Americans this year will take about 23 billion photos, with nearly one in 12 being taken by digital cameras.
Most people use film because it's simple and low-cost. Digital cameras are still more for computer-savvy hobbyists. Yet the appeal of digitals will surely broaden as they come down in price and become easier to use.
Which type is right for you?
Choose a film camera if you:
* want the widest selection of inexpensive yet versatile cameras.
* want true point-and-shoot simplicity in a camera.
* want color prints without a lot of fuss, and you aren't that concerned about ordering reprints or manipulating the photos' color, balance, etc.
Choose a digital camera if:
* You're regularly on the Internet sending lots of e-mail, displaying items to auction or producing your own Web site.
* You plan to do desktop publishing that uses original images.
* You have the patience to learn to use the camera and image-handling software.
Each of the several 35mm and APS (advanced photo system) point-and-shoot cameras we recently tested performed well. Among the 35mm models, the Canon Sure Shot 85 Zoom and the Fujifilm Zoom Date 70 were judged to be among our Best Buys, at $130 and $120, respectively. Top-rated overall was the Olympus LT-Zoom 105, a $265 camera that features a spot-metering mode for tricky lighting situations.
If you want a small camera with foolproof film loading, try an APS model. They use a unique film cartridge that also holds the negatives after the film is processed. Both APS film and processing generally cost more than 35mm, while the quality of the resulting prints is comparable. Among APS zoom cameras, the Kodak Advantix C700 was top-rated and, at $165, a Best Buy. Konica's Super Big Mini BM-S100 ($89) is an excellent choice in a non-zoom camera.
Unlike film cameras, digital models store images on a memory card and let you examine them on a small liquid-crystal display (LCD) viewer. Don't like the picture you just took? Delete it and try again.
Digitals also come with software that lets you transfer images from camera to computer and then prepare them for printing, e-mail or whatever. You can crop and resize photos, adjust color, brightness and contrast, even eliminate red-eye.
We tested 2-megapixel point-and-shoot digital cameras, which can have a maximum of 1.6 million to 1.9 million pixels (short for "picture elements") in the image. The more pixels, the higher the camera's "resolution" and the sharper the image it can produce. A 2-megapixel image has sufficient resolution to make an 8-by-10-inch print of near-photo quality.
Of the four models tested, Nikon's Coolpix 950 ($860), the Olympus C-2000 Zoom ($887) and the Kodak DC265 Zoom ($764) were very good or excellent overall. The $748 Sony Cyber-Shot DSC-F55 didn't measure up: Its print quality was judged merely "good," and it lacks a zoom.
(c) 1999 Consumers Union Inc.