Last year, digital cameras were the hot new product, complete with price tags to match their cutting-edge status. This year, however, many previously high-end features have appeared on models selling for less than $500. This year's models may cost only a few dollars more than last year's, but they're likely to offer twice the extras.
To start off your search, look for a camera with 1,280 x 960 pixel resolution. This will allow you to capture high-resolution images when necessary--in case you want to enlarge them or print them out--as well as standard 640 x 480 pixel images (which are usually sufficient for on-screen viewing). For enough room to store those shots, make sure your camera comes with at least 4MB of memory. This is enough space to hold six high-resolution images, or about 45 standard images.
Also highly useful are cameras that accommodate removable memory cards. The digital equivalent of a roll of film, a removable memory card makes it much easier to transfer images from the camera to your computer, and if you run out of space, all you need to do is pop another card in. To make sure your replacement "film" doesn't pose too much of an expense, stick with cameras that use CompactFlash or Smart Media cards, which will only cost you approximately $20 to $40 each.
Also look for models equipped with both an optical viewfinder (so you can take pictures comfortably, the way you're used to doing with a standard point-and-shoot camera) and an LCD display. An LCD display allows you to immediately review the pictures you've taken, giving you a chance to retake them if necessary and delete less-desirable images to make room for new ones.
Two models to consider are the Epson PhotoPC 700 and the Konica Q-M100V. What's nice about the Epson model ($499 street) is that it offers continuous shooting and comes with rechargeable batteries, which can be real money-savers. Keep in mind that although the PhotoPC can accept memory cards, they cost extra. However, the model does come equipped with 4MB of internal memory. The Konica model ($365 street) comes with a 4MB memory card as part of the package.
For more on digital cameras, see June's "Buyer's Guide" column.