So after all of that, if you actually want me to narrow it down to a few choices, I give you the following. Again, I’m only selecting from the Canon line because I simply don’t have enough experience with the competitors.
Unless you have some particular need to get an ultra-miniature, I pretty much don’t recommend them.
“Normal” point and shoot digital cameras
K’s folks have the A400, which is an earlier model of the A460. When I asked about how they liked their camera, K’s Dad was pretty positive. Enjoying many of those features that make digital cameras so easy to own and operate. If you’re not worried about taking masterpiece images, and you want a portable camera that can fit in a large pocket, I recommend the A460 ($120*). If you want a bit more control, higher resolution and a bit larger light gathering ability, consider the A630, a later model A600 series camera ($235). The newer models (A640 and A650) are so expensive, that you would be better off considering the next line up, the S series.
Canon recently came out with the S5 IS ($350) to replace the very popular S3 IS ($270). IS refers to “Image Stabilization”, a feature which removes camera shake to allow shooting with slower shutter speeds. These cameras sport 12x optical zooms, which will really get you up close and personal. This is the class I would recommend for most users who aren’t afraid of a $300 price tag. These cameras pay for their zoom lens with a bit more weight and bit more bulk, but they are great performers. I had an opportunity to try out an earlier S-series (I think it was the S2) and it felt like a ‘real’ camera. These cameras can be battery hogs, so I always recommend buying some rechargeable NiMH AA batteries as your first accessory. If I were buying in this class today, well, I’d probably recommend the S5. It’s a higher resolution camera (which may actually push a bit beyond the limits of the optics) and has a bigger LCD, which drains the batteries a bit harder. Both take 4-AA batteries. They also use an electronic viewfinder (a mini-LCD behind the eyepiece lens), which you should try out to see if you like it. The S5 also has a flash shoe for a large external flash. Anyhow, only you can decide whether the extra $80 is worth it to you.
If you’re serious about your photography, or you already have a Canon EOS film camera, consider a digital SLR. The digital Rebel Xt (2005 model) body is a steal at $430 if you already own a lens to put on it. You can buy the 2006 model, the Rebel XTi, for $150 more at $585. You get a 10 Mp sensor instead of 8 Mp, a 25% bigger LCD, more focus points and various other features. If cost is not a primary concern, the next line of SLRs is the 30D (2005) for just under $1k and the brand new 40D (2007) at $1.3k. Ok, so you’ve got be committed to pay prices like that, and I pretty much would never recommend these to somebody who’s asking. If you have to ask, you probably ought not pay $1k for a camera body.
So what’s my overall recommendation? This is so tough. If you just want to grab some shots, drop $110 for the A460. If you don’t mind spending a bit more, but don’t have an SLR now, go for the S5 at $350. If you have a Canon EOS film camera, you’re comfortable with it, and don’t mind carrying it around, you’ll probably be quite happy with the Rebel Xt for $430. I’m not sure that I can justify the extra 50% for the XTi body.