Lots of choice, but which is best for you?

Casio QV100. Pounds 399 inc VAT including PhotoQV software Xemplar Education, The Quorum, Barnwell Road, Cambridge CB5 8RE Tel: 01223 724200. Epson PhotoPC 500.

Pounds 425 plus VAT and Snapshot Plus Irlam Instruments, Brunel Institute for Bioengineering, Brunel University, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB8 3PHTel: 01895 811401Also available at Pounds 425 (including Photolink) from Spacetech, 21 West Wools, Portland, Dorset DT5 2EATel: 01305 822753. Olympus C-420L. With Photolink from Spacetech (see above) Pounds 425 plus VAT.

So many digital cameras, including Casio, Epson, Fujifilm, Kodak, Nikon, Olympus and Sanyo, on the market has meant two things: lower prices and confused purchasers. Although digital images printed on new "photorealistic" printers don't possess the quality of prints made from traditional photographic film, it is the immediacy of a digital capture that is so attractive to students and teachers, and for many applications, such as publishing an image on a Web site or in an electronic document. Here then is a short list of cameras tested to help you make the right choice.

In most respects the Casio QV100 (Pounds 450) is very similar to the QV10A, sharing some design characteristics and some of its limitations, including lack of a flash. It produces cool (blue) casts to its images but I do like the ability to over or under-expose images, thus bracketing a particular shot. Overall, a good design needing further development.

The Epson PhotoPC 500 (Pounds 340) produces quality images comparable with more expensive cameras. Unfortunately, one trade-off for the price is its rather limited storage capacity. The PhotoPC is well suited to most tasks, producing images with good contrast and excellent colour saturation. On the other hand, the lack of LCD viewer is a disadvantage. But, at Pounds 100 cheaper than the competition, the PhotoPC is value for money.

The Olympus C-420L achieves the best balance of features, performance and cost in the Olympus Camedia range. It has a good range of features and exudes quality as soon as you pick it up. In all conditions it takes images that are both crisp and well-balanced in terms of colours. It looks good, feels good and takes a very good picture. Thoroughly recommended.

Rather larger than the competition, the Kodak DC50 (Pounds 460) offers a maximum resolution of 756 x 504 pixels, an auto-focus lens and zoom lens, macro capability and PC card support. The DC50's images are sharp and detailed with accurate colours, even with flash. On the down side, it stores only seven high-quality images and its one-handed operation is not suitable for children, as it is relatively heavy. However, the CD50 is rugged, well-built and Kodak offers an excellent support line should you need assistance. Overall, this is an excellent camera for secondary schools.

The FujiFilm DS-7 (Pounds 410) is an easy camera to use. However, the top-mounted, control wheel is probably unlikely to survive much heavy handling by children. It features a very bright LCD viewer and saves its images on a removable, interchangeable memory card, thus expanding the camera's capacity. However, there is no flash, which is a big disadvantage, and it requires good lighting conditions to produce a good image.

The compact Sanyo DigiCam G200 (Pounds 450) feels solid and exudes quality. It has a good range of features and is even able to record six seconds of audio with each picture. The DigiCam saves the time and date with each photo and can store a maximum 60 high-quality or 120 low-resolution images. This camera has a great deal to recommend it and should be high on your short list.

For younger or less able children, basic cameras such as the Epson PhotoPC and Agfa ePhoto307 (not reviewed here) would make excellent entry level cameras, being simple to use and lacking in sophistication.

For quality images and a good range of controls the Olympus C-410L, Sanyo DigiCam and Kodak DC-50 are excellent choices. It boils down in the end to personal choice and what special deals you are able to get.

* All cameras are available from:The Digital Camera Company, 28 Frederick Sanger Road, Surrey Research Park, Guildford GU2 5YD. Phone: 01483 452100 * Education computer companies such as RM and Xemplar also sell some cameras

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