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How To Buy
Most digital cameras come with software for transferring pictures to the computer. You may also receive image-manipulation software that lets you resize, rotate, cut and paste, recolor or otherwise alter photos.
Most entry-level cameras offer 640x480-pixel resolution, comparable to the resolution on many computer screens. At 640x480, you can display a 3-by-5-inch or 4-by-6-inch photo with relative clarity. Higher-end cameras offer resolutions up to 1024x768.
A digital camera's memory is equivalent to a standard 35mm camera's film. You have a choice between fixed and removable memory. Fixed memory is built in; when its capacity is fully used, you have to download pictures to a computer via a serial connection or erase them. Removable memory often comes in the form of a PC Card. Cards usually come in 2MB (for as little as $50) and 4MB densities, although cards for up to 15MB will also be available.
Professional-quality digital cameras may cost as much as $30,000, but you can find excellent digital cameras for well under $1,000. At the low end, point-and-shoot peripherals are ideal for creating screen-to-screen photos used on the Web and cost $250 to $500. The next level, called digital darkroom cameras, provide more advanced features and cost between $500 and $1,000.
Digital cameras provide a quick and easy way to catch images and download them to the PC. Professionals using digital cameras include insurance adjusters who need to take on-site pictures of insured items or of damage for claims purposes, and real-estate agents who want to provide customers with a preview of available properties. Digital cameras are also ideal for Web sites and database applications that include pictures.
Look for a camera with an LCD screen, particularly on a fixed-memory unit. The LCD screen lets you compose and shoot images, as well as preview photos (and delete unwanted shots) before downloading them to the PC. Some cameras also have a built-in flash.
The lens is another important component. For example, a wide-angle lens is better for portrait work. Some cameras provide a zoom lens for close-up pictures (ask how many levels of magnification you are getting). Most entry-level cameras have fixed settings for aperture, shutter speed, focus and white balance. You should also consider size: Some digital cameras are small and thin enough to slip into a jacket or shirt pocket.