Types of camera
Back when I wrote the original buyer's guide, I divided the camera market up into four basic categories; style cameras, compact cameras, bridge cameras and digital SLRs. While these categories still exist, the market has become more complex over the past couple of years, with several new types of camera emerging, and so this is the section that most needs to be updated.
At the lowest end of the market there are budget compacts. These typically cost under £100, and have very basic specifications. You'll usually find these types of cameras in supermarkets and mail-order catalogues. Often they are from obscure brands that you've never heard of, but many of the major manufacturers also have a series of budget models holding up the bottom end of their product lines.
In most cases, budget cameras have cheaply-made plastic cases, very basic 3x zoom lenses, and use components that are a couple of years behind the cutting edge of digital camera technology. LCD monitor screens are typically small and quite low resolution and overall performance can be very slow, often with unreliable autofocus and very poor low-light capability. Picture quality is also extremely variable, even in the case of some well-known brand names. In some cases you'll get better picture quality from the camera in your mobile phone.
Although these sorts of cameras are OK if all you're looking for is something cheap, and you're not too worried about picture quality, for example for updating a blog, but generally they are best avoided. While the low price may make them see like a bargain, the low image quality and poor performance will quickly prove frustrating, and you can get a much better camera by spending about £20-£30 more.