First, read parts one and two of this series. I know, there is some boring description of sensor types (I tried to keep it not-too-technical) and camera types to wade through. But to use the information here, you really need to understand the information in these two discussions.
Here is a decision guide that will help. Below the guide, I will discuss brands and models as examples of the different camera types. I may offer recommendations.
Is your budget very small? Choose a point and shoot digital camera.
Do you want to take photos that will be used as 5 x 7 inch or smaller prints or in small-sized photo books or scrapbooks (you plan to never need large photo prints)? Choose a point and shoot digital camera.
Is your budget small, yet you would like to sometimes make enlargements?
Choose a mirrorless digital camera or a point and shoot camera with a larger sensor.
Have a little more to spend; an interest in learning more about photography; maybe have an urge to try using longer telephoto to photograph wildlife or birds? Are you interested in photographing tiny things (macro photography)? Choose a lower level APS-C SLR digital camera or a better mirrorless digital camera.
Ready to take photography classes; want to make and frame enlargements; or just take the next step? Choose a better APS-C SLR digital camera.
Are you a hiker; do you like active activities and are strongly interested in photography? Choose a better mirrorless digital camera system.
If you are growing in your photographic experience and talent and can afford to spend a lot for camera equipment and if you want the very highest image quality or very large enlargements -- choose a full-frame digital camera system.
NOTE: As you review all the cameras that are available, please keep in mind your planned usage. If you take only a few photos or nearly always take photos indoors, you might not need a viewfinder. However, if you plan to take photos both indoors and out and in lots of different weather conditions or if you take a lot of photos, you will be frustrated if you buy a camera without a viewfinder. Keep in mind that those with a viewfinder are more expensive to build and thus cost more. The viewfinder may be the single most important factor in your decision.
Examples of quality cameras
Point and shoot camera (inexpensive)
Samsung WB50F - this 100 dollar camera is good. There is no viewfinder, but it has 12 times optical zoom and decent picture quality. The Samsung ST 150F is really thin, will fit in any pocket or purse and takes good pictures (cost - 130 dollars).
Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ3 is a 150 dollar camera with 10 times optical zoom, no viewfinder, but pretty good image quality.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS40, costs a bit more, but has 30 times optical zoom and a viewfinder. This one has the small sensor, but fairly good image quality.
Point and shoot camera (larger sensor/higher cost)
The Samsung Mini has a 3 times optical zoom and a large sensor for amazing image quality. Small and powerful.
Panasonic DMC-LF1 is a small (pocketable) camera with a viewfinder, 7 times optical zoom, larger sensor and very good image quality (I highly recommend this one).
Canon G15 is a nice sized camera with 5 times optical zoom , a viewfinder, little bit larger sensor, and the lens lets a lot of light in (good in low light conditions). For $350.00 it is a lot of camera with very good image quality.
I recommend the Canon G15. A new model (G16) has been released, but it is larger, with few improvements and costs more - find a G15.
Panasonic and Nikon make mirrorless cameras
The Lumix DMC-GF6 is a good and inexpensive camera (it does not have a viewfinder). The Lumix DMC-G6 is a very good camera. It has a viewfinder, lots of features, and good lens choices. The G6 is a bigger investment as lenses cost a bit more than some other makers. The Lumix DMC-GH3 is a great camera. It costs more, is outstanding for video as well as still photography (I highly recommend this one).
The Nikon 1 S2 and the Nikon 1 J4 are mirrorless cameras that are recognized as being good quality cameras. The J4 is one of the fastest operating cameras in this class. They do not have a viewfinder, so I hesitate to recommend one of these. However, you might want to try one in a store to see if you like their design.
Sony has excellent mirrorless cameras
The a3000 by Sony is a very nice camera. It is relatively inexpensive and only has a few lenses to choose from. There are not as many features as on more expensive models. However, if you are trying to keep costs down, this is an excellent choice (I recommend this one). Image quality is outstanding.
If you can spend a little more - the a6000 by Sony is superb (I highly recommend this one).
APS-C SLR cameras
This is where Nikon shines. The D3300 and the D5300 are excellent cameras. The D3300 is slightly less expensive, but both have most of the features anyone could want. Image quality is outstanding. Read about the two to figure out how they differ. Plan on at least $500.00 to get started. You will want additional lenses, so plan on another $500.00 or more when you are ready.
Canon has a model that is very much like the D3300 - the Canon T5i. But you might be more interested in the SL1 by Canon. It is the smallest, lightest full-featured SLR camera.
The Canon 70D is more expensive; It is also a better camera. If you are ready to advance, but can't spend the money needed to get a full-frame camera, this might be the one for you. I highly recommend the Canon 70D.
Don't overlook Pentax or Sony. Both companies make excellent APS-C sensor SLR cameras. They are comparable to Nikon and Canon and may even exceed!
When you are ready to spend this kind of money - $600 to 1,000, look at Pentax or Sony - you might like what you see.
Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Sony make outstanding full-frame cameras. You will spend at least three thousand dollars, so you must visit a camera store and try these for yourself.
There are many more technical things to discuss. There are other cameras not mentioned here, that are worth buying. So, if you have questions - please contact me and I will help answer them. You can email me right from this web site.