These pages on photography have been included to answer questions I often get and some hints and tips I find useful, that may also be useful to you. These pages were last updated Nov 2004, and may be a bit outdated when you read this. However, my general suggestions remain, considering that digital is quickly replacing film in all market segments these days.
Putting people in categories may not always be popular, but I put photographers in one of 4 main categories in addition to those who have hardly touched a camera. This is useful in answering the question "what camera shall I buy", that I have been asked a thousand times. My answers are the following:
1. The leisure family photographer shooting a few frames a year during Christmas and parties, and that also brings the camera on his vacation. Typically less than 200 pictures per year, primarily to get memories for the family album. A sensible compact camera for film is likely to cost US$ 100 - 200 from major makes as Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Olympus, and will be the most cost effective. Film costs at these volumes will be limited. I anticipate than 2005 will bring lower priced quality digital compacts which together with existing good printing services at photo-shops will make this a more viable solution from 2005 onwards. If you own a computer, and have any idea of putting images on it, I would recommend adding about US$ 200 and go digital today. In this case, I would recommend a closer look at the Canon Ixus family of digital cameras. Very compact, quality cameras that are easy to use. A reference in it's class. If you go digital, you are likely to shoot many more photos, hence getting a few more nice shots.
2. The serious amateur that knows the physical properties of photography, often use manual settings, and is known among friends for making good shots. Typically 1000 pictures per year or more. I consider myself to be mostly in this category, and will recommend a good digital compact for family shots and leisure photography, and/or a film based SLR for high quality photos. To get a digital SLR to obtain equal quality will be too costly (about US$ 8000 at the time of writing, fall 2004). My clear recommendation would be a Canon S70 digital compact and a film based SLR from Canon or preferrably Nikon priced around $1000. The Canon S70 is compact, well built and has the possibility of all manual settings and provides an uncompressed format (RAW). The 28 mm equivalent wide zoom is very useful, and is not found in many cameras in this class at the time of writing. For the SLR, it may be a good idea to consider 2nd hand equipment. In this case, go for an old Nikon as they are often well built, and it's easier to find lenses as the lens mount hasn't changed that often. You are likely to go digital in a not so distant future, so don't spend too much on the film SLR.
Added 7 Sep 04: The new Canon EOS 20D 8 Mp digital SLR released days ago is very good at an attractive price, and may be a better choice than a film SLR.
Added 29 Nov 04: The new Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II 16 Mp SLR is one that I would happily use to replace any 35 mm film SLR. However, price is very high today ($ 8000), but when cameras of this quality comes within your budget, go for it!
Added 25 Feb 05: The arrival of the Nikon D2X SLR has brought serious competition to the table. It's somewhat smaller sized "DX" 12 Mpixel CMOS sensor is said to rival the Canon SLR in many aspects, and both are likely to wipe off the competition from 35 mm film cameras for most uses. The Nikon is supposed to perform well with some of the old quality "Nikkor" lenses, even MF ones, but you will yield a longer focal length as the CMOS sensor is smaller in size than the 24x36 mm film frame.
3. The semi-pro that is dedicated to photography. It is his main hobby, he is likely to participate in competitions, and have sold some of his work, although this is not his main source of income. I consider myself to be taking my first steps into this category, but I may not quite be there yet. If there is budget to spend more than US$ 10,000 on camera gear, I would choose a Canon 1Ds Mark II 16 Mpixel. At the time of writing (fall 2004), it seems to be in it's own class. Two good zoom lenses to go with it, a tripod and a good flash. In addition, I would consider a Canon S70 for those occasions where you don't want to carry all that heavy SLR stuff. Added 25 Feb 2005: The Nikon D2X SLR is a new worthy competitor to the Canon SLR.
4. The professional. The photography is his main source of income. They often shoot more than 1000 pictures per week. I am not a professional photographer, and I assume these guys are better than me at defining their own needs depending on what kind of photography they do. They are likely to have many cameras suitable for different uses. They do not have a problem spending more than US$ 10,000 on equipment if it is required for their job. Due to the high number of pictures, it is a significant saving on film consumption if they can go digital, even if the equipment is more expensive.
Final word: This may look like something from a Canon sales rep, but the background for my recommendations are the following: I have been using Canon and Nikon equipment for years, both digatal and film based.
For film based compacts, I have owned many Nikons, and been very happy with them all, maybe with a small reservation for some of the latest cheap models. Competition may have required them to cut on quality. I have limited experience with other brands of film compacts. For film SLRs, I think Nikon still has the best system, and is definetely my first choice if you buy 2nd hand: Lens mount has been almost unchanged for decades ensuring interchangeability between new and old. Canon has changed theirs several times, making it more difficult to own old Canons and find used lenses. Some Nikon SLRs, particularly older ones (before 1985), may be some of the most sturdy bodies ever built.
For digital cameras, I think Canon has done a better job than Nikon, Sony and the others. (Added Feb 2005: Check out the new Nikon D2X SLR, it is said to be excellent) On compacts, I have experiences with Canon Ixus, Canon S45, Nikon Coolpix 990 and 3700, Sony P9 and an older Olympus. In each class, I find Canon cameras better, they take better pictures, are easier to handle, have less problems and provide more of the functions I look for. I was very happy with the older Nikon Coolpix 990, but have been disappointed with the recent Coolpix 3700. Support has been terrible for me and some friends of mine, while the Canon support has been excellent (Note: My need for Canon support has been extremely limited). I have no experience with SLRs, but friends have had minor problems with Nikons. For more expensive SLRs, everybody seems to agree the Canon 1Ds Mark II is simply the best on photographic quality at the time of writing. Just check out some of the camera review sites on the net.