Snap to It
If you just need a quick point-and-shoot camera for snapshots on the road or to document projects, plenty of affordable options are vying for your attention. The $180 Samsung L210 offers 10.2 mega-pixels and features both digital and optical image stabilization to reduce camera shake. The auto red-eye reduction will come in handy if you expect to photograph people. Another affordable point-and-shoot is the $230 Pentax Optio M50. It's a slim 4.1 ounces and has a 5x optical zoom with 8 megapixels. The spacious 3-inch touchscreen on the $250 Kodak EasyShare V1073 shows images off nicely when you're viewing or managing them. Think of it as more of an iPhone approach that lets you add text and sound tags to photos and will appeal to organization nuts. One of the latest installments in Canon's popular Digital Elph line of compact point-and-shoots is the $399 PowerShot SD890 IS. The macro mode comes in handy for extreme close-ups or tight product shots. While some digital cameras are shedding their optical viewfinders, the SD890 IS still has one in place for users who prefer old-style scene framing.
DSLRs target advanced photographers who need more control and the ability to swap out different lenses. At about $600, the Olympus E-520 is an affordable 10-megapixel DSLR. That price gets you the body only, although it's also available with a 14 mm to 42 mm digital zoom lens for a package price of about $700. The body itself weighs a little more than a pound and gives exposure priority to people's faces--a feature not found on too many DSLRs. The Nikon D60 is another DSLR that won't break the bank. For $699, it comes packaged with an 18 mm to 55 mm zoom lens and features split-second shutter response, dust reduction and 10 mega-pixels. They're both examples of what you can expect from entry-level DSLRs.
Optical zoom is a desirable feature that you'll find on most cameras. It's pretty standard to find 3x, but if you're planning to photograph scenes or objects from a distance, you might want to look into a camera like the $399 Fujifilm FinePix S8100fd with an 18x optical zoom. The SLR styling cues and fixed lens on this camera position it as a step between a DSLR and a point-and-shoot. In a similar vein, the $400 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H50 heads up Sony's high-zoom camera offerings with a 15x optical zoom. Its long-range flash can illuminate objects up to 55 meters away, and it can handle fast-action shots should you need to capture moving subjects. Also consider offerings from other major manufacturers, such as Casio, DXG and Panasonic.