What Kind Of Digital Camera Should You Buy?

Not sure if you need a digital camera you can put in your pocket or one with all the lenses and accessories? No problem. Here's a guide to help you make the right choice.

You should get a compact digital camera if:

--You want something small, light, and cool. The best compacts are as svelte as the latest cell phones

--You shoot scenics and portraits. Most compacts have a lag time of half a second or more between shutter-press and image-which is fine for still scenes.

--You take pictures mostly in bright conditions. In low light, compacts produce muddy, grainy images.

--You rarely print larger than 4x6. A 4mp compact is all you need; with care, you can make decent 8x10s, too.

--You want the camera to do it all. All compacts have full automatic features.

--You'd rather hike than edit photos. Compacts shoot JPEG files with built-in color management, and their basic software makes printing and e-mailing a one-click process.

--You're price-conscious. Quality 5mp compacts start at under $300; the cheapest DSLR runs $900 for body and lens.

You should get a digital SLR (the kind of camera with all the accessories) if:

--You want the best technology and don't mind packing more weight. DSLR kits start at 2 pounds (and accessories can push that much higher), but offer pro-level controls and quality.

-- You plan to shoot wildlife photos and action. DSLRs have no shutter lag and much faster autofocus.

-- You love sunrise and sunset shots. DSLRs capture more texture and detail, and some can even perform filmlike tricks (e.g. star trails).

-- You aspire to be the next Ansel Adams. Most DSLRs yield excellent 13x19" prints, the largest size possible with a desktop printer.

-- You like control and don't mind carrying accessories. DSLRs can go fully manual; plan to carry a tripod and multiple lenses to realize the benefits.

-- You want to turn your photos into masterpieces. With DSLRs, you can manipulate both the raw digital data and the image files, giving you more flexibility to push contrast and color.

-- You value flexibility. DSLRs take different lenses, support onboard and wireless flash, and much more.