Getting a Handle on Digital Camera Choices

Digital cameras have introduced a new wrinkle to the equipment upgrade issue: The lure of this attractive new technology causes you to want to go out and buy new gear. But this same technology is changing so quickly that it forces you to face a much faster obsolescence path than you ever witnessed in the past.

The first digital cameras on the market offered minimal resolution (640 x 480 = 640K), rapidly replaced by higher resolution (1068 x 768 = 1.4 megapixels), replaced by still higher (1600 x 1200 = 2.1 megapixels), and so on. The current high-end crop of digital cameras hits about 6 megapixels for point-and-shoot cameras and more than 10 megapixels for digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. So digital camera buyers, much like computer buyers, have become conditioned to upgrading their machines every couple of years.

Even though you may be tempted to upgrade more frequently, you also get increasingly more bang for your buck as the price-to-power comparison becomes more pronounced. The 2.1 megapixel camera that cost $1,000 when it was first introduced is replaced six months later by a 3.4 megapixel camera at half the original price. Plus, this newer model corrects some flaws in the previous version and tacks on some extra features, such as the capability to record audio or video. So suddenly, that expensive camera is a much more attractive (and affordable) purchase.

The fundamental question, then, for most prospective camera buyers is "How do I figure out which camera is right for me?" The following sections try to answer this question.

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