Generally speaking, the cheaper your camera the more critical it is you get your settings right. Consumer cameras are capable of terrific results, often times nearly matching their more expensive siblings, but exposure is one thing you can’t afford to ignore. The high compression and low bit depth of these cameras can really make a poorly shot image unsalvageable.
You are wise to use something objective and accurate to gauge your exposure. Your eye does not qualify. The camera has its own built-in metering systems (“reflective” meters) and external light meters (“incident” or “reflective”) can also be used.
Exposing an image as brightly as possible without clipping is generally best practice. This technique of “Expose To The Right” or ETTR simply means exposing so the histogram scope on the camera shows your image pushed to the right as far as possible. In post you then pull the image (similar to a film technique called “pull processing”) to get back to the correct exposure. The problem with this exposure technique is that once you clip, all data is completely gone and the image can look nasty and “digital”. So if you shoot this way to get the least amount of noise in your shadows, make absolutely certain you are not clipping important highlights. Beans.
Exposing log requires its own section (see the lesson on log) but the gist with log is this: consult your camera manufacturer’s documentation for the recommended level at which to expose an 18% gray card. This “middle gray” value is used to set your optimum exposure. Sometimes exposing one or two stops above this can help decrease noise, but it should be a very good guideline. If you don’t own a gray card then use the zebra setting on your camera.