This post is a couple years old. For an updated version that talks about more current cameras, please head over to this article on Social Photo Talk.
One question that I’ve been asked a few times recently is that of which DSLR camera is best for a beginner who wants to get serious about their photography? There isn’t one single right answer, but here are a few things to consider.
Go with Canon or Nikon. They’re the two big players in this market, offer a wide variety of lenses and accessories, and they both make a quality product. There are other options, such as Sony, Olympus, and Pentax, but Canon and Nikon will make purchasing equipment and seeking out resources much simpler. Which should you choose between Canon and Nikon? Either will produce great images. One major factor is that if a bunch of your friends have one brand, by choosing that brand you’ll be able to share lenses and trade equipment.
Photography with a DSLR is going to cost money. You don’t have to break the bank to get started. An important consideration is that when it comes to image quality, the lenses (casually referred to as “glass”) are as important, if not more important, than the camera body. Keep this in mind when budgeting for equipment. Don’t go buy a $2,000 body and then put on a $200 lens. My recommendation is to get one of relatively inexpensive “lower end” DSLRs to learn with, and get some decent lenses with the plan that the lenses will outlast the camera when (and if) you eventually upgrade to a fancier body in the future.
Features and Numbers
Don’t fall into the megapixel marketing trap. The reality is that you can print perfectly clear 8×10 photos from a 5 megapixel camera. More megapixels will do larger sizes, but even an 8 megapixel camera can do poster prints. All of the DSLRs from Canon and Nikon will allow you to easily adjust the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation. One thing that isn’t often talked about is the physical feel of the cameras. I’d encourage prospective buyers to head down to a local camera shop (I’m a big fan of Pro Photo Supply in Portland) and get their hands on a few different cameras to see how things feel.
So… which one?
If you want to go with Canon, I’d look at the Canon Digital Rebel XTi which offers a good mix of features at a reasonable price (around $500 for the body). If you decide to go the Nikon route, I’d recommend the D40x which has comparable specs and will run around $600 including a 18-55mm starter lens.
Either one will take great photos, and despite what some equipment brand-zealots might tell you, the quality of photographs will depend far more on the technical and artistic talent of the photographer than the particular model of camera being used.