I review dozens of cameras every year. Yes, it's a blast taking photographs and videos with such a wide range of compact digicams, DSLRs and Compact System Cameras. Because of this, I'm constantly asked for recommendations yet I rarely blurt out—"Buy Camera XYZ." Why? It's pretty simple—everyone has different needs, experience levels and budgets. That said let me offer some picks across a broad scope of cameras.
The widespread introduction of Compact System Cameras has to rate as one of the biggest digital imaging trends. And with more companies entering the field, their popularity will only continue to grow. CSCs aren't bulky like DSLRs such as the Nikon D7000 yet offer interchangeable lenses, fast response and take high-definition videos as well as excellent photographs. Often referred to as mirrorless cameras (they do not have the mirror box assemblies of DSLRs), the category was pioneered by Olympus with its PEN models but soon they were followed by Nikon, Panasonic, Pentax, Samsung and Sony.
Without doubt, the best CSC is the Sony NEX-7. I had the opportunity to shoot this camera in its pre-production stages and even at that point, photos and videos were top notch. The NEX-7 has a 24.3-megapixel sensor, shoots as fast as 10 frames per second and captures AVCHD Progressive videos which look magnificent on 1080p HDTVs. Along with a 3-inch LCD screen, it has a high-quality OLED viewfinder. This one is loaded and highly sought after. Scheduled for arrival last Fall, it was delayed due to the floods in Thailand which slowed production from Sony and all of the major camera companies. Although on the expensive side ($1,200 body only), this model goes to the top of my list. For those with more limited budgets, the 12MP $449 Olympus PEN E-PM1 is a solid CSC choice as is the 10-megapixel Nikon 1 J1 ($649).
My pick for the top DSLR is the Nikon D7000. It's simply one of the best DSLRs I've reviewed over the past few years. The 16.2MP D7000 ($1,199 body only) has the quality, response and ability to fine-tune images enthusiasts crave. If you're serious about photography or simply want to take really fine images, the D7000 wins the prize. The 18MP Canon EOS T3i is another solid, less expensive option ($899 with 18-55m lens) as is the 14.2-megapixel Nikon D3100 ($649 with 18-55mm lens).
There are so many compact point-and-shoot cameras—300-plus, from $49-$499—I wouldn't dare pick just one. I tend to like the overall feel of Canon aim-and-forget cameras—the images just fit my color aesthetics, the digicams are nicely designed and simple to operate. You can't ask for much more than that. On the high-end, I really liked the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS ($429). I feel this is an excellent all-around camera as it can take everything from a wide-angle shot of the family around a birthday cake or zoom in on a bird in a tree you can barely see while you're on vacation. Although a bit bulky, the 35x 12MP camera has a focal range of 24-840mm! You have to try this one out to see just this means in the real world—I loved it. Of course it also captures high-definition movie clips.
Another favorite is the 12-megapixel Canon PowerShot 510 HS ($349). Even though it's very compact—less than an inch thick—it has a potent 12x zoom (28-336mm), making it a very good carry-all-the-time digicam. The camera has a large 3.2-inch touchscreen so you have a great view of your subject. Best yet, it takes very good photos and videos.