Regarding your skill level, first consider your willingness to learn the technicalities of photography. Do you simply want to point and shoot? If so, there are plenty of automatic cameras made to do just that.
Or, do you want to be creative — experimenting with self-timers, flash, shutter speed, lighting, and photo enhancement features? To fulfill these creative desires, you’ll need a camera with a full range of manual controls.
Of course, with the hundreds of digital cameras that are on the shelves, you don’t have to make a commitment — many cameras have both automatic and manual settings. It all depends on what you want to spend.
Speaking of budget, you should know what you want to spend before you shop online or in a store. Then, only look at the cameras that match the amount that you came up with — it will keep you from suffering buyer’s remorse later.
In addition to your skill and your budget, consider how you will use the camera. Are you planning to email more pictures than you plan to print? Are you uploading them for online auctions or to share with your best friend who lives miles away? If so, carefully consider whether the pictures need to last for the next 100 years, or just until your online auction expires or your friend gets a chance to take a look at them.
If you are looking for professionally finished prints, brilliant color and a sharp image, you will need a camera with high image quality. The quality of an image is directly related to how many pixels it can capture horizontally and vertically. To print quality standard sized photos that will last, you’ll need a minimum of a 1-2 megapixel digital camera. Larger photos will require 3 megapixels to get the same quality. With at least 4 megapixels, 11 x 14 enlargements will look sharp.
Zoom lenses can also play a key role in the appearance of your photos. Many cameras will have zooms, but the size and type of zoom are important to consider. The larger the zoom (a 3x would be average and 10x large), the closer you will be able to get to subjects like sporting events and wildlife. But for good quality photos, be sure the camera has a true optical zoom rather than a digital zoom, which merely enlarges the center of the basic image.
Also, be aware that not all cameras with the same megapixels are created equal. Some have better optics and better zoom lenses. Some have more features such as the ability to make short videos. Some have better LCD screens for reviewing photos. Some have batteries that are proprietary and expensive to replace. Some are more prone to needing repairs.
So before heading to the store or to your favorite online site, check out the reviews for the models that interest you. Simply state your need at a search engine — something like 4 megapixel digital camera+review.