You may want to take your own photos of your family and friends, and that's a really good thing, but what equipment do you need? The simple answer is a camera, any camera. Some of the best photographers and artists have worked with old Polaroid cameras, and there's no reason why you can not do the same, or even use a disposable camera from your local chemist. There is a saying in the photography world that the most important piece of photographic equipment is the 12 inches behind the camera. It's true. The best photographers can make great images from the most basic equipment and the worst photographer would still make bad images even with the worlds best camera. Assuming we're talking about digital photography, the largest division in terms of size, weight, cost and quality comes with the transition from digital compact to digital SLR (dSLR) cameras.
Here are the main differences, in no particular order:
Size and weight – obviously a compact is smaller and lighter and can be fitted into a pocket, a dSLR will need to be carried separately and can be heavy, do not underestimate this. It's not always practical to have a dSLR with you.
Cost – generally speaking dSLRs are more expensive, but good ones can be had around? 400, or try second hand. Then there are the lenses for dSLRs, more expense.
Image quality – top end dSLRs have outstanding image quality, and entry level dSLRs probably beat high end compacts, but the differences are minimal unless you create massive prints. On the web and for email you will not notice much difference.
Speed - you can turn a dSLR on and take a photo in less than a second, with a compact this may take a couple of seconds, not trivial when you're trying to capture the moment. Also, when you press the button on a dSLR the picture is taken instantly, but there is a short lag with a compact, which can be annoying.
Lenses – compacts can have very convenient super-zooms, so you can go from wide angle to zoom quickly and easily. There are lenses that do this for dSLRs, but for the best image quality and for extreme circumstance eg super close up, really long zoom, very wide angle (things you can not do with a compact) people tend to use specialist lenses for specialist purposes.
Creative control – generally speaking dSLRs offer you more creative control including choice of lens, depth of field, filters, external flash to name a few. You still get a lot of creative control with a compact though.
Handling – dSLRs are easier to hold than compacts, it is also easier to control the various functions.
There are loads of others, including robustness, light sensitivity, video and more, but the above is a good list to start with. As I said at the start though, the most important part of any camera is the 12 inches behind it.