Choosing the Right Digital Camera

Editors' Choice cameras

• Go ahead, pick it up. To take good pictures, a camera must fit comfortably in your hand and be easy to operate. (And the last thing you want to do is drop it while you're juggling a baby.)

• Don't overfocus on megapixels. Six or seven is plenty. The quality of a camera's lens and image-capturing device counts more.

• Compare battery capacity. Cameras use power at wildly different rates. Look for the number of pictures a battery will allow to be taken with a full charge.

• Beware shutter lag. The faster a camera reacts to a push of the shutter release, the more likely you are to capture an adorable but fleeting expression, so push buttons before you buy. To get a feeling for short shutter lag, try an SLR.

• Look for software. Some cameras come with surprisingly versatile image-editing software on CD. Options include color balancing, red-eye reduction, ability to edit out a distracting background or sharpen fuzzy areas manually and so on.

• Don't cheap out. Electronics is a highly competitive, global business. If two cameras appear to have the same features but are priced differently, the less-expensive one probably has cheaper components.

• Zoom in. Want a camera that zooms? Compare optical ability, not digital. Optical zoom lets you magnify an image without significant quality loss. Digital zoom "blows up" a portion of the picture electronically, resulting in loss of image quality.

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