One of the fun toys this Christmas is the digital camera. They work by capturing the image on a light-sensitive chip. The image is then stored in electronic memory.

The image can only ever be as good as the resolution of the chip that grabs the picture so the first thing to look for when comparing cameras is to check the number of pixels (picture elements) on the chips.

The next thing is the capacity of the camera to take pictures. Most cameras store images in high, medium and low resolution. In high resolution on some of the top-of-the-range consumer models, because the images are so big, only a few can be stored. On some of the cheaper cameras you can store up to 90 images, which is more than you need.

What you really want is a camera that will let you check and see how good your pictures are. All but the cheapest of digital cameras (they cost from pounds 200 to pounds 1,000) have a screen on which you can look at your pictures seconds after you have taken them. This is an absolute godsend. By getting rid of the "average" pictures while you are shooting you can make sure you go home with some really good shots.

Most digital cameras these days are designed to work with your computer. In fact very few now have connectivity for the TV. If you plan to show your pictures at home buy carefully.

The biggest problem with cameras for most people is the final part of the journey - getting the image into your PC. Most cameras do this by using the so-called serial cable. But many computers have only one serial port and this is often used for modems, scanners and all sorts of other external devices.

Apart from that the serial port is around the back of the computer and is a real fiddle to connect up to your camera.

Sony has come up with a very neat solution with its Mavica cameras. These use a standard floppy as their storage medium. Up to 40 images can be stored on one disc. As floppy discs are very cheap, you can take lots of pictures and even give discs to your friends.

When you have finished shooting you just slip the floppy into your computer. As the images are stored in the very common JPEG format, they can be read by almost any modern computer software package.

The last thing to make sure about if you are buying a digital camera is that it has rechargeable batteries. Digital cameras eat batteries. With pounds 3 of batteries gone in an hour or two it can be a false economy going for a camera that does not use rechargeables.

So once you have got your pictures what can you do with them? Well you can import them into a word processor and send off letters including pictures of the house you are trying to sell. Similarly you can include a picture of your newborn offspring in a letter. You can put images on a Web site and send picture e-mails to your friends.

And once in your computer you can do all sorts of fun things with the images. Nearly all cameras come with image manipulation software to help improve your pictures (and remove annoying relatives from your pictures). But you can also have a lot of fun with easy to use image "muck about" software such as Kai's Power Goo which will set you back only about pounds 40.

All in all digital cameras make a great gift. They are very useful business tools but they are also great fun!

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