Largely written by Picolini, so all credit goes to him.
Point and Shoot (P&S's)
P&S's are the common camera you see most people with. This includes disposables, replaceable film camera's, and digital cameras.
They generally have a small viewfinder in the back, digital P&S cameras usually have an LCD display on the back showing a live feed of what the lens is picking up. This live feed also gives them the ability to record video in many of the digital P&S camera models.
P&S's are great for normal uses at events and the like. Their name comes from exactly what they are made for, pointing and shooting. No fuss. This Is also their biggest downfall when it comes to photography. While P&S's have different modes and give you control over plenty of settings, you still don't have complete freedom. Also, due to their compactness, the parts used in them (such as the lens, sensor, etc) are inferior higher end, photography oriented cameras. Most P&S cameras range anywhere from $50-$500, with decently capable camera's even in the $200 range. As technology increases P&S's are showing that it's not always up to what you use, but how you use it. Still, the lack of control over all settings and their poorer quality lens and sensors are a large drawback.
Single Lens Reflex (SLRs)
SLRs generally consist of a body and a lens. If it is a digital SLR, using a memory card to save the images it's called a DSLR. The lens locks in to the body. They are the large camera's you see the paparazzi harassing stars with, or in the hands of the guy next to news reporters. These are generally professional grade cameras. Prices range anywhere from $400-holy hell just for the body. Lenses can be anywhere from sub $100-holy f*cking hell.
This configuration allows you to customize what type of lens to the application or situation. For instance you may need a telephoto lens to zoom in close, then a macro lens to get close up to something. SLRs allow you to do this easily.
The fact that SLRs have interchangeable lenses allows the lens to be specialized for it's zoom level, and gives you the option to have a higher quality lens (to reduce things such as UV rays, noise, speckle, glare, etc etc).
Since SLRs are used in situations where compactness isn't a priority, makers are free to use higher quality sensors. That combined with the ability to use different zoom, and higher quality lenses makes SLRs the cream of the crop.
SLRs also give the user freedom over most, if not all, settings. SLRs still generally come with standard automatic settings such as full Auto, Portrait, Landscape, No Flash, Flash, Activity/motion/sports, etc, and then a M or Manual mode. You are able to adjust things such as shutter speed (how long the sensor is exposed), ISO level, f/stop, etc. This freedom can allow the user to fine tune the resulting image per situation. This is probably THE biggest advantage of SLRs over P&Ss, next to the quality.
Bridge cameras are a mid point between P&S and SLRs. They offer higher quality lenses and sensors, more setting controls, and are generally larger physically than P&S's. The lenses are not interchangeable but they often have a large zoom spectrum from very close to very far. The price range for Bridge cameras is generally anywhere from $200-$1000.
Really, you need to pick the camera that will fit your needs. Do you want to be able to take the camera with you? Do you need to use it at parties or at the bar? SLRs probably aren't the best for you, as they're bulky. A P&S better suits those needs, possibly a bridge camera but that's really over kill.
If you need something for family events and would like to delve into photography then a bridge camera could be sufficient for you. Their lower price makes them justifiable as a normal use camera, and their higher quality lenses (over P&S's) and ability to adjust more settings makes them a nice choice for some small time photography.
Since I'm not familiar with the endless amount of P&S and large amount of bridge cameras I can only give a general outline of what would be good to look for in them.
- 7MP or greater
- Image Stabilization (Optical [OIS] or Digital [DIS])
Some pluses would be the use of SD cards, as they are abundant and cheap. They can be used in many devices these days. Video is also a nice plus, as some times you'd like to record an event. Though it's not the highest quality picture, it's a nice addition for a camera to have. A good size, nice resolution, good quality LCD display on the back helps a ton in taking pictures and reviewing them. Plenty of P&S cameras are coming with facial recognition which helps to focus the camera, this can help a lot if you are doing a lot of pictures of people.
For obvious reasons SLRs and, more common than not in these times, DSLRs are the camera type of choice by photographers. They need the freedom to adjust the camera to the situation. You wouldn't wear shorts on a trip to Alaska. So why would you use a macro (close range) lens when you go to the zoo where you want to zoom in on the animals? The freedom over settings also allows for techniques not possible on P&S's, such as long exposure shots.
SLRs are complex and the price range is just insane. You can get a low end one for $400, or a high end for $5,000. Easy. Big differences are MP amount (generally 8-15, but they can go way higher), type of penta-prism (mirror/prism used to redirect light inside the body), input/data/image processing speed, and sensor quality. For this reason I'll go over a few lower end camera's and give a little information about them. After all, this is to help out beginners so I'll stick to the cheaper cameras.
The best offering for an entry level DSLR currently would be the 10.1MP XTi/400D. It can currently be had for around $450 for the body alone. http://www.bhphotovi..._Rebel_XTi.html
Canon's lower end DSLRs generally come with their 18-55mm lens which is great for beginners, but I quickly found lacked my zoom needs. The purchase of a cheap, decent Sigma 75-300mm telephoto lens did the trick for me(about $100).
The 8MP Rebel XT 350D is no aging a bit but is still a great, low price entry level DSLR. It can be found for as low as around $400 (body only) at Amazon.com. Obviously for $50 the XTi makes this a poor purchase if the extra cash can be spent. http://www.amazon.co...29491161&sr=8-2
The 6.1MP D40 is currently their cheapest DSLR offering, at about $400-500. Currently can be found at B&H for $450 with the body and 18-55mm lens http://www.bhphotovi...tal_Camera.html
Personally I would go with a Canon in this range. The D40 is aging along with the XT. The XT is only $400 for the body, and about $100-150 for the 18-55mm lens, so that package totals about $500-550. For just $50-100 more on the D40 you get a camera with autofocus built into the body, which adds weight to the camera body, but takes it away from the lens. This also decreases the cost of lenses, due to each lens needing to have the autofocus itself. So going with the D40 can cost you in the future with lens purchases. It also makes it harder to put the camera and lens on a tripod as weight is extended outward more.
If possible the XTi would be the best bet in this situation, because at just $550-600 ($450 body, another $100-150 for the standard lens) you get near double the MPs and built in autofocus.
Sony's contenders in this range would be the A200 or A300, which are 10.2MP DSLRs. I would have added Sony into this comparison but I just do not know enough about them. Going with my argument for the Canon above, and the knowledge you've gained so far you should be able to look up the specifications of the Sony A300 to make a judgment of your own.
Of course there are plenty of other brands that offer entry level DSLRs, such as olympus, Sigma, Fujifilm, and more. I personally have no experience or knowledge on these cameras. Feel free to post information on these brands and their DSLRs.
With technology these days, digital photography is more popular than traditional film. Personally, I've never done any traditional film photography so I can not comment on the subject. With that said, I'll talk about digital photography.
DSLRs usually have a RAW format available. While they are large files (5-10MB for an 8MP picture), they contain more information that allows you to manipulate settings AFTER the picture has been taken. Things that can be changed easier in this format are white balance, exposure, darks, lights, fill light, clarity, saturation, mids, highs, lows, shadows, abberation, vignetting, etc. Programs such as Photoshop or Lightroom (both expensive!) can give you the ability to adjust these settings.
There are a number of free alternatives, including Phixr (an online editor), Photoscape, Photoplus or Picasa.
And thatís it for now! Information will be added over time, and if anyone has anything to contribute, donít hesitate to do so by posting or PMíing.