Either Canon or Nikon are excellent quality models. Since you want to pursue digital, these two brands allow you to use S.L.R lenses on their D.S.L.R models.
However, anything over 4 megapixels should be good enough unless you want to enlarge your images to a ratio higher than 11x14. I suggested a D.S.L.R because this is the format most widely used and the lenses are interchangeable; you can use various size lenses and therefore experiment.
Canon Rebel T1i $594.00 @ Amazon (interchangeable lens)
Nikon Coolpix P500 $386.00 @Amazon (fixed lens)
For more flexibility and creative freedom, then a D.S.L.R with a hot shoe flash mount (not built in)
Email me or post further posts for more detailed info.