I used to work in the Film and Digital Media Department at U.C. Santa Cruz. When I was there, I would often have discussions with students and faculty on how much of a camera was needed to actually learn photography. My contention was that the principles are the same whether you are using high-definition cameras or standard-definition. A good film/video/photo doesn't necessarily require a high-end camera. Needless to say, they were not convinced. Many of the students believed that by using a high-definition camera, their films would be better. I argued that a good script, dialog, and plot were much more important. But, I'm an engineer, they are artists, and I no longer work there.
The photo shown (large version) was taken when I was driving home from work (I work as a computer engineer at Industrial Light and Magic) and was taken with a camera I carry around with me all the time. It is an Olympus FE-46 that I bought with some extra credit card points. It's basically the equivalent of a cell phone camera to me. But it does have several features that I count on:
- Settable ISO so I can control the grain
- Exposure compensation of + or - two stops
- 5x optical zoom
- 12 Mega pixels (which is nice but not really required)
It would be nice to have bracketing as well, that way when the light is changing fast I can take several shots for HDR work, given it only takes JPEG images.
The fact that it is small, and I can easily carry it everywhere makes it a great camera. It will nor replace my SLR. But it does meet the requirement I recommend, buy a camera that you will use.