Although I think it is most important for you to find the camera that works best for you personally, here are a few that I think work well for casual photographers and non-photographers. As well as giving recommendations for these specific cameras, I will also be using the discussion of each camera to highlight some of the features I think are important in camera selection in general. So even if you are not planning to buy a camera in a particular price range, I would recommend reading that section for those general topics.
These camera suggestions are for cameras which are available at the beginning of 2011. They will probably all be available for the next year or two. When they are eventually replaced, many of the features I mention will likely be included in whatever replaces them. So when the Canon G12 stops being sold, at least some of this information will be relevant for the G13, 14, 15, etc.
Also, although I recommend several Canon cameras here, that is not meant to indicate a preference for a particular manufacturer. Those specific cameras just happen to have features that I think are particularly useful for casual photographers. Remember, choose the camera which works best for you individually, not the one that everyone else seems to be buying.
I will be posting these camera suggestions in individual posts by price range over the next few days so I can get them posted sooner.
Camera Suggestions by Price Range:
The Canon G12 has several features which I think are very useful to casual photographers (as well as more dedicated photographers). Along with the usual viewscreen on the back of the camera, the G12 has a very nice big optical viewfinder. In bright daylight it is sometimes impossible to see the image on the viewscreen so an optical viewfinder is important if you think you may ever take pictures outside in full daylight. Some viewfinders can be very tiny and difficult for people with less than perfect eyesight to use. The G12's viewfinder is big and easy to use.
The viewscreen swivels and tilts, making it easy to take pictures from above your head or from very low angles. This can be useful to get a clear shot of a performer over the heads of a crowd or to capture a low-growing flower without having to crawl on your belly.
But the main feature which brings me to recommend the G12 very highly is the fact that most of the settings you need to use are easily accessible via large physical knobs and buttons so you don't have to go wading through the camera menus to adjust them. For casual photographers this most likely will determine whether you ever adjust those settings at all since finding your way through menus can be very tiresome.
I will be writing in a later post about the adjustments which I believe it is most important for you to learn how to make on your camera and why, but for now, I would just like to mention two of them which the G12 makes easy to use. The first is exposure compensation. This is an adjustment to make the picture you are taking brighter or darker. If you are taking a picture of a person with a bright light or white wall behind them, their face will likely come out completely black. Using this setting, you can make the photo brighter so that you will be able to see them. Likewise, if you take a picture of a person against a black wall, their face make end up too white to see any details and turning down this adjustment will help. The G12 puts this setting on a big, easy to see and easy to use knob on the top of the camera. For most other cameras you have to figure out which button to push to bring up that adjustment and which other buttons to use to set it.
The other big knob on the top of the G12 adjusts how sensitive the camera is to light overall, what is known as the "ISO" setting. Although most of the time you may want to leave this set to automatically adjust itself, if you are taking pictures where it is very dark, you may want to turn it up to one of its higher settings. The higher you go, the poorer the quality of the image you will get, but sometimes, if it is a choice between getting a poorer quality image or no image at all, this may be worth it. Again, most cameras hide this setting in a menu so most people will never use it but the G12 puts it on a nice big knob on the top of the camera. Just remember to turn both of these setting back to "0" or "auto" when you are done with them so the rest of your photos come out okay.
The G12 has a moderately long zoom range so for most people it should work just fine. It should go wide enough to get most of the scenery you want in your vacation photos and narrow enough to get a recognizable photo of your Aunt Edith from across the room. It wont do very well for taking pictures of birds in flight or your child's football game. But that is a topic for a later post.
It is also slightly larger than many point-and-shoot camera and will not fit too comfortably in a pants pocket but will fit just fine in a jacket pocket or a moderately sized purse. Unless you really need to have a very small camera, I would say that it is better to get a slightly larger camera that is easier to use than a tiny camera which may have some compromises.
If you prefer the way Nikon cameras work, the Nikon P-7000 is very similar to this. It does not have a swiveling screen but it does have manual knobs for exposure compensation and ISO.
Lastly, some casual photographers may find it easier to use a digital single lens reflex camera. This is a camera which uses a mirror to show you the image that is actually coming in through the lens. That feature in itself along with the speed with which such cameras perform, may make it easier for some people to take pictures. I would recommend trying out at least one of these if you think that might be an option for you. If you leave all of its setting on automatic, it is really not any more difficult than using a point-and-shoot camera. The one big consideration is that even the smallest of these are much larger and heavier than the other cameras on this list. But if you are willing to carry that extra weight, you may find that it makes your photography more enjoyable. DSLRs in this range include the Sony A390, Canon 500D, Nikon D3000, Olympus E450 and Pentax k-x .
Until next time, have fun!!