browniecamera.jpgWe were recently thumbing through a B&H Photo catalog and found a state-of-the-art camera marketed as a latest-and-greatest model, but advertised that it was in a quaint "Retro" style that is indistinguishable from the digicam we won't leave our house without. It's depressing to learn that as an avid not-even-early adopter, we're lugging around a 5 oz. version of a digital Brownie camera.

New York residents have the opportunity to capture a lot more than birthday parties and graduations on film or in memory cards. Point-and-shoot cameras enable even the most amateur street photographer to practice, catalogue and revise his or her photographic instincts to a great degree. Wall Street Journal technology columnist Walter Mossberg has an annual consumers guide of what to look for in digital cameras. In short: megapixels are not that important at this point to amateur photogs, smart features like selective image focus are, as well as zoom capabilities (more than 4x optical is pretty superflous when dealing with a digital camera), and image stabilization. And unless you're a user who's prepared to familiarize onesself with an editing program, in-camera features that allow enhancement or editing on the fly can be essential.

Image stabilization, or IS, was once only available in high-end SLR cameras. Now, almost all of the top-name consumer digicams offer this because without optical viewfinders, users must shakily hold cameras out to look through viewing screens. Referred to as antishake or vibration reduction by some manufacturers, there are three kinds of IS: optical and mechanical image stabilization, which physically steady a camera even when your hand is shaking, or digital image stabilization, which can improve a shot when the photographed subject is moving.

Some cameras, like the $250 Olympus Stylus 760, offer dual IS. This means the camera is equipped with both digital and mechanical or optical image stabilization, the best of both worlds. If you’ll be using a camera specifically for shots of moving objects, digital IS will work.

We like Mossberg's regular columns because they tend to be light on specs and tech-talk––which certainly deserve their place and time––but emphasize the importance of easy usability in digital hardware and software.