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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.