If you’re into it you could be looking at a very expensive hobby.
Let me start of with one caveat. In a way, photography represents a tenuous merger – one between technology and the person behind it. In some ways photographers are like audiophiles. Gearheads. You always want more gadgetry. A better back. Better lenses aka “lens lust” and so on. It’s easy to start with a budget and within a few months find yourself a few thousands short.
I’ll start with an overview.
Digital cameras can be roughly stratified into three groups: point & shoot, prosumer and DSLR.
Point & shoot cameras like my SD100 come with everything integrated. They’re pocketable, have minimal creative options and suffer from the compromises inherent with the form factor. These include high noise (grain) at increased sensitivities, red-eye when using flash, compromises in optical quality, poor low light and/or autofocus performance and more. Few cameras in this segment have any add-ons. Prices range from low hundreds to approximately 1/2 a grand depending on the depth of the compromises taken. In my opinion, companies like Sony, Canon and Kodak own this market segment.
Prosumer cameras are the next step up. Prices range from the low hundreds to just over $1000. Models at the low end feature P&S form factors (and many of their compromises) but add creative options such as control over apeture and shutter speed. Higher end models generally feature longer or wider zoom ranges, twisting LCDs, better optics, cleaner photographs and more. As the feature set increases, so does the size of the camera. While a few are barely pocketable, those at the high end like the Dimage A2, the Sony F828 and the Nikon 8800 approach a DSLR in size and weight. These are cameras that you’ll carry around your neck – not in your pocket. Models in this bracket often have a range of accesories available including additional flash units, tele-converters, filters and more. One important point to note is that the optics are integrated. While you don’t have to worry about dust on your sensor, what you’ve got with your camera is what you’ll stay with. Some of the highest end models are touted as possible DSLR crossovers… A vast spectrum of brands have well selling brands in this segment including Canon, Sony, Minolta, Nikon and Olympus.
Now you enter the D-SLR territory. Prices in this segment range from a merely eye opening $1200 or so to the stratospheric $10,000 or more (for the body only). Psst…unless you’re a pro – don’t make a choice between a car or a camera.
D-SLRs really rate for their own entry, so I’ll stop this here. There’s a lot to them – both advantages and disadvantages. Oh – and if you’re in the mood for boutique cameras – consider Lomos, rangefinders et. al. They’re not really in the same price range though. Lomos can be had for a few hundred, while a Leica M6 or M7 can cost you a couple of thousand. Easily. And we’re talking film here… With the exception of the Epson RD-1, I don’t think there’s another rangefinder with a digital back.