I heard on NPR's Marketplace tonight that the digital camera would be one of the holiday's #1 gift purchases. Wow, what an exciting time to be involved in photography! And if you haven't made the plunge already, perhaps this might be an occasion to begin to consider such a purchase for yourself (or better yet, for someone to purchase it for you).
And if you're shopping around, I've got a couple tips and advice:
1) DSLR (digital single lens reflex) The prices may seem a bit stiff to begin with, but realize you'll never be buying film and never paying for processing again (nor will you be spending an hour developing B&W film). To start, you're looking at around a $600 committment and on upwards to $1000 - $2000 if you get real serious.
2) Canon or Nikon. These 2 companies are where you should be looking. They have quality cameras and quality glass, i.e. lenses. They both have an entry camera that's around $600 - Canon Digital Rebel XT and Nikon D40. There are other companies, but I am seriously biased towards one of these two great stalwarts of the industry.
3) At least 6 megapixels. 6 megapixels will give you the image quality of 35mm film. More than 6 start to move you into the image quality of medium format. (Hint: this might be a good time to look for a used medium format film camera too. The prices are dropping into the bargain basement.) Jeff Rogers has a very nice 40 x 60 inch photograph that he shot with a 6 megapixel camera. A lot of it comes down to editing and Photoshop know-how.
4) Buy Used. Some gear-heads get rid of perfectly good cameras because they always want the biggest, best, and newest equipment. So you might look into buying a used camera. I think we've reached a plateau in technology so it's becoming safe to take the digital plunge. Some recommendations: Canon's 300D, 10D, or 20D, Nikon's D70, D100, or D1. One word, eBay.
5) Point and Shoot? If you go point and shoot and save some money, make sure you have Aperture and Shutter Priority capabilities, so you can still get the motion and depth of field control that you've grown accustomed to (hopefully). However, you must realize you'll be making some sacrifices: not being able to shoot RAW, lighting for another example (no possibility of connecting to a flash, usually). But one enticing aspect is that these cameras are so small and light they can travel anywhere with little effort.
If you have questions, I wouldn't mind discussing such choices with you in person. However, I would recommend that you take a look at Digital Photography Review. They have huge and extensive information about cameras, comparisons, and news about the latest stuff. There are also links to Canon and Nikon to the right on the Links list.
And while you're at it, take a look some new programs: Apple's Aperture and Adobe's Lightroom. All I can say is WOW. Watch some of their QuickTime clips on how these applications work and what they can do; it's incredible. Plus, you can download free trial versions of the software (but you need a Mac G5 for Aperture).
I really believe this will be the future of photography. And I think it would be a disservice to you if I didn't at least mention some of these things.