Types of Digital Cameras
There are three basic categories of digital cameras -- point-and-shoot models, compact system cameras and digital single lens reflex models. The main differences between them are overall size and weight; the amount of automatic or manual control; and whether the lens is fixed in place or interchangeable with other lenses.
Point-and-shoot cameras are typically the smallest, most automated and least expensive digital cameras, and have only a single, non-detachable lens. These cameras typically cost $75-$350 for a basic model; $100-$500 for a rugged weatherproof version; $200-$500 for a superzoom; and $400-$900 or more for an advanced point-and-shoot camera with better image quality and a variety of manual controls to override the preset modes. For more details, see How to Choose a Point-and-Shoot Camera.
Compact system cameras are the in-between models, with larger sensors (and therefore better image quality) than automatic point-and-shoots but without the weight and expense of digital single lens reflex models. Like DSLRs, compact system cameras have interchangeable lens, but not the bulky prisms and mirrors required by an optical viewfinder. Compact system cameras typically cost $400-$1,300 or more for a camera body and standard lens. Additional lenses can cost $100-$900 or more, depending on type, brand and size. For more details, see How to Choose a Compact System Camera.
Digital single lens reflex cameras are usually the largest and heaviest models, offering the best potential image quality and complete manual control with some automatic options. They are typically used by serious photo enthusiasts or professional photographers. DSLRs have interchangeable lenses, and may be sold as just the camera body or in a kit with a standard lens. These cameras typically cost $400-$1,000 for an entry-level model, $1,000-$2,000 for a mid-rage DSLR and $2,000-$6,000 for more for just the camera body for a semi-pro or professional-grade DSLR. Lenses can cost $100-$10,000 or more. For more details, see How to Choose a Digital SLR Camera