Maybe you have asked or are thinking about asking Santa for a camera. Perhaps you will use your gift card to buy one. No doubt, there is a wide variety to choose from. Some from brand name manufacturers with all sorts of features. And the cheap, disposable film cameras can always be found at the drug store.
What kindof photographs do you want to take? For general snapshots of a weekend in Douthat or Kiptopeake, point-and-shoot cameras are the standard. Most fit in the palm of your hand and are very simple to operate. It is possible to find brand name point-and-shoot models with 10 or more mega-pixels for less than $100. Something with a 3x or 5x zoom lens will cover most of your needs. A shock and waterproof camera can handle the toughest adventures.
Trying to photograph wildlife with a point-and-shoot can be frustrating as you can never seem to get close enough to the subject without it flying, running, or swimming away. There are two solutions to this problem. First, you can upgrade to a model with a stronger zoom. Cameras with built in 10x, 15x, and greater telephoto lenses are not uncommon. Many pros keep them in their kit bags for back up or to use when they don’t want to draw a lot of attention to themselves. For the casual photographer, this allows for versatility without carrying a DSLR with an arsenal of lenses.
But, if you find yourself more passionate about creating images, an entry level Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) is the better choice. Top makers often offer a camera body,wide, and telephoto lens for well under $1000. Using the pre-set programs is a great way to start using these cameras. But, with some experience, reading, and a class or two, you mayprefer making the aperture and shutter speed adjustments yourself.
As for brands and models, all major companies are selling quality cameras. Some photographers prefer one brand over another because of particular features and quirks. Check the internet and magazines for camera reviews. Ask local shutterbugs what they recommend. Buy the camera that fits your needs (and budget). By following a few rules of photography, you will create great images no matter what you are shooting.