Digital photos are made up of a pixel, which is computer-speak for picture element. Get a thousand of these little squares together and you have a megapixel--MP for short. Every digital camera you consider will have a number of megapixels associated with it, but higher isn't necessarily better. Megapixels affect the resolution of your digital photos--that is, the potential clarity of the photos. If you choose a camera with a high number, for instance, 10 MP, you'll get rich, detailed photos, perfect for making large prints. Or you could crop your picture and enlarge a section into its own photo without losing clarity. That sounds good, right? The downside is that the larger the photo resolution, the more space it will take on a memory card, so you won't be able to take as many photos unless you carry extra storage.
What is the difference between optical and digital zoom? Optical zoom is how far your camera's lens can physically extend from the camera body. It lets you get closer to your subject without actually moving, and without your photo becoming blocky or pixelated. Digital zoom stretches your camera's pixels to make a photo look bigger--similar to cropping a photo and enlarging it, but it happens right in the camera. Digital cameras will often show you a combined optical and digital zoom. They get this by multiplying the two numbers together. For example, a camera with 3x optical zoom and 8x digital zoom will have a total zoom of 24 xs.
What about the camera size--is heavier better? Digital cameras are built to endure plenty, so choose the style that suits your needs. A slim, small model is handy because it fits easily into a purse or pocket, making it a no-brainer to take along on family excursions or trips. Slightly larger models offer some helpful features, too, like a bigger LCD screen for taking and viewing photos, and often more manual control. Go a little bigger still, and your digital camera may also have a more powerful zoom lens, helpful for getting shots at the soccer match, or architectural details of the castle you saw on your trip to Italy.
What other equipment will I need? Batteries: Some digital cameras use AA batteries that you replace more or less frequently depending on how many photos you take and the resolution of each picture. However, digital camera features like the LCD screen and auto-focus draw lots of power, meaning batteries get depleted quickly. Rechargeable batteries are an alternative option.
Memory cards: Your digital camera stores images on memory cards, and there are many options for these. It's a good idea to have several available--especially on vacation or at a special event like a wedding where you'll be taking lots of photos. Get a larger card--think 1 GB or more—to make sure you'll have lots of memory. Now you're ready to make the buy, and start using your digital camera to help capture and share cherished memories.