This is a question that I get asked a lot. And the answer is....it depends.
There is no one camera that is perfect for everybody. In fact, there is no one camera that is perfect for anybody. Every camera has strong points and weaknesses. The goal is to get the camera that best fits your particular style or interest in the art of photography. One thing you must do, though, is not wait until you NEED a camera to buy one. Nothing can be more frustrating than trying to learn your equipment in the midst of a "gotta have it" photo op.
If you aren't into doing much with the pictures you take, then just about any compact camera will fit your needs. Some of the things that you should look for in any camera are:
- an OPTICAL zoom. Digital zoom is OK as a last resort, but all that is doing is magnifying a small part of the picture (that is better done at home)
- a lens with a wide aperture or f-number (the smaller the number, the wider the aperture) to allow pictures in low light and/or without flash
Beyond that, a camera that is sized right, has the features that fit the kind of pictures you take and has the controls you are comfortable with is what you should look for. If you do a lot of traveling, think small. If you want to shoot sports, you will pretty much need a dSLR to keep up with the action (compact cameras don't focus fast enough to work well with moving subjects).
As far as brand, they are all good; some do a better job of marketing, but cameras of the same type are far more alike than they are different. Since you are reading this, you have access to the Internet. One of the things I recommend as part of your search for your next camera is to check out web sites that test cameras and post detailed reviews. Two of the best are DP Review (www.dpreview.com) and Imaging Resource (www.imaging-resource.com). Because reviewers can tend to insert their own biases into reviews, hearing from actual users is extremely useful. DP Review has the most extensive user forums on the web for all brands and models of cameras. Reading what others have to say about a camera from actually using one can be a real eye opener when compared to what you read in a review.
Next time, I'll begin a series of tips for how to take better pictures no matter what camera you have.
Now, go shoot something!