Tuesday, May 18, 2004

If it's true that shopping soothes the soul, then I spent most of yesterday engaged in some pretty intensive retail therapy. I've been meaning to order a new digital camera for weeks now to replace the one that Fred is taking with him to Iraq. Every time I tried to get serious about my research, the sheer quantity of cameras to choose from completely paralyzed my ability to think clearly. Yesterday though, I decided the time had come to get down to business.

First, I have to say thanks to everybody out there who wrote in to tell me about their cameras--what they liked and what what they didn't like. Several readers also alerted me to review sites (Steve's Digi-cams and DP Review) that were very helpful as well.

The hard part in shopping for a camera is that there are so many different features to choose from and such a huge range of prices. It was so much easier when I bought my current camera--a Nikon Coolpix 2500. At that time, all I wanted was a camera that was cheap, cheap, and cheap but that also had the LCD monitor on the back. (With many of the truly cheap cameras I looked at, you couldn't see your photos until you uploaded them to a computer.) The Nikon had the LCD monitor, and I picked it up at Walmart for the equivalent of $100. This time though I was prepared to make a bigger financial commitment and wanted to put a commensurate amount of thought into the process.

Even once I had decided that while 3.2 megapixels was the minimum I would accept and that I was more interested in cameras in the 4 and 5 megapixel range, it was hard not to be seduced by the occasional bargain. For example, I found the Nikon Coolpix 3200 at Best Buy for $400. Best Buy is currently offering 10 percent off all point-and-shoot digital cameras, and this particular model also has a $100 rebate, bringing the total price down to a meager $260. Not bad at all. I had trouble walking away from that one, especially after my previous pleasant experience with Nikon.

In looking at 4 and 5 megapixel models, I had yet another choice to make, and it proved to be the one that brought me to my final decision: how big a camera did I want? There are teeny-tiny cameras that resemble a deck of playing cards, and there are much larger cameras that are more in keeping with traditional 35-mm body styles. I was sorely tempted by a couple of the larger models, but I decided that size does matter, and when you're schlepping a camera all across Europe, the best size is small.

So here's what I wound up choosing: the Sony Cybershot DSC-V1 from Best Buy. It's a 5-megapixel cutie that weighs in at a svelte 11 ounces. It has a 4x optical zoom as well as a 4x digital zoom. It will also take video clips, which can be fun on a ski slope. The list price was $499.99 minus the 10-percent discount, for a total of $450. The only downside was that I couldn't have it shipped here to me at my APO address. I'm having it sent to my parents, and while the shipping is free, that will open me up to paying sales tax on it in Florida. Oh, well. I'm still happy with the deal; our local PX is selling the same camera for $679 and anytime an outside competitor can undercut AAFES, it makes me feel all warm and happy inside.

Best Buy also kicked the PX's monopolistic hiney in the storage-media arena. For example, through their website AAFES offers a 128MB Dane-Elec (who?!) Memory Stick for $85. I, however, scored a 256MB San Disk Memory Stick PRO from Best Buy for $75, and that was BEFORE the $20 mail-in rebate. Ha, take that, Post Exchange!

So the bottom line is I'm very excited about my new camera, and I think I got an excellent deal overall. Having to ship it to Florida is one teensy fly in otherwise pristine ointment. I'll have my dad bring it with him when he comes for a visit in mid-June.

Until then, I just have to wait patiently. And we all know how I excel at waiting patiently, so this shouldn't be any problem at all, right? RIGHT?!

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