Choosing a first digital camera

It's easy to get tempted to spend far more money than you planned so set a budget first. Even the cheapest cameras produce pictures that are good enough to send over email or print as snapshots, so if that's all you plan to do, you don't have to break the bank.

Compact or SLR

Compact or Single Lense Reflex, examples of each are shown in the picture above.
If you want something you can carry around easily and use whenever you want, then you should be looking at a compact camera. But if you are more interested in taking occasional high quality photographs or pictures of special events, then you may be better off with an SLR.

Resolution

In a digital camera, the resolution refers to how many pixels are used to capture the image. Each pixel is a tiny square that records just a single shade of a single colour (red, green or blue). To get an accurate representation of any image, you need to break it down into as many tiny squares as possible. On a camera this means having lots of pixels on the sensor.
A 1.3 megapixel resolution is fine. for 6x4in snaps, although you might be safer with a 2 megapixel camera to let you do the odd enlargement.
If you want to view images on a monitor or do an 8x10in print, look for at least a 2 or 3 megapixel camera. For enlargements at 11x14in, 4 megapixels is a sensible minimum. For really large prints or professional reproduction you'll need 6 megapixels or more.

Digital zoom

A digital zoom uses software in the camera to enlarge a part of the image. However, this is captured on the same portion of the sensor as it was originally, and is therefore made up of less pixels than the whole. So when you enlarge it, it will start to appear grainy and of lower quality quicker than the same image taken using an optical zoom.

Optical zoom

A camera's optical zoom lets you zoom in on, or magnify, a portion of your image by moving the lens in relation to the sensor or film. In digital cameras this means that all the pixels on the sensor are used to record information about your chosen section of the image, and therefore you can enlarge it as normal and get the same quality picture.