Camera Recommendations Guide
I suddenly thought of doing this since there's been quite a lot of questions regarding which camera/lens to purchase. I've been working both as a photographer and at a photographic retail store for the last 4 years so I thought I'd chime in.
I'm going to recommend a few different things based on price level and familiarity with photography.
If you're looking for a beginner camera, just a simple, small point and shoot to toss into your pocket but still take excellent pictures, this is the section you want to look at! These are also fairly inexpensive at less than $150.
I recommend any of the entry level Canon and some Panasonic point and shoots. They all take excellent pictures in terms of color and contrast and are very very simple to use. A majority will take HD video as well. Examples: Canon A2600, Canon A3500, Canon Elph 115, Canon Elph 130, Canon Elph 330, Panasonic SZ3, Sony WX80 These are all current models and in my opinion it's not really worth going for an older model in this price range because they get updated so frequently and the technology changes so much.
Note: While these cameras are all capable of taking action shots in the sunlight, they do not do the best action photography or capture movement in a darker environment such as indoors.
Beginner/Compact High End
This category will include cameras that are still generally used as point and shoots, but do have more zoom to get closer to far away subjects. Also, most will have a manual over-ride and some manual controls if you want to use it. They are also a bit bigger, bulkier and a little heavier than the previous category. These range in price from about 150-400
For the most part, Panasonic dominates this category and they are excellent. Recommendations: Panasonic Lumix SZ9, Panasonic Lumix ZS25, Panasonic Lumix ZS30, Canon SX240, Canon SX 260, Canon SX270, Canon SX280, Sony Cybershot WX300.
Note: These can be simple use but allow for more customization, but of course despite the manual settings, are not DSLR/Mirrorless quality.
This category is for those that don't necessarily want a tiny camera or don't mind a bit more weight and size. These are not DSLR quality and work more like a point and shoot with manual over-ride. The price range is 300-500.
These cameras are typically enormous amounts of zoom, as well as having a DSLR-shaped body. They can be used on Automatic but most will have manual overrides. They are not interchangeable lenses and not DSLRs. Recommendations: Canon SX500, Canon SX50, Sony H200, Sony HX300, Nikon L320, Nikon P520, Panasonic FZ60, Panasonic FZ70, Panasonic FZ200.
Note: These cameras although are not DSLRs, can still capture motion relatively well in both relatively dark and bright environments.
For the sake of this post, I'm going to consider all DSLR cameras at least intermediate because compared to compacts. They will have Automatic mode and can be used as a point and shoot, however, they have a lot of buttons and things to tweak and customize if desired. Even the simplest DSLRs will still have those so I'm going to start the entry level DSLRs as intermediate in level.
These cameras are simple enough to use but can become quite a lot more advanced if you wanted to learn more about photography. They take much higher quality pictures compared to the point and shoot cameras. I would not recommend any other brand DSLR other than the ones mentioned due to the simple reason that a lot of manufacturers make cameras but do not make very many lenses. Especially since used lenses are great for saving money, these are the easiest to get a wide variety of lenses for. Recommendations: Canon T3i, Canon T5i, Canon SL1 Nikon D3100, Nikon D3200, Nikon D5100, Nikon D5200, Sony A58, Sony A65.
Note: For this category, I really do not recommend getting a camera older than 2-3 years. The reason being that any camera that's an entry DSLR older than approximately 2-3 years take extremely poor low light photos compared to the models I have recommended.
Note 2: I would not recommend the Canon T3 which is a current model because that camera's build quality and low light capabilities are quite poor.
Note 3: These will all be able to freeze action at almost any level if you know how to set them up properly and most will include a sports and or pets mode to help you freeze action if you don't know how to set it up.
In terms of advanced DSLRs, Auto will still be available to you but now at this level, many people prefer to set some of their own settings. Low light performance will increase as well as other capabilities such as the ability to add a microphone, an off-camera external flash, multi-frame bracketing, etc.
In this category, you can save a bit of money and still get an extremely nice camera by going with a slightly older model.
Older model recommendations: Nikon D90, Canon 60D, Nikon D7000.
Current models recommendations: Nikon D7100, Canon 70D, Sony A77.
Note: For the average user, these are more than enough camera for everyday life, trips, children, pets. Even for studio photography they should be adequate. These will let you customize almost every aspect of the camera if you wish.
I would like to continue adding the last 2 categories which are Advanced Compact High end, and Mirrorless, maybe later because I have to run right now!