it's a digital revolution. and while many photographers remain loyal to silver halide emulsion, their numbers are dwindling as it becomes clear that film's expiration date is coming on faster than a blink of the shutter. sales of digital cameras surpassed those of conventional film cameras for the first time in 2003, and now more than 30 million u.s. households own digicams. the exodus became more evident when film-giant kodak announced earlier this year that it will no longer sell aps and reloadable 35mm cameras in the united states, canada, and western europe.

what's all this mean for the consumer? there's never been a better time to get swept away in the tidal wave of pixels. the technology exists, and no matter what level of photography you're at, prices have dropped and enjoyment is on the rise.

but before the fun begins, let's consider your expectations. will you be taking snapshots, e-mailing the results, and printing glossy regular-size prints; or will you focus on more advanced creations such as landscape, travel, sports, or wildlife photos that might require a certain amount of digital manipulation in a photo-imaging program?

answering those questions will help you answer these: which camera should you buy? and, what do you do with the captured images? bottom line is you'll want a camera that's going to meet your criteria, and then some.

zoom in here are two good rules to know: choose a camera based on optical, rather than digital, zoom capabilities. and, the number of megapixels equals resolution equals picture-size quality. a 2-megapixel camera, such as the nikon 2200, can be had for less than $200 and is just fine for e-mailing and printing acceptable 4 x 6 prints. if you want a bit more latitude in creativity - the ability to crop and print frameable 8 x 10s - consider the 3- or 4-megapixel point-and-shooters like the new canon a75 or popular a80,
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which have a price tag of between $250 and $450. looking for definitive control and manipulation versatility? shell out from $450 on up for a camera with at least a 5-megapixel or greater resolution. hp's 945 nicely fits the bill.