Hello, all--

Thanks for reading my first post! I'll get right to my quandary. I am looking to purchase a camera as a gift for a dear friend who is falling in love with digital photography, but who doesn't know too much about it. All she has to work with is a shoddy point-and-shoot.

I am looking to buy a camera *under $400* that not only takes incredible photos with excellent noise reduction and low-light capabilities, HD video, etc., but that has enough manual control features to allow her to develop the creative and expressive skills that make photography an art form (and not just a compelling way to capture memories). In other words, what are the cameras that one can use to develop oneself as a photographer?

I have been doing research for days and am overwhelmed with the amount of information and options available. I understand primary concerns should be a good MP to censor size ratio, but each review I read is so nuanced I cannot at all make a decision about which to purchase. Obviously, in this price range I am looking at mid-to-higher-end 'enthusiast' compact digital cameras.

Can anyone help me narrow the field to a few of the most appropriate options? I'm very grateful for your knowledge and advice.