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Computer Care: New high-tech cameras offer more options at lower price
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Digital single lens reflex cameras, or DSLRs, as they are called, have become ubiquitous, even for the novice photographer. They used to cost up to $1,500 as once did a good laptop. Now both can be had for under a grand.

You can still spend a couple of thousand dollars for either one, but unless you need professional-grade quipment, it isn't necessary.

Nikon, Pentax, Sony, Canon and Panasonic and others have recently come out with DSLRs that are affordable and put the point-and-shoot genre to shame. These subthousand dollar cameras can be as easy to use as a point and shoot in auto-mode or as tricky as an SLR and just as creative in manual mode.

There are actually more modes than you can shake a memory stick at. Aside from the standard Auto, Manual, Shutter and Aperture Priority modes, there are settings for portraits, sports, night time, panoramas, macro (extreme close-up) and much more.

The plethora of buttons that cover the top and back of many models, have been moved to easy-to-navigate menus in the camera software. Only the bare essential buttons were left in most cases.

Unlike the cheaper point and shoot models, the DSLRs have interchangeable lenses. Most come with a 18-55 mm or so zoom lens that cover a good basic range for most photographers. Depending on what brand camera you have and what you want to shoot, lenses can cost from under $100 to well over $1,000.

Nikon, for example offer vibration reduction in their lenses. You can get a less expensive lens without the VR, but at a high zoom, any hand shaking can blur your photo. Also note whether or not the zoom lens offers auto focus.

Sony and Pentax put their anti-shake technology in the camera instead of the lens. This makes their lenses less expensive and makes any lens that's made for that camera anti-shake.

Many of the new cameras have a guide mode that takes you by the hand, if that's what you need to take good pictures.

A lot of the newer models have high definition video, making the camera a two-in-one. In the past movie modes existed, but they were of a lesser quality. They were also hard to keep in focus, especially in low light situations. High def has changed all that.

The LCD panels on the rear of the cameras have gone from 2 inches to 2.5 inches and now to 3 inches in most models. The color is vibrant and sharp. Some even have articulating rear panels, making it possible to take a picture holding the camera over your head or at your waist and still see what you're shooting.

Some of these LCDs offer live view, which allows you to see your subject; others just provide device information such as exposure settings and menus.

My personal preference is toward Sony and their alpha line of cameras. They are all affordable, especially if you get a used or refurbished model. Starting with the alpha, or a100 a few years back, they have since added the a200, a 250 and a300. Models higher than that are pro models for a lot more money.

The a33 and a55 which offers a new type of technology just came out this summer. They are about 14 and 16 megapixels, respectively. Technically not a DSLR, they use translucent mirrors that light passes through instead of bouncing off it.

The cameras shoot photos faster than ever; HD video is included and the cameras are smaller and lighter than previous models. Both of those cost less than $1,000 new, with a zoom lens.

Nikon has a similar model, the D3100 and Canon has the T2i, but they lack the new technology the Sony has.

Let's talk maintenance for a moment. One bad thing you can do is to toss your camera in your bag without a case, especially the point-and-shoots. The metal that covers the lens is wafer-thin and can be damaged by your cell phone, glasses, etc. Dust can also kill it. Invest in an $8 case. It will save an $80 camera.

Check the batteries. If they are not fresh, your camera may not turn on. Make sure to take them out if the camera is not in use for long periods. Batteries can leak and ruin your camera.

By using rechargeable batteries you can save a small fortune. They cost more initially, but can last for years.

Does your camera have a viewfinder? By using it instead of the LCD panel, your battery life will be extended significantly.

Consider updating your camera's firmware if you are having issues with it. Go to the manufacturer's website to download a small file and then install it in the camera with the USB cable that came with it.

If you use one of those point-and-shoot cameras and feel stymied by their lack of options, consider a DSLR and let your creativity flow. The images that you can produce will be phenomenal.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician who lives in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly.