Cameras are getting better and cheaper

By Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY

There's never been a better time to buy a digital camera.Sure, you've heard this before, but consider: Amazon is selling the nifty Canon (CAJ) PowerShot A560 for $129. It has a 7-megapixel sensor (a megapixel is a measurement of a camera's resolution) and a 4X zoom, for getting in close to the action. A year ago, it would have cost over $200.

I picked up a similar model this summer. It is a terrific all-round camera. Many newer point-and-shoot cameras, including Canon's PowerShotline, have solved some early problems. While shutter lag (that annoying time between when you click the shutter and when it actually snaps) is still a problem, it is less severe than it used to be. Exposures are better, focus screens are bigger and video modes are so good they rival video-camera quality.

About 45% of digital cameras are sold in the fourth quarter, says Chris Chute, an analyst at research firm IDC. If you already have your first, second or third camera, and are thinking about upgrading to a new model, here's what you're likely to find this year (as priced at Amazon):

•Bigger LCD screens. Many popular cameras sport 2.5- or 3-inch LCD screens, a great help when you're trying to compose a shot. The screen on Sony's $350 DSC-T200 is 3.5 inches. But it's not just more expensive cameras that have the bigger LCDs. Panasonic's $150 Lumix DMC-LZ7K clocks in at 2.5 inches. Just two years ago, 1.8 inches for the LCD was common.
FIND MORE STORIES IN: IDC Canon Cameras Casio LCD screens LCDS •Image stabilization. The concept is simple: a built-in tool that deals with your shaky hands. Consumers really get it, Chute says. "If you don't want blurry shots, here, try this camera," he says. "And the thing is, it actually works." Many cameras offer image stabilization, and charge more. Canon's PowerShot SD750, for instance, sells for $214, while the comparable SD800 IS (with image stabilization) sells for $240.

•More megapixels. Camera makers up the megapixel count every year to tempt consumers to buy new models. Most people don't need more than 4 megapixels for lightly cropped, regular-size prints.

Most camera models now are in the 6-megapixel to 8-megapixel range, and some go all the way up to professional levels — like Canon's 12-megapixel PowerShot SD950IS ($368) or Casio's 10-megapixel Exilim EX-Z1050, which sells for $220.

The average 6-megapixel point-and-shoot sells for $149 this year, down from $266 a year ago, Chute says. Seven-megapixel price drops are equally as drastic: $199 this year, from $349 a year ago.

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