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Pixel Perfect: Buy a Camera

Digital picture taking has won the war, but you may still feel embattled when facing today’s daunting selection of cameras. Here’s our guide to help you buy the right one.

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These days, most cameras you’ll find in a store-whether an actual shop like Ritz Camera (750 N. Rush St., 312-943-5531; plus seven other locations), where we did our research, or an online destination like Amazon.com, which has a huge selection-will be 4 megapixels or higher. At these resolutions, snapshots up to 8 x 10 inches will be plenty sharp, so when shopping you can focus on price and performance. (Amazon.com is also a terrific resource for comparing prices and reading user reviews of current and past models.) The current crop of consumer-friendly cameras hovers in the 7- to 8-megapixel range (going as high as 10 megapixels among professional-grade cameras and even a few point-and-shoot models), so choosing last year’s technology can net you a bargain. For example, in mid-October Ritz carried two perfectly decent compact 4-megapixel cameras: the Fujifilm FinePix A400 ($120) and the Nikon Coolpix L4 ($130). Generally speaking, there are five types of digital cameras: ultracompact, compact, compact zoom, superzoom, and digital SLR. Each has its pros and cons, as well as a high-end model and a less expensive option.


Photography: © Sony Electronics Inc.

ULTRACOMPACT
PRICE RANGE: $250 to $500 PROS: The camera for the Prada set, an ultracompact slips fetchingly into a shirt pocket or clutch. CONS: You pay for style-in price and, some critics say, picture quality. Zoom capability rarely tops three-times magnification and the flash can be weak. Small buttons and can be fragile. OUR PICK: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T10 (right); $400. This 7.2-megapixel beauty features image stabilization (for aiding a shaky hand) and a top-of-the-line Carl Zeiss lens. CHEAPER OPTION: Nikon Coolpix S3; $300. A nice price for this 6-megapixel waif.


Photography: © Canon U.S.A., Inc., All rights reserved
 

COMPACT
PRICE RANGE: $100 to $350 PROS: With a slightly chunkier profile, compacts are good for people with bigger hands. Tends to be the lowest-priced category of cameras. CONS: Uses AA batteries, which add to the weight of the camera. If you want a rechargeable battery pack, you’ll have to buy it separately-and spring for a charger. Limited zoom. OUR PICK: Canon PowerShot A630 (left); $300. Brawny with 8 megapixels at your disposal. CHEAPER OPTION: Nikon Coolpix L4; $130. Smaller than most compacts. Perhaps the perfect starter camera.


Photography: © Samsung Techwin Co., Ltd. All rights reserved

COMPACT ZOOM
PRICE RANGE: $250 to $500 PROS: Small size with added zoom and, on some models, a stronger pop-up flash. CONS: An oddball camera category-neither full-fledged zoom nor truly compact. OUR PICK: Samsung NV7 OPS (right); $450. Innovative design in a 7x zoom camera. The flash pops up for greater coverage and reduced red-eye effect. CHEAPER OPTION: Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ1; $300. Crisp zoomed shots thanks to this 5-megapixel camera’s superb image stabilization.


Photography: © Sony Electronics Inc.

SUPERZOOM
PRICE RANGE: $350 to $650 PROS: Added versatility and manual control without the hassle of interchangeable lenses. Up to 12-times zoom range. CONS: Big and bulky. Recovery time from picture to picture can be slow. OUR PICK: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H5 (left); $480. This 7.2-megapixel camera has image stabilization, an important feature when you magnify at long distances. CHEAPER OPTION: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H2; $380. At 6 megapixels, this model has all the features of the DSC-H5 at $100 less.


Photography: © Nikon Inc.

DIGITAL SLR
PRICE RANGE: $600 to $8,000 PROS: Unrivaled picture quality and manual control. Interchangeable lenses offer stunning sharpness and extended range. CONS: Bulky and expensive. Mastering the equipment requires some dedication. OUR PICK: Nikon D200 (right); $1,700, body only. The 10.2-megapixel state-of-the-art for the serious hobbyist. Metal body; shoots five frames per second, and allows Wi-Fi upload of images to a computer. CHEAPER OPTION: Sony Alpha A100K; $1,000 with 18-70-millimeter lens. Going on safari? If you’re willing to lug it around, this 10-megapixel camera features anti-shake technology, useful for shooting moving wildlife with a telephoto lens. Nikon D50; $700 with 18-55-millimeter lens. Nikon’s entry-level digital SLR.

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