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Digital Memories

Tips for buying the best digital camera for a vacation

Travelers take note: Vacation season may be nearing its end, but great photos capture memories that last far longer than a sunburn. Every road trip, family vacation or romantic escape promises a plethora of photographic opportunities, and so it's time to think about the travelworthiness of your digital camera. Here's advice to help you make the most of your camera when you're away:

Bring extra batteries. A camera that runs out of juice when you're miles from a store or power outlet ranks high on the list of photographic frustrations. If your camera accepts standard AA batteries, pack two sets and, if necessary, a charger. If your camera uses only a proprietary battery, consider buying a second one to take along. Keep it charged so it's ready should the primary battery give out. The $20 to $50 cost will be well spent if it allows you to snap an unforgettable sunset that you might have missed.

Parting tip: Don't forget to pack the charger, and to plug it in every night. If you're traveling abroad, make sure your charger is compatible with local outlets. If not, you'll need an adapter and, possibly, a converter.

Plan photo storage. A full memory card is the digital-camera counterpart to running out of film. Make sure your card (or cards) have sufficient capacity, especially if you haven't brought along a laptop onto which you can download images. For most consumers, a 1 GB card -- good for hundreds of shots from a 5 MP camera at full resolution and maximum quality -- should be plenty. Card prices have dropped of late; you can now buy a 1 GB card for $50 or so; 512 MB cards run $30 or less. If you're buying a new camera, the memory provided with it is likely too small to meet your needs. Buy at least one additional card.

Parting tip: Before heading out, make sure you transfer the shots from your last ski trip to your computer and purge them from the card, so you start out fresh.

Pack the video cable. You can share your photos with friends and family by using your camera's video-output jack to display them on the nearest TV set. Most cameras even let you set up a slide show, so you can kick back while everyone savors the day's sights.

Consider using photofinishers as you go. If getting home from vacation typically triggers a printing marathon on the home inkjet, consider using in-store photofinishers along the way, thus giving you the option to enjoy and share your shots as you go, typically with an hour or less waiting time.

Even the best are less consistent in photo quality than the best inkjets or online photofinishers, so you might want to reprint your most prized shots at home.

Consider buying a snapshot printer. These pint-sized printers - often smaller than a few DVD-movie cases stacked atop each other - are small enough to take along on vacation and provide a great way to share shots when away from home. Some can even run on rechargeable batteries. Typical prices run from $80 to $200. They generally print only 4x6-inch photos, though a few models can also produce 5x7-inch prints or 4x12-inch panoramas.

They've become more numerous in recent years, and printing costs have dropped. Most snapshot printers now have per-photo costs of about 25 to 40 cents, comparable to full-sized inkjets.

Parting tip: Stock up on paper and ink for your snapshot printer--they're typically sold bundled in a package -- before you go, since stores that stock them may be scarce where you go.

Another option if you'll have access to a computer when you travel is to upload your photos to a photosharing or photofinishing Web site. You can even order shots that will be ready for you when you get home, or have prints sent ahead to a store location at the next stop on your itinerary where you can pick them up.

Parting tip: Research and set up your account with the online site before you leave home, so as to minimize hassle on the road.

Time to get a new camera? A vacation can be a catalyst -- or excuse -- to get a new camera. There's now a wider selection of subcompact cameras that are perfect for packing along for the day, along with a selection of innovative models, including those that are waterproof. For more general advice on camera choices, visit Consumer Report’s free online Decision Guide.

Parting tip: Start your research for a new camera at least a week before you go, so you have time to take advantage of often-lower online prices--and to familiarize yourself with your new camera before you face that perfect sunset.

(Source: Consumer Reports)