HERE'S THE FIRST in a series of columns on holiday buying. Prices vary from store to store, so shop around.

CANON -- The EOS Rebel is a new SLR that's absolute dynamite. This is the camera that could well become the AE-1 of the '90s. It's very compact, lightweight and extremely easy to use. It incorporates much of the EOS and T-90 technology, including a fine metered manual mode. It has many sophisticated automatic modes, but reverts to a point-and-shoot at the touch of a button, and has drop-in load, too. The Rebel comes in a kit with a 35-70mm zoom, a flash and battery, all for about $375.

The Photura's interesting design catches your eye immediately and you'll have a great time just going through all the many things the camera does. It has a 35-105mm zoom, a high-power zoom flash (effective to 20 feet) and many hi-tech innovations, including a red-eye reduction feature. Cost: about $300.

The new Sure Shot has a 29-48mm zoom lens, is auto-everything and has extras such as a fixed-distance setting, which will ensure that everything as close as nine feet, as well as distant subjects, will be in focus. Cost: $130.

FUJI -- The Discovery 2000 is a top-of-the-line camera with a 40-105mm power zoom, a very effective macro mode and a landscape button that sets the focus to infinity for shooting from behind glass or in other difficult focusing situations. It has four flash modes and is capable of taking an external flash. All the expected things are automatic. Cost: $299.

The Discovery 800 has a 35-70mm zoom and many of the features of the 2000. It's very well-balanced, easy to use and costs $199.

The Discovery 60 is an easy-to-use camera with many advanced features. Along with drop-in loading, it has an automatic flash and auto-everything features. A great starting or second camera. Cost: $80.

KODAK -- Kodak has some fine, simple cameras that are great for beginners. The new Star series cameras are fixed focus, with manual advance and flash. They cost between $39 and $49. The S series (400, 500, 900) are more sophisticated, with motorized film advance and flash. The S-400 sells for about $55.

KONICA -- There are two small, fun cameras available from Konica. The first is the A-4. Perhaps the first of the new breed of shirt-pocket cameras, the A-4 has a sharp 35mm lens, self-timer, and is auto-everything. Cost: $190.

The Kampai is a voice-activated camera. It sits on its own little tripod and can be set to fire at various sound levels. It's great fun at parties; as the noise rises, the camera fires and then rotates to a new position for the next shot. Cost $149.

LEICA -- The new Leica R-E is an SLR with two automatic aperture priority modes and a manual mode. It has two automatic exposure metering systems. With compatible Leica flash systems, the R-E uses TTL (through the lens) automatic metering. The DX film range is from ISO 12 to 3200, and film transport is by means of a single-frame, quick-wind manual lever. It has multiple exposure capability and a self-timer. Cost: $1,935.

MINOLTA -- The Freedom Zoom105i is an automatic compact that incorporates some of the Maxxum SLR technology into a small, newly designed package. With a 35-105mm zoom lens, the camera is activated by simply lifting it to your eye. This turns it on and zooms it to a properly composed picture of your selected subject. It is otherwise auto-everything, including focus, loading and winding. Cost: about $300.

There is a new version of the powerful Maxxum 8000i. It's white and reflects the sun, which will make it especially valuable in hot weather. Inside it's still one of the best top-line SLRs going. Cost: $520 with a 38-80mm zoom

And, for those of us who love panorama pictures, Minolta has introduced a panorama adapter lens for the Maxxum 7000i and 8000i. With the adapter, the angle of view is 74 degrees. With it you get a focusing screen that shows the panorama field of view inside the normal viewfinder frame. Best of all, the kit only costs about $50.

NIKON -- Two new SLRs complete the Nikon line. The 6006 is an auto-focus younger brother of the wonderful 8008. The 6006 is a full-feature camera, with three metering systems, the four major exposure modes, an auto-exposure bracketing system and much more. Cost is $590 with a 35-70mm zoom.

The 6000 is a slightly scaled-down version of the 6006, having no auto-focus function. There are two metering systems and all needed exposure modes, including bracketing. Cost: $500 with 35-70mm zoom.

The Zoom-Touch 400, a new compact automatic, features a 35-70mm zoom lens, a red-eye reduction system, five flash modes and auto-everything operation, from film loading to film rewinding. The automatic film rewind, incidentally, can be halted by the touch of a button. Cost: about $199.

OLYMPUS -- New from Olympus is the IS-1. The camera is a single lens reflex with a built-in 35-135mm (f4.5-5.6) zoom lens. It has macro capabilities and can be used either in auto or manual focus. There are three metering systems, four program modes and manual exposure. The flash system has two built-in tubes that provide variable power and correct light in situations from macro to 35 feet. There are three other flash modes for special situations. The ergonomic design, with a central center of gravity, makes the camera easy to carry and use. Cost: about $500.

In the compact field, Olympus has its Infinity and Trip lines. The Infinity is remarkably weatherproof and extremely user-friendly. There are single focal length Infinities, zoom Infinities and even the Infinity Twin, which switches from telephoto to wide angle at the touch of a switch. Prices range from $250 for the more elaborate zooms to $75 for the well-made Trip cameras, ideal for beginners.

NEXT WEEK: More cameras.