I feel, after visiting so many websites and reading so much advice, and also by frequently visiting photography forums, that I have to speak on this subject.
For majority of buying public, there are 2 categories that we fall into when getting started or upgrading in digital photography, "Absolute Beginner" or "Amateur" (or serious amateur sometimes labelled as semi pro).
Now for beginner, or someone getting started in photography itself (not just digital), choice of cameras nowadays is quite overwhelming! Everywhere you look there are cameras, not just in camera shops like good old days. You even get given a cheap digital camera as a gift for buying something else in some places. There are reasonably powerful digital cameras in more expensive mobile phones now and they come in all shapes and sizes.
So where do you possibly start and how do you make that choice for buying a camera for yourself or someone else. Really it is quite simple and there are 3 criteria you should look at:
1.Quality - If you want camera to last at least a few years and not get bothered by a bit of bashing about, go for quality. A titanium body, not plastic, something that is fairly heavy and robust in your hands, you can feel quality!
2.Features - Do you want quality video capabilities? How big do you want to print pictures that come from cameras files (how many mega pixels)? Do you want to have at least some manual features so you can get a bit creative? Or do you just want a "Point-and-shoot" digital camera?
3.Price - You will have a budget in mind of how much you want to spend. Get best camera and memory you can for your budget, worry about extras later! Don't be cheap; if you want reasonably good quality prints, by spending too little on a very cheap camera, you will waste paper, printer ink and/or good money at your local lab. Get a good make and model of digital camera now and it will outlast a cheapie 4 or 5 times.
DO NOT be swayed by digital cameras that have "Non-Photographic" features, gadgets and gizmos. Any of these unnecessary features added means that some quality has been sacrificed elsewhere. Buy a camera to be a camera, and nothing else. I would also suggest buying one of top brands such as Canon, Nikon, Konica-Minolta, Olympus etc., they may cost a little more, but difference in quality is worth it. They all make cheaper end cameras too.
Look for decent features such as a good optical zoom, NOT digital zoom. Digital zoom is an unnecessary marketing tool; it is same as zooming in on photo once you get it onto your PC. 10-20X digital zoom is acceptable but I have seen video cameras with 1000X digital zoom, have you ever tried holding camera steady at these kind of magnifications, even with a tripod?!!
Basically, write down exactly what you want and need from camera, go to a reputable dealer and buy a good branded camera that has what you need for your requirements and budget, don't be swayed by salesperson into buying more than you need.
Now, Amateur or Semi Pro. When you start to look at Semi professional Digital SLR's or Advanced digital compact cameras, choice is a little less but no less confusing. The same advice goes here as in previous section, think about what you need camera for, how you think you may progress in this hobby and your budget.
The "prosumer" advanced digital compact cameras available today are steadily encroaching on quality of DSLR, although in my opinion, they will never catch them. The optical zooms are fantastic, sensors, albeit smaller than DSLR are powerful and produce stunning images, and some even have "built-in" image stabilisers…Great!