Going DSLR is an excellent choice and whether you choose Nikon, or Canon, they're both comparable and both the two main companies professionals use.
The DSLRs have a full automatic setting if the user isn't too partial to getting too technical, but, there's also the flexibility of full manual
operation, and several sundry setting options in between with some auto and some manual.
Anyone recommending one of the non-DSLR Powershot line cameras that doesn't give you option to change out lenses, I would pass on. There's a big
difference between the zoom quality of these cheap 50x Zoom hypes and a proper lens.
Depending on your price range, you can find some package deals that bundle the camera body with a few different kinds of lenses.
One important thing to consider in looking at the mid-range cameras also is whether the camera body comes with the pop-up flash, or not.
The pop-up flash is crap, but, if the camera doesn't come with one, you're looking at ~$200-$500 for a decent hot shoe flash. Thus, if the person
you're getting this for isn't too serious, you may consider getting one of the Canon, or Nikon models with an integrated pop-up flash.
Also, as opposed to taking anyone's advice here, go to a camera shop and talk face to face with the knowledgeable staff in comparing the pros and cons
between models and putting together a package that will give you the best use.
I'd select a body that fits your price range with a main 28-130+mm zoom macro lens that give excellent range and flexibility for a wide variety of
I think the kit lens that usually comes with a camera body is in the 18mm - 55mm range, which is okay, but, a little restrictive.
A fixed prime 50mm lens is a good bet too, for any interest in getting technical with portrait style shots.
Hope this helps.
edit on 11/22/2013 by AliceBleachWhite because: (no reason given)