Well, there is no quick answer to those type questions. But I will try to provide a guide to figuring out what kind of camera you should obtain.
1. The very first question to be resolved is why do you want a camera. What is it that you would like to take photos of and what do you like to do with those photos.
a) Taking photos of your family and friends is one common answer. But you will need to ask yourself what that entails. Does your family like outdoor sports like golf, skiing, surfing, basketball, outdoor picnics, baseball or tennis? Will you be mostly taking indoor photos of events like dining out, parties, holiday celebrations? Or perhaps both?
b) Another common answer is sporting events, soccer, football, baseball, hockey, beach volleyball, etc. Do you enjoy snorkeling?
c) Travel may be the most common answer. I want to document my vacations.
d) Sometimes people want to illustrate their profession, hobby, or interests in booklets, web sites or newsletters.
2. The next question to be understood is what do you want to do with your photographs.
a) Use of photos in newsletters, web sites, or books does not require extremely high resolution or big enlargements. Use of photos from your travels may not require high resolution if you share those photos on-line (as in Facebook, or photo sharing sites like snapfish). If you print small photos for albums, resolution levels will not need to be very high. However, if you plan to print 8 x10 inch or larger photos for framing for your wall or as gifts, very high resolution will be required.
b) If you would like to compete in photo contests, display your photos, or sell or gift enlargements, very high resolution will be necessary.
3. The other important question you must consider is how much money are you willing to spend on the camera equipment.
4. Finally, it is important to understand the types of cameras available and how that will affect your camera purchase decision.
OK, now that we know the four most important things that we must understand before a camera purchase decision is made, let's talk about how to reach a good purchase decision.
I will precede the decision process by explaining that many people grow their equipment with their level of interest, skills, and experience. Some people simply want a reliable camera and prefer to keep it a long time. Others find that as their skills and interest increase, and as they look for more photo taking opportunities with their growing experiences, they want to purchase better camera or additional lenses. I will try to address both cases.
I will describe 4 different types of cameras (and mention a few sub-types in some categories).
Point and Shoot cameras.
These are generally the easiest cameras to operate. They pretty much do all the work for you, except framing or composing the picture and pushing the button. They are usually the least expensive to purchase. These cameras have a lens built-in or permanently attached to the camera. You cannot buy a different lens to put on the camera.
Many of these cameras have a fully automatic mode in which you do not need to set anything to get a good exposure. They will focus for you on the object or scene you point the camera at. If the light is inadequate and flash is required, the camera will automatically cause the flash to fire.
Some of these cameras also allow you (the operator) to change to another mode that will allow you to adjust things like the sensitivity of the sensor to light, and the way the camera exposes the image.
The sensor in the camera is the part that receives the light coming through the lens and actually records the image with all it's colors.
These cameras come in two sub-types. Those that contain a small sensor. Or those that contain a larger sensor.
P&S cameras with a small sensor create acceptable quality images. Some of the better cameras of this type produce good quality images. These type cameras are easier for the manufacturers to build longer range zoom lenses on. So you will find cameras of this type that have 3x optical zoom. You will find some that have 7x, 10x, and even as high as 28x zoom lenses. The larger the x, the more magnification, so objects appear closer like big binoculars or telescopes.
P&S cameras with larger sensors can produce higher quality images. These tend to be more expensive. They can also be larger in size. These cameras usually have small zoom ranges. Some have 2.5x, some have 3x, or 4x. One has a 7x zoom lens on it. Some have no zoom at all. It is more challenging to build a zoom lens for the larger sensor without putting a lens on the camera that is bigger than the camera body. So lens size is partly what limits these cameras to short zoom ranges.
TO BE CONTINUED...