Your friends stopped giving you their doubles, eh? Mooching doubles is a good scam, but you only get the crap nobody else wants (out-of-focus Eiffel Tower, anyone?). It's time to grow up and plunk down some cash for a camera of your own. It's daunting, we know - the salespeople use technical jargon, the prices run from $50 to $1,000, and with the advent of digital cameras, you're not even sure what type of camera you want (nobody wants to get stuck with the Betamax of cameras, after all). Don't spaz out - we're here to explain the options, outline the prices, and help you deal with tech-happy salespeople. Just say cheese.


We know, we know, most people tell you to first decide how much you want to spend, then look at the cameras. But that doesn't really work, because you can spend as much as you want, and still not have a camera that suits your needs. We've broken the cameras down into four main types:

Advanced photo system (APS)
Single lens reflex (SLR)


The point-and-shoot is the basic camera that your mom used to take pictures of you in the buck during your first bath. It focuses and flashes automatically, and it uses 35mm film. (35mm film is the "normal" film - the round canister with a leader of film hanging out). Point-and-shoot cameras are the easiest type to operate, but also the most limited in their capabilities.

Advanced photo system (APS) camera

APS cameras are really point-and-shoot cameras that use a different size film (24mm); they still focus and flash automatically. The different film allows you to choose 3 different photo sizes: standard, a little wider than standard, and panoramic. The film canisters are weirdly shaped too, so that you can't make a mistake in loading the film (a square peg, round hole kind of thing). The last major difference is that you never actually see film - it's always tucked inside the film container. So there's no leader before the roll is used, no negatives after, and it's impossible to expose the roll midway. And you thought the point-and-shoot was the idiot's camera…

Single lens reflex (SLR) camera

A SLR camera is the nice looking camera that photojournalists use, with a lens that protrudes from the body of the camera. What the name "single lens reflex" means is that that what you see through the eyepiece of the camera is exactly what the lens will take a picture of. Unlike point and shoot or APS cameras, in which the eyepiece and the lens are separate parts of the camera, the SLR uses mirrors to allow you to look directly through the lens, giving you more control over the composition and lighting of the photo. SLRs also allow you to manually operate the camera - that is, you focus the lens, set the shutter speed, and determine the aperture yourself. Manual operation lets you take pictures that a simpler camera won't, and allows you to experiment and achieve special effects with your photos. Most SLRs these days also have a fully automatic option, which makes them as simple to use as point-and-shoots.

Digital camera

Finally, digital cameras are cameras that don't use film at all, but instead store digital images. You later upload the images from the camera to your computer, where you can edit them on a program like Adobe Photoshop, email them, and/or print them out.

There are several great advantages to digital cameras, such as:

  • Not ever having to buy film again.
  • Being able to see the image as soon as you've taken it.
  • Modifying and email photos without the tedious scanning process.
  • Deleting immediately those you know you don't want to keep (especially handy with those friends prone to shutting their eyes).

But digital cameras also have some major downsides:

  • The image quality still isn't as good as what you get with film cameras.
  • You might have to buy software and learn how to use it.
  • You don't get prints to flip through, pass around, or stick in a frame. If you want hard copies of your photos, you'll have to shell out another $200 or so for a good printer, good ink and special paper.