A big consideration, whether buying a DSLR or a point-and-shoot camera, is the size of the sensor - the optically sensitive digital device that captures the image delivered into the camera by the lens (think of it as the digital "film"). Most camera ads make a big feature of megapixels but rarely mention sensor size. Don't be overly impressed with megapixels - 12 or so MP is plenty, but a larger sensor makes a huge difference in image quality, sharpness, and in your ability to crop, blow-up, or otherwise effectively post-process your images.
Most of the point-and-shoot type cameras have very small sensors - even at the higher end of the price range. But even the entry level DSLRs (e.g., Canon EOST3 or Nikon D3200) have a hugely bigger sensor. about
$500 - $600 will buy either the Canon or the Nikon with a "kit" zoom lens that will take very good pictures, especially combined with the cameras' large sensor, and you would have the possibility of adding other specialized or higher quality lenses later on.
Another way to go would be to go with a 4/3 format camera, such as the an Olympus. This 4/3 size sensor is smaller than you'd get in a DSLR but is still way bigger than you'd find in almost any point-and-shoot camera. The lower end of the Olympus line is price competitive with most of the decent quality point and shoots. My wife has an Olympus EPL-2, which takes truly excellent pictures. I often use it instead of my Nikon when I want to travel light. It has the full range of controls I have on my Nikon D300, but because there are fewer knobs and buttons they aren't all as quickly accessible. However other than having the advantage of compact size, this model Olympus is in the same price range as an entry-level SLR.
Any camera will give you the ability to learn to see and frame interesting pictures--and this is 95 percent of good photography. But my personal feeling -- just my opinion -- is that even a beginning photographer needs a camera that -- in addition to having a simple point-and-shoot mode (which BTW the Canon and Nikon mentioned above do have)-- also give the photographer the option
to control shutter speed, f-stop, and focus. Mastering these three controls will
open up worlds of possibility.
Here's a link that better explains what I mean about
digital image sensor sizes:
Post Edited (Bohemond) : 7/28/2013 1:27:47 PM (GMT-6)