When choosing the right camera to purchase you need to consider the following. Cameras are generally divided into two main categories: Point-and-shoot and Single Lens Reflex (also known as "SLR"). A Point-and-Shoot Camera is any camera, digital or film, that does not have a removable lens.
Most point-and-shoots are compact and lightweight. They almost always have zoom capabilities (both optical and digital). If you're just starting out you probably already have a point and shoot camera. An SLR on the other hand, will have the ability to have removable or interchangeable lenses. In addition, they usually offer many more options for controlling the camera. You will be able to shoot in full automatic as well as full manual and several other types of modes like aperture or shutter priority. The largest and probably most important, difference that identifies a digital point-and-shoot from a digital SLR is in the quality of the pictures each is capable of making.
While point-and-shoot cameras have their own advantages; They are light weight, easy to use and less expensive than an SLR. They can not compete with an SLR in terms of image quality. That is because a digital SLR has a much larger image sensor and a larger image sensor produces a larger, higher quality pixel. This larger pixel produces a much higher quality image. The higher quality images produced with an SLR, because of its expansion capabilities, will be saleable in many more markets than those taken with a point-and-shoot. Point and shoots may boast of having 8 or 10 mega pixels but the fact remains, their image sensors are smaller and this means the pixels are smaller also.
A Digital Point-and-Shoot
Most professional photographers own a compact point-and-shoot camera that they carry with them most of the time. Some will even tell you they never leave home without it. I think we all can agree that a lower quality picture taken with a point-and-shoot is better than no picture at all. When you're buying a compact point-and-shoot, try to get one that has at least five to 8 mega pixels.
If your camera comes with "digital" zoom, do not use it. Turn it off. Digital zooms are only enlarging a very small part of an already small sensor. While it may look OK on the computer, it will not print well. Most cameras allow you to turn off the digital zoom setting. You should do that and ignore anything the salesman tells you about digital zoom. A good camera should have at least a 3 x "optical" zoom. The best have at least a 6 to 8 x optical zoom. This means that the lens itself is changing the focal length and still using the full image sensor unlike the digital zoom. If the camera does not have a good optical zoom, do not buy it. You are wasting your money.
The size of the LCD screen is also important. The larger the better. If you have bad eyes, the LCD screen quality and size are of prime importance.
Stay with established name brands like Nikon and Canon. They make great point-and-shoot cameras. They're usually at the top of the line. Sony has some good point-and-shoots, too, but all their equipment is proprietary. This means it does not mix well with equipment and accessories of other brands.
Digital SLR Cameras
Most professional photographers will tell you that their preference in camera brands is large dependent on how the camera feels and handles as well as ease of operation. High quality sensors and pixels are a given for any brand name camera in today's highly competitive market. All professional grade cameras are ruggedly built and many have a fair amount of water resistance. With those in the water resistant group, you can shoot in the rain, sleet, and snow and never have a problem.
The major players in digital SLR photography today are Canon, Nikon, and Olympus, with Canon and Nikon in the lead. The major advantage to sticking with these brands is that they've been at this for a long time. They're not likely to go out of business (leaving you with a bunch of equipment you can not sell off, upgrade, or repair). And if you stick with Canon or Nikon, you'll have a large selection of accessories to choose from.
The rest comes down to price. More expensive cameras give you more durability as well larger sensor sizes. More expensive cameras with higher quality sensors will also take better photographs at higher ISOs with less noise in the shadow areas.
Choosing the right SLR for you
Price alone will help you target your search while brand name will help you narrow your options even further. Nikon and Canon are the biggest players. Both make really great cameras and have a large selection of lenses and accessories. Either brand will be easy to resell when you're ready to upgrade.
Beware of Sony. Sony cameras need special adapters when you want to use anything that's not made by the Sony brand – studio lights, external flashes, etc. Using Sony equipment is usually more problem than it is worth.