I am often asked which is the best camera, and I usually answer “the one you already have”. Some times I might change it to “the camera you like to use”. Basically all modern digital cameras from camera phones up, well more specifically those with about 4 megapixels and higher (ie less than 4 years old) are great. Will a new camera make a difference? Yes maybe, but it probably has a lot more to do with the person behind the camera.
The photo above left was taken on my android phone using a camera app called HDR Camera+, which processes the HDR image in the phone, and then it was loaded via the flickr app as soon as I got good wifi. All pretty automatic. The image on the right came from my big DLSR, it is part of a bracketed set (that didn’t work so well because the ducks where moving, and I abandonned using HDR). I had to load the RAW file into lightroom and do some tonal adjustments and a slight trim then into OnOne for some dynamic contrast adjustments and a big softy vignette (all my favourite “style” adjustments). I have presets that do these steps, however I didn’t use them it didn’t take long but it took time but I prefer to adjusted things manually. It also had to manually uploaded to flickr (flickr’s nice Uploadr is no longer available to me because I have a Free account).
The two photos are different, and I would put down the difference mainly to the quality of the lens (on my DLSR) and a little bit to my post processing skill. However I see these two photos as markers of where photography is heading. The smaller cameras where a lot more of the smarts about how to process the image are built into the camera, or phone. In other words a smart camera with software doing a lot of the work. Compare this with the modern DLSR it is big and clunky, they can mostly can take amazing detail photos, but the controls are largely in the hands of the photographer and his/her vision is usually also required to get the most out of post processing. While I love it in the second more traditional place (the right hand side above) I can see the future being towards smarter and probably smaller cameras (the left hand side above) and I think you can expect to see more many improvements to come there. DLSR are not dinosaurs about to become extinct, a lot of folk including me still love them but they have definitely plateaued in term of technical development, but they can capture wonderful images.