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The hands-down best camera to give as a gift

The Sony RX100 II is not only the best point-and-shoot camera currently for sale, but arguable the greatest ever made. It's the perfect combination of a fast, sharp lens that can shoot in low light; a sensor that's on par with some mirrorless cameras; and a size that's small enough to slip in your pocket.

While the RX100 II's $750 price might make you balk, it's a gadget where you get what you pay for. Overall, it beats just about everything else on the market, and cameras it doesn't are hyper-specific and even pricier. (For those, read our expanded gift guide to top cameras in other categories.)

Perhaps the biggest feat of the RX100 II is that it manages to squeeze a very big sensor into a very small body. To put it simply, the bigger the sensor the better the image quality – and the the RX100 II has one of the biggest you'll see on a camera for less than $1000. That means your images come out less smeared and grainy when you shoot in low-light situations, and you'll be able to capture a wider range of lights and darks in a single image – without clipping the highlights or shadows.

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The lens on the RX100 II plays a role in its low-light performance. When you're zoomed all the way out, you can get a maximum aperture of f/1.8 – which means that a whole lot of light comes through the lens, so you can still get a good shot when the lights are dim. Combine that with the aforementioned low image noise, it means that you can bust this camera out for great shots at your next party.

That excellent maximum aperture also means that when you take photos, you can artfully blur out the background, which makes for great portrait shots. It doesn't hurt that it's a very sharp lens, too, and captures details extremely well.

What's also impressive is that all of this is squeezed into a tiny package: The RX100 II is small enough to slip into your pants pocket (assuming you aren't wearing skinny jeans).

While it has an auto mode suitable for the complete novice, the RX100 II shines for more experienced users. It has a full suite of manual controls, including the ability to shoot Raw image files (completely uncompressed). It even has a hotshoe mounting point so you can load it up with a bigger flash, or even a viewfinder. And the built-in flash can be pointed up at the ceiling so you don't end up blinding whoever you're taking a photo of.

In terms of other features: the screen tilts (nice for shooting from weird angles), it has a fairly decent Wi-Fi setup and the auto focus speed is on the fast side, so you won't miss any shots.

There are a couple of small downsides. Since it's so small and smooth, it can be a bit hard to grip, and relies on scrolling through menus to change settings rather than using external buttons. Also, there's the whole thing about it costing an arm and a leg (though you can get last year's model, which isn't quite as good, but is still mighty impressive for quite a bit less).

But what it really boils down to is the fact that this is a camera that's small enough to put in your pocket, but will take images on par with a much, much larger device. So it can easily be your go anywhere, do anything camera. It's a bit of a stretch to justify dropping $750, but the RX100 II will help you snap some amazing photos, which, after all, is what you're really paying for.

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