming in a strong second to the Lumix CM1 is the Galaxy series from Samsung. The 'dated' S6 sensor offers 16 megapixel still images with 4K video capture. What's more, if you want RAW image support, you need a third party camera app to obtain that feature.
Aside from this, there is little to worry about. It is technically fool proof. The larger 16 megapixel image is best supported with a larger microSD card. Internally, the 3GB RAM is just right for Android Lollipop so you won't run out of RAM that easily when editing your photos. Personally speaking, the camera is pretty much up with the best in its class when shooting in daylight.
In low light performance, it can hold its own up to ISO 640 before noise starts to get intrusive. Video capture is at a commendable UltraHD 4K but this is purely academic as the quality is subpar. The cost? You should be able to get the standard version for under US$500, with the Edge variant costing a little more during the Christmas season.
Motorola Nexus 6
Probably the most under rated camera phone device on the list, the Nexus 6 beats the iPhone 6s by a whisker so if you are thinking of a gift for a person who already owns an iPhone 5, this would be your best bet. It's cheaper at about US$500, unlocked, with 32GB of internal storage. Since it comes standard with stock Android Lollipop, it naturally comes with DNG raw support and HDR+, a computational attempt at low light photography. As a 13 megapixel shooter, the Nexus also has UltraHD 4K capture which is subpar in low light.
The low light capabilities are better than the iPhone 6s for this one reason alone but it takes a longer time to complete a shot as the image has to be processed. In everyday use, it can hold its own to ISO 600 before the noise levels become intrusive. Price wise online it should be under US$500 during the shopping season.
Choose your Weapon WiselyEach of these phones have their pros and cons but as long as you are wise enough to choose one that is suitable to your budget as a gift, then fire away.
Even the Lumix CM1 isn't perfect by a gorrila's leap but if you want a self contained phone with good capabilities, you can't go wrong with the Lumix.
The problem with the Lumix is that Panasonic has been pretty slow in releasing it world wide and you may have to buy them imported or from Amazon. The reason with high end camera phones is that they don't really sell well. A lesson here can be seen with the Lumia 1020 and 1520. Both were built with splendid cameras but failed to take the market by storm.
The perennial favourite, in the form of Apple's own iPhone, is both a hit and miss affair as can be seen with the iPhone 6s. You end up paying so much more for the hardware which is kinda difficult to justify. Spec wise, there is no denying the Lumix CM1's position in terms of affordability. It cost far more but the quality of the imaging is second to none—even against the iPhone 6s.
The Lumix CM1 is the top dog to beat but if you can't afford it, the older Samsung and Motorola models will do just fine for any budding mobile photographer.