Digital cameras are traditional cameras at their core, but they take and store images electronically, without relying on film. The result is that you can snap a picture, and immediately see what it looks like by viewing it in the camera's color LCD screen (in many cameras, this also acts as the viewfinder). If you like the picture, you can keep it. And if it's not worth keeping, delete it on the spot. Another plus, you don't wait, or pay for film processing.
After downloading the images to your PC, you can print them on a color printer, send them out with e-mail as attached files, or use them in documents, newsletters, and flyers. And once you have digital pictures on a PC or Mac, you can use image-editing software to modify and improve them.
Almost all digital cameras come with zooms lenses-3X, 6X, and 10X zooms are common. The larger the zoom, generally the better and more expensive the camera. When shopping for a camera, ignore the digital zoom-a parameter that manufacturers like to tout, but is effectively useless to customers. Digital zooms simply enlarge an image without increasing the detail, which results in fuzzy images.
The more pixels that a camera uses to record a picture, the better the photographs and the more expensive the camera. In general, you'll want at least a 1 megapixel camera and should consider a 2-megapixel or better camera if you plan to enlarge photos beyond snapshot size. Pictures taken at a relatively poor resolution of 640x480 pixels are fine for small image-say for those displayed on Web sites. But blow these pictures up to the size of a postcard, and you'll begin to see the dots that make up the picture.
Almost all digital cameras store images on memory cards, which effectively act as digital film. As you shoot, you can swap memory cards and keep shooting pictures. All cameras use compression to store more images on the same memory card. But the more compression that you choose to use, the more pictures a camera can store, but the lower the quality of the pictures.
There are different types of media that cameras use to store pictures-CompactFlash and SmartMedia are the most popular. Some Sony cameras use Memory Stick and there are other types of media that some cameras use that include mini-CDs, MMC, and IBM Microdrives. When shopping for a digital camera, look for one that uses the type of media that best supports your needs and makes it convenient to upload images to your PC or Mac.
More expensive digital cameras feature LCD screens that help you frame shots, and preview and erase images that you have already taken. Always look for an LCD that displays a clear image in bright as well as low light. Many cameras feature LCDs that may be swiveled. Using these, you can hold a camera over your head and still frame the shot. A flash is handy when taking pictures in low-light conditions, and a red-eye reduction flash will help record better pictures of people.