It truly is an exciting time when you decide that you are ready to buy your first DSLR. You realized that you love taking photos and have hundreds taken with your camera phone and your P&S. But, you know you're ready to step it up and get "better" photos more consistently.
But, there are so many options out there. And if that doesn't scare you enough there is a huge price range as well depending on what you need. Don't worry though, answering a few of these questions might help you decide on what's right for you.
1. What are you planning on photographing?
Whether you decide to take this on as a hobby or a business its good to know what you're planning on photographing. With all the cameras out there you'll find some are better in low light, some are better for photo/video and some less expensive or more accessible accessories. And, if you don't know what you plan on photographing follow on to the next few questions.
2. Are you looking for a quick learning curve or the more options the better?
Manufacturers understand that not everyone who picks up a camera is looking to make a career out of it. Some cameras such as the Nikon D3100 and D5100 come with a built in guide mode to help you to transition out of AUTO mode to take advantage of the DSLR at its best. For taking family photos and travel photos this might be the best way to go. As these cameras are usually on the lower end in price its easy to get setup and start learning without having to learn the ins and outs of photography from day 1.
3. How long do you think you'll want to take photos? See where it goes or for the long term?
Cameras as well as lenses have a life span. Most camera bodies will last you for a few years with minimal use while others could last you almost a decade. Many entry level cameras have a life span of 100,000 shutter counts. (That means how many times the shutter will trigger before it wears out.) Pro level cameras generally have a life span around 200,000 shutter counts.
Big difference right?
Lenses on the other hand will easily last you over 10 yrs with proper maintenance. So if you're thinking long term pick a manufacturer that offers you a lot of options in both cameras and lenses.
4. Test before you buy. Is size important to you?
Aside from taking amazing photos DSLRs are also high end pieces of equipment. There are a wide range of models from very lightweight to the pro grade cameras that are weather sealed and made mostly of metal. If you are planning on using a camera for extended periods of time you'll start to feel how heavy they really are. Generally the entry level cameras are lighter than the pro level camera. This goes for lenses as well so keep that in mind. Also, no point to get a big fancy camera if your hands are too small or they cause you pain to use. So always test out different models before you buy.
5. Lastly but not the least important. What is your budget?
Most photographers will probably tell you to buy as much as you can afford. You do get what you pay for. But, that doesn't mean go out and buy a $4,000 camera just because you can afford it. You have to consider memory cards, batteries, bags, and those fancy lenses you'll learn to love. The amazing thing is how much cameras are improving year over year. Even the entry level cameras can compete with last decades top of the line. My opinion is to skip the absolute base model if you can as it will be the first to be out dated. Entry level cameras are replaced every year. Mid range cameras are replaced every yr and a half and the high end models are replaced almost three years after they are released. So if you know that you will want to upgrade sooner than later perhaps purchase a higher end model from the start. But if you're not sure what you want to do start entry level and see where it takes you. The best place to spend your money is on quality lenses as they will continue to work with you even after you trade up your camera.
I hope this was helpful and if you have anything else to add please feel free to comment.