What type of camera do you need? I'm often asked what kind of camera is the best to buy and the answer I most often give is that it depends.
It depends on how much money you want to spend and it depends on what you most plan to photograph. As far as money goes, it's up to you to decide how much to spend. If you spend too much, you can end up with a camera that is overkill and has a learning curve that's too high to get over. If you spend too little, you may get a camera that doesn't have all the features you need. Right now the magic number is between $200 and $400 to get a camera that has high enough image quality and the good features that most people usually need.
Everyone needs a digital camera for different reasons. If you need a camera for simple snapshots of the kids during the day, a basic model with basic features will be fine. If you are going to be photographing action sports or activities with lots of movement, you need a camera that has a sports mode or a high continuous shooting mode. If you are a fisherman or maybe a ski bum, you might want to look into a waterproof model. If your camera decides to go for a swim, you won't be hurting.
Both sports and nature photographers need to consider the amount of zoom the camera has. In sports you want to be able to reach out onto the field without interfering with the game and also to keep you safe. Hunters want to get a good shot of your favorite wild animal without scaring it off.
Size is important for almost everyone. The smaller your camera, the more likely it is you will be to take it with you. You don't want your camera to be a burden. I get a lot of folks who think they need the huge camera with the lenses and all the expensive goodies to take a good picture. You really don't need all that stuff unless you make your living in photography. A good photographer can take a good photograph with whatever kind of equipment they have in front of them. No, you won't look nearly as cool, but your wallet will be much happier and you won't have to visit your chiropractor as often.
(Brent Kepner is the owner and photographer at Foto 1 Pro Photo in Elkins. He is a master photographer as well as a certified professional photographer.)