Read this before buying your first digital camera.
Digital cameras make taking and sharing snapshots more fun, more convenient and just about foolproof. They're as easy to use as standard 35mm cameras, but the technology built into digital cameras converts the snapshots you take into a full-color digital format that can be previewed on the spot and downloaded to a computer for even more fun.

There's no film involved. Use your computer to change the look of the photos and include them in e-mails, business presentations and brochures — or print them out to show family and friends.

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Slim, Smart and Fully Loaded
Digital cameras used to be bulky and inefficient — not any more. Now they're slim, smart and fully loaded. Today's models offer many of the same features found on good 35mm cameras: flash, red-eye reduction, autofocus, zoom and self-timers. Plus, they offer conveniences you'd never find in traditional cameras, such as built-in LCD screens that allow shots to be previewed seconds after snapping them.

See Pictures Instantly
In the new digital photo world, anything is possible, and results are immediate. E-mail pictures to grandma minutes after baby's first steps. Jazz up business proposals and presentations with photos of new products — as they're rolling off the assembly line. Hook the camera to your TV and see a shot on the wide-screen, moments after taking it. Or arrange and print a collage of vacation pictures for show-and-tell minutes before guests arrive.

Every image captured with a digital camera is digitized and stored in the camera's memory bank, just waiting to be downloaded and used. Some cameras store the photos on removable memory disks that plug into a computer for downloading. Other cameras store the images internally and use a cord for downloading to a computer.

Flash Cards hold more images than a standard disk, but require special hardware to connect with your computer.

Quality Images
In the past, the image quality of digital photos lagged behind those of traditional 35mm cameras. Since then, quality has improved significantly. Today, even lower-end digital cameras produce color photos that look great in e-mail and on Web sites. And higher-quality "megapixel" models take photos that easily could be confused with glossy prints from 35mm cameras, especially when printed on glossy photo paper.

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    Key Features    
  • Memory: A camera's memory determines the number of pictures you store before having to download them to a computer to make room for more. Larger camera memories can also store more "high-resolution" pictures. Memory power can range from two megabytes (MB) to four times that. And some allow upgrades to as much as 64MB. The more memory the better.

  • Image Capacity: Another way to evaluate a camera's memory is "image capacity," a fancy term for the maximum number of photos that can be stored in the memory bank. Pay attention to "image capacity at maximum resolution," a measure of the number of "high-resolution" pictures that can be stored. The more image capacity the better.

  • Memory Type: The type of memory used can be almost as important as memory capacity. Some cameras store photos on "removable memory," disks that plug into the computer for downloading. Other cameras store images internally and use a cord hook-up for computer downloads. Removable memory is more flexible, easier to use, and can save battery power (see below, "How Long Will the Batteries Last?").

  • Resolution: As with any camera, picture quality is key. With digital cameras, photo quality is measured in terms of "resolution." The higher the resolution, the sharper the images. Most cameras offer a number of adjustable resolution "settings" (low, medium and high). But the key is a camera's "maximum resolution" rating. Basic models have a maximum photo resolution of about 640 x 480 pixels. Higher-quality "megapixel" models have maximum resolutions of 1,280 x 960 or more for truly photographic-quality prints.

  • LCD Screen: An LCD (liquid crystal display) screen (usually about 1-1/2 to 2 inches in size) built into the camera allows you to preview photos seconds after you take them. Imagine the ability to evaluate shots, keep only the best and erase the rest. Some cameras offer both a viewfinder and an LCD screen, which is good because LCDs can quickly drain battery power if used too much.

  • Photography Features: Digital cameras offer many of the same features found on a good 35mm camera: flash, red-eye reduction, autofocus, zoom and self-timers. The more features, the better the photographer.

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    Frequently Asked Questions    

How Do Digital Cameras Work?
Standard 35mm cameras expose light-sensitive, chemically treated film to your photo subject for a split-second. A chemical developing process then turns this exposed film into prints or slides. Digital cameras also use split-second light exposure to "see" the shot you want. They focus this light not on a strip of film but on an electronic Charge-Coupled Device, often referred to as a "chip," which records the picture as an electronic signal and saves it as binary code (zeros and ones) — a digital format much like an electronic clip-art file.

The real difference between 35mm and digital cameras is on the inside.

Do I Need Any Special Software?
No. Digital cameras come with all the software necessary to edit and manipulate photos. Inexpensive after-market software provides even more features and functions. The desktop publishing and presentation software you already have will also most likely work.

Do I Need a Special Computer?
No. But you might want to increase the hard drive capacity in your personal computer if you will be archiving many of the high-resolution photos you will be shooting. The best and most simple solution is stand-alone external memory units (like a Zip Drive) that simply plug into your existing computer.

If you will be printing the photos you take, it's best to have a color printer that supports high printing resolution. Laser printers will give you the best results, but cost the most, while a quality color ink-jet printer will suffice.

How Long Will the Batteries Last?
It depends on the camera and how you use it. Cameras with internal memory spend battery power whenever downloading photos to the computer, while those with removable memory don't. To extend battery life, turn the camera off when it's not in use, and use the electronic LCD screen feature sparingly. Most digital cameras come with a set of AA alkaline batteries. They're inexpensive to replace, but rechargeable batteries are a good long-term and eco-friendly alternative.

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A camera technology that uses infrared beams or light sensors to measure the distance from the camera to the photo subject and automatically focus the camera lens to match.

Internal Memory
The place inside an electronic device where digital information is stored for later retrieval and use.

LCD (Liquid Crystal Display)
Common in calculator display screens, this technology uses special molecules to bend light and create the desired images. LCD screens are found on many digital cameras for previewing or reviewing images and monitoring camera controls.

MB stands for megabyte, a common measurement of computer storage equaling 1,048,576 bytes. Also known as a "meg."

A megapixel is one million pixels. Pixels are the smallest measure of a digital photo's clarity (or resolution). The greater the number of pixels, the greater the clarity of a photo. High-end digital cameras are capable of producing digital photos with megapixel resolution.

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Red-Eye Reduction
Red-eye (when eye pupils look red in photographs) is caused when light from the camera's flash strikes the retina at the back of the eye and reflects it back to the camera. Red-eye reduction is a feature (basically a double flash) on many cameras. It causes the pupils to shrink before the photo is snapped in order to prevent this red-eye effect.

Removable Memory
A type of digital data storage used in digital cameras. Photo images are saved to a removable memory chip that can be removed from the camera for easy downloading to a computer. There are a variety of removable memory formats available, the most common being 3.5-inch floppy disks and "Flash Cards."

The clarity of a digital photo — measured in pixels (the smallest part of an image that can be controlled). The greater the number of pixels, the greater the clarity (or resolution) of the photo.

A feature that allows a camera to be programmed to snap a picture within a preset time frame — typically a few seconds.

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