Some of my friends have shown interest in buying a digital SLR camera. Since I’m known as the guy who has a nice camera setup, they eventually ask my opinion. Here’s my response.
Firstly, why do you even want a DSLR?
Certain people think that getting an “expensive” camera means that they’ll take really good pictures, and look important. The sad truth is that just because you dropped $500 on an entry level DSLR doesn’t mean you will automatically become the next Henri Cartier-Bresson.
In fact, you won’t be fooling people who know what they’re doing. I inwardly scoff when I see a pop-up flash spring up on a sunny day, just because the operator is pointing it towards the shade. Yes, I know you’re on full-automatic, don’t try to hide it. You shelled out a lot of money and are not doing anything differently than you would a camera phone.
Unless you really want to learn about photography, do not buy a DSLR. If you do not understand how things work on a simple level, your pictures will not be any better than with a cheaper point and shoot camera. By simple level I mean understanding about apertures and f-stops, and their relationship with shutter-speed and ISO.
Rather, if you want something “nice” consider a higher end point and shoot. Canon just announced the G11, a semi-professional point and shoot in their venerable G line. Many professionals keep these with them as a backup, or quick access camera. They have full manual controls and will allow you to take fantastic photos.
If you do want to learn about photography, and plan on taking your camera out more often than once every two months, then get whatever is on sale from Nikon or Canon. They’re both great systems. Just pick one up and see whichever is more comfortable in your hands. I shoot Nikon myself, and love it.
Additionally, pick up a 50mm 1.8 lens. Those go for about $100, but have a very shallow depth of field, and will enable you to push the background out of focus, for a dazzling shot.
Again, most of the time, you do not need a Digital SLR; save some money and be happy with something else.