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What’s The Deal?

Whether you snap an obligatory vacation photo or you’re an aspiring Ansel Adams, the perfect digital camera awaits, and the deals have never been sweeter.

Published Nov. ’05

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, graduations, weddings, summer travel…alongside of these upcoming events you can mark another “X” on the calendar. May marks the kick-off of high picture-taking season.

And here’s a little secret. May is the hottest time to buy a digital camera. It’s the month when new digital cameras debut at great introductory prices, while older models get substantially discounted.

There are hundreds of models available, but you can boil your choices down to three things: the number of megapixels your camera is capable of capturing, the quality of the camera’s components (the lens and LCD preview screen for example), and the availability of advanced features like red-eye removal and scene settings to help optimize your photo for various environmental conditions like snow and sun. The trick is to match what you’ll be paying for to your own personal photo style.

Don’t let jargon like megapixel cramp your shopping style either. Megapixels are one of the main measures of digital photo quality. Each megapixel contains a million individual dots (called pixels) of color. Pixels make up your digital photo; the more pixels you have the better the “resolution” of your photo. High resolution becomes important as you print larger sized photos, 8×10 or greater. Without enough pixels your larger prints will look grainy, not smooth and natural.

Just how good are the deals right now? One year ago $200 bought you a decent (3 megapixel) camera; today that same $200 buys you a significantly better (4 megapixel) camera. Here’s some help figuring out where you fit in the digital continuum.

The Casual Photographer

Whether it’s girls’ night out or puppy’s first bath, you take photos to capture the moment. You want portability and ease of use, and you don’t want to fret each time you take your expensive camera to a sandy beach or to the top of the latest rollercoaster thrill. You’ll gladly sacrifice bells and whistles like rechargeable batteries for serious savings. You tend to print smaller sized 4×6 photos. For you, capturing the photo adds to the fun; it it not the main event.

In general you’ll find that cameras for the casual photographer have blessedly few buttons and settings, which mean you’ll be capturing photos without ever cracking the camera’s manual. Look for a fun, point and shoot camera; they typically offer 2 or 3 megapixels of resolution – fine for printing 4×6 photos but not quite enough resolution for glossy 8×10 prints. Ideally it should have a 3x zoom lens. (A 3x zoom lets your subject appear as if it’s three times closer to you than it really is.)

You’ll want a camera that uses a flash memory card – a removable wafer that holds your photos. You can remove this card and insert it into your printer or PC to print or transfer images. There a many types of memory cards and not all fit every camera so make sure you know which one yours supports. Many introductory camera packages toss in a small (32MB) starter memory card for free.

Expect to spend anywhere from $99 to $250.

Canon Powershot 510

The new Canon PowerShot is easy enough for the novice but has plenty of room to grow.

The Committed MemoryKeeper

You are your friend’s and family’s designated memorykeeper. It wouldn’t be an event if you weren’t looking at it through a viewfinder! You are constantly recording birthdays, soccer games and special events. You carefully preserve your photos in multiple ways. You might save them on your computer’s hard drive, burn a CD to give out at the family reunion, print up a batch of holiday cards or invitations, share the sports teams’ photos on an online photo sharing site. You’re even been keeping your scrapbook up to date.

Memorykeepers want a camera that’s easy to use, but one that has enough controls so that you get the shot whether you’re out on the sunny ski slopes or blowing out candles in a darkened room. The majority of the digital cameras on the market fall into this category so you’ll have a cornucopia of choice. Look for a lightweight, but rugged camera with at least 4 or 5 megapixels of resolution; enough resolution to make large prints. With your appetite for photos you’ll want rechargeable batteries, a powerful flash, a self timer, a large, easy-to-view preview LCD screen, and both optical and digital zoom lenses. (Optical zooms are a physical mechanism; digital zooms lenses use software algorithms to create the “zoom.) Being able to remove red-eye, wash your photos in a sepia tone, adjust for environmental conditions like sun with the touch of a button, and take short videos are features you’re likely to find in this class of camera. . If you’re all about emailing and printing photos, look for a camera that transfers photos to your PC “wirelessly” without any physical cables or look for a camera that has a matching printer docking station..

If you like to keep your camera in your pocket or handbag look at the compact and sub-compact versions like the Konica Minolta DiMAGE “X”: series. You a pay a slight premium for these deck-of-card sized cameras, but they combine ease of use and portability.

Expect to spend anywhere from $250 and $500 dollars.

HP PhotoSmart R717

The Passionate Shutterbug

You’re a photo nut – an aspiring photojournalist who dreams about making large blowup prints, zooming and cropping perfect photos, and capturing shots as varied as fireworks at night to animals in their natural habitats.

These cameras are often called prosumer cameras, designed for amateurs who want professional-like features. They’ll have at least 5 megapixels of resolution and offer a laundry list of manual and automatic controls over your photo. Another type of high end camera is called digital SLR. Like its film SLR counterpart, these cameras are distinguished by supporting interchangeable lenses, allowing you to do every kind of photography from macro-close ups to telephoto distance. Prosumer cameras will often offer features like continuous click so you never worry about missing the shot, and fine control over whitebalance and , flash photo settings.

Expect to pay a minimum of $800 and you can easily pay over $1000.

Nikon D70