This article is intended for a first time buyer of a digital camera. If you've already purchased a digital camera then you probably already know what is important from past experience.
This article discusses the important considerations you should make when purchasing a digital camera. Price will not be covered since it is assumed that the reader makes this decision based on a host of reasons and to be honest, the article would outdate itself quite quickly since prices change all the time. At any rate, let's begin.
Speaking from experience, the average digital camera user (especially a first time buyer) will not utilize most of the features available on the camera. Furthermore, most entry level cameras offer the same basic set of features. So, while it may seem like an important consideration, unless you consider yourself to be a 'power user', it probably won't make much of a difference to you. The safest choice would be to select a camera from the most popular manufacturers since all provide great entry level cameras: Canon, Kodak, Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic all fall into this category. With that in mind the following points will probably matter most to you:
This is related to the resolution capabilities of the camera. The higher the number of megapixels, the higher the resolution, which will result in sharper images. Digital cameras that can take great pictures are becoming more affordable everyday and with the decline in prices it makes sense to get a camera that is at least 4 megapixels.
In terms of real world performance what do megapixels mean? Pictures at larger sizes (higher resolutions) will look clearer. If you want to print larger picture sizes such as for calendars or small posters then the higher resolution will ensure that the pictures still look good at these sizes. If you're like most people who bring your photos in to get 4"x6" or 5"x7" prints, it won't really be much of a concern since your pictures will look great with the high resolutions offered by 4 megapixel and higher cameras.
Most cameras have optical and digital zoom, but some only have digital zoom. What's the difference? Optical zoom uses optical lenses to focus in on an image while digital zoom just crops the image and magnifies the pixels. Optical zoom is better since the picture will stay clear and sharp even when zoomed in. Most cameras today come with at least 3 times (3x) optical zoom and will usually include digital zoom to go in further. I would suggest that you do not buy a camera that only has digital zoom.