A point-and-shoot that does raw
The Casio Exilim EX-FH100 is an excellent choice for beginner photographers interested in learning more about cameras, but who aren’t ready to commit to a larger, pricier DSLR. The EX-F100 is a point-and-shoot, but it has full manual controls and can shoot raw files. It also has impressive battery longevity, great image quality, and a high-speed mode for sports photography. While the camera might not be the best choice for a seasoned photographer due to the limited aperture options, the Casio Exilim is packed with features that make it an attractive choice for photo rookies.
Practice manual controls on a compact
Canon excels at putting a lot of camera power into little point-and-shoot packages. The Powershot SD4000 IS offers limited manual controls (aperture- and shutter-priority only) for the newbie shooter looking for a simple interface. Feeling a little more adventurous? The Powershot S90 has full manual controls, manual flash control, and more advanced features like Focus Bracketing. Both cameras take excellent pictures, but the S90's images have a slight edge, thanks to the camera's somewhat larger sensor and ability to shoot raw.
Interchangeable lens camera with training wheels
The Olympus PEN E-PL1 is the perfect compromise between a full-featured DLSR and a compact point-and-shoot. What makes the E-PL1 great for learning is its Live Guide, which takes manual settings and explains them in plain English. For example, to help a user learn how aperture and depth of field work, it has a Blur Background setting. When the blur amount is increased, the camera automatically opens the aperture wider for a shallow depth of field. The E-PL1 also offers an Art mode that allows for some fun in-camera editing, such as filters and effects. This camera is compact, reasonably priced, and offers the high image quality and manual settings of a higher-end camera.
Sophisticated camera with a retro feel
With solid HD video quality, interchangeable lenses, and a raw shooting mode, the handsome Panasonic Lumix Micro Four Thirds DMC-GF1 is a great camera for any level photographer. But there are certain features that make it extra appealing for a beginner. The overall design is clean and intuitive, which makes learning manual controls less confusing than it would be with a full-featured DSLR camera. It also allows users to experiment with different lenses and comes with a reasonable price tag. The GF1 is a great training tool for a photographer interested in eventually getting a DLSR.
DSLR image quality in a compact package
The Sony Alpha NEX-5 stands out among other interchangeable lens cameras in that it combines the small size and simple design of a point-and-shoot with a full, DSLR-sized image sensor. Like the E-PL1, the NEX-5 has an in-camera help guide that, when turned on, will explain each setting when you select it. It also offers general shooting tips at the touch of a button. There’s even a Background Defocus Control (pictured) for users learning about aperture and depth of field. For someone new to manual controls, these tools are the perfect way to master the essentials without cracking a manual.
A user-friendly first DSLR
The Canon EOS Rebel T2i is a quality entry-level DSLR with a competitive price tag. It comes with the full spectrum of user-friendly DSLR features, is lightweight without being delicate, and offers higher resolution and better movie quality than previous Rebels. For the new photographer ready to jump into the DLSR deep-end, the T2i is a great option. It has a fantastic Auto mode, so taking quality photos with the T2i isn’t dependent on mastering the manual modes.
Full-sized DSLR with help modes
The D3000 is another smartly priced, entry-level DSLR. Like many of the compact interchangeable lens cameras (CILC), the D3000 has a help feature that guides users through the multitude of features and settings it offers. When turned on, this mode educates novices on the basic settings and techniques, including how to create shallow depth of field and take photos of fast moving subjects.
Help at the touch of a button
The affordable Pentax K2000 may run little slower than is suitable for the experienced photographer, but it’s a good starter DSLR. The image quality is beautiful, and the camera offers full manual controls as well as an array of scene modes and filters. The K2000 has an intuitive design and a help button next to the shutter button (indicated by a white question mark). Press the button, then select the feature you want to learn about, and it will bring up explainers on the LCD screen.