by Marty Demarest

The benefits of digital cameras are pretty clear. For starters, you don't have to wait for your film to be developed. Also, most cameras have a small monitor so that you can instantly see the photo you shot, and retake it if necessary. And since the finished images are electronic files, you can duplicate them as many times as you want, sending them in e-mails to every relative and friend in your address book. Finally, they're easy to modify, with some programs like Microsoft's Digital Image making the subtraction and modification of unwanted elements in photos as easy as taking the picture itself.

You can still expect to pay a few hundred dollars for a good camera, but once you have it, your costs drop dramatically, since film isn't necessary. The closest model on the market to a simple "point and click" device is the Olympus Camedia D-380, which you should be able to find for less than $250. The resolution on the pictures it takes is decent, allowing prints up to 8"x10" without too much graininess. It has a digital zoom, a sliding cover and fits in the palm of your hand.

A more serious camera is the Fujifilm Finepix S602, available for less than $900. It has a higher resolution and an optical zoom lens, which won't distort the pictures image as much a digital zoom will. It also records short video clips. Extra-serious digital photographers, or those looking to make the transition from actual film to virtual film, will want to check out Nikon's D100, which -- at around $2,000 -- does things that a film camera never could, like offer five different areas of focus in a single picture, allowing for fast-moving subjects and deep panoramas.

Every digital camera uses batteries, so invest in a few rechargeables -- some cameras even auto-charge the batteries -- and if you want actual prints of your photos, consider a color laser printer, or even a special photo-only printer. Most digital cameras, however, are compatible with both Macs and PCs, so you won't have to worry about compatibility. But do invest in a good memory card when you buy your camera -- the cards store the images, and can be reused when you've transferred the pictures to your computer. Sometimes the cameras come with smaller cards that can only hold 30 or so photos -- with bigger cards, you can store hundreds of photos in your camera.

After that, it's all "point and click," whether you're talking camera or mouse.

Virtual Trivia: Marvel Universe

Sat., Sept. 26, 2-3 p.m.
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