Firstly, I agree with you that Canon and Nikon have been and I believe will continue to be the dominant players. I started with Canon back in the early 80's and have stayed with them over the decades. Although both have entry level dSLR cameras, personally I went with a camera that allowed me to use the better lenses and a greater variety of lenses. After all, like you said, we are buying into a system. My first digital was the Canon 10D. Although at the time it exceeded my ability, I quickly grew in to it.
If $$$ is a limiting factor, you can always look for a good refurbished unit..
The other aspect is of photography is post-processing. Be sure to get a good software (I prefer Photoshop CS3) and a good tutorial for the software..
I am sure you will receive a variety of responses. Regardless of what you finally decide, photography is a great and very rewarding hobby and a potential profession. Good Luck!..
The differences between DSLRs are not as big as you'd think. They all do the same thing in the same way. What you can pay a lot of money for is extra durability and a few extra features that only an experienced photographer might need, like a high burst rate (useful for sports) or ability to use an off-camera flash (useful for studio portraits). A picture of your kids in the garden printed at 10 x 8 inches will look exactly the same taken on a Canon EOS-1D (cost 3000) as it would on a Pentax K100D (cost 300). The Canon however has a bigger sensor and more pixels (useful if you want to make very big pictures, e.g poster-sized), has a wider range of lenses for extreme siutations (e.g. very strong telephotos for wildlife photographers who want to work from a distance) and has a much higher build quality - great if you are taking 200 pictures a day, pointless if you are taking 20 a week..
You mention sports photography - so a good burst rate would be useful. Most entry-level DSLRs do 3fps which is slow enough to miss the crucial moment and is in my opinion a pointless gimmick - much better to time the shot correctly in the first place. This is an area where spending more money will get you a big improvement (e.g. Nikon D200 / 300)..
Lenses - unless you have very esoteric or specialist needs this isn't much of an issue. There are plenty of good third-party lenses (Tamron, Sigma) in addition to the manufacturers own-brand ones to cover all normal needs..
Ultimately the most important issue is how the camera feels in your hand, so try some out in a bricks-and-mortar shop. You can be confident that whatever you choose will be good - there are no 'bad' models on the market at the moment..
The only thing is, I have a nagging feelingthat Canon and Nikon are "bigger" companies, and will have moreavailability, support, equipment, room for me to grow, etc. Is that asilly notion, or is it something that I should worry about?.
Not a silly notion at all. And realistically - sharing equipment? My wife and I occasionally trade off lenses, but my gear goes nowhere further than that. To give you an idea how good sharing works, both my wife and I have a Canon 24-105 F4L - she also has a 10-22 that I will also get - that's $1700 worth of lenses per person - and we're not exactly rich. It's just easier having our own gear. And that doesn't include all the filters we've doubled up on. At least when we do trade off, our gear is still in the same house - I'd be pizzed if I needed a lens in a moments notice and it was half way across town..
That said, there have been occasions where I've encountered another Canon user in the field and they let me try out their lens, such as the $7000 600 F4L IS - good luck finding a Pentax shooter with a lens like that;-).
And then there's rental. Going someplace like Yellowstone and want to rent said $7000 lens for wildlife instead of buying it? Lots of places with Canon and Nikon gear, not many with Pentax..
Bottom line - there really isn't anything wrong with Pentax - but you'll have a LOT more options with Canon or Nikon. Plus Pentax was recently bought by Hoya - who knows where they'll go from here?.
How big an issue is weather-proofing?.
Highly overblown. I've shot un-weatherproofed gear in rain with no problem, either by wrapping it in plastic or just exposing it for very short periods..
Though I don't mind carrying a larger SLR, I do want to makesure that it will be durable enough for me to carry around with mewherever I'm going..
That shouldn't be a problem..
I know that most companies are offering somedegree of weatherproofing to their cameras, but how good is it? Iprobably won't want to stand out in the pouring rain with my camerano matter how weatherproofed it is, so should I consider getting onethat isn't sealed at all?.
Weather proofing is one of the last things you should consider - leave it for tiebreakers..
And finally, we come to the biggest question for me, and that isfeature set. While I'd love to drop a bunch of cash on a D300, I'mnot sure that as a beginner I'd be able to take advantage of all ithas to offer. I do consider myself a fairly savvy learner who canpick things up fairly quickly, and I don't think it would be adaunting task for me to learn with a D300, but at the same time Iwant to ensure I'm not spending more money than I should..
For a beginner, IMO feel is more important than features. The Canon Rebel takes as good of picture as the 40D, but I would never us a Rebel because it is too small in my hands - conversely my 40D is too big for my wife..
I'm also amartial artist and interested in taking pictures of competitions andother events, so I think I'd like a camera that offers more than 3fps continuous shooting. Other than that, I don't really haveanything that I *need* to have, other than a camera I feel proud toown and that I feel will be a good tool for me to take some greatpictures with..
You'll definitely want one with good high ISO capabilites and a good lowlight lens and/or flash..
From what I've seen on this forum everyone is very friendly andhelpful,.
Wait until you move to the other forums - then you'll find all the jerks .
All the camera manufacturers have great offerings - but the one thing I tell people when getting into DSLR: If you think you will be in it for the long haul, go with Canon or Nikon - you can't go wrong..
Some cool cats that can use your helphttp://www.wildlife-sanctuary.org.
Even if you can't donate, please help spread the word...
I spent countless hours researching which system to buy. Currently using a P&S Sony DSC H-5 which takes great still photos, but it falls way short in getting my kids basketball pics. I can use it on manual or on the sports mode, and it still just lacks speed and light gathering capabilities. So I decided to upgrade to dslr. I am the kind of person who looks at a purchase like this as a lifetime commitment so I try to buy top quality products ( wallet permitting ). Here is the system I came up with that worked best for what I needed it to do (sports, your average daily pics, outdoor wildlife)..
Well, I finally did it. I ordered my camera system. It consists of:.
Nikon D80 Body onlyNikon TC-14E II 1.4x Auto Focus TeleconverterNikon 85mm f/1.8D AF Telephoto Nikkor Lens with hoodNikon 80-200mm f/2.8D ED AF Zoom Lens.
I will add lenses later as I need them (or can afford them)..
I will use my P&S from time to time as it still works great on still subjects..
I realize this is expensive for some but this setup is cheap in comparison when you think about missing photos of your kids or whatever is important to you. Sometimes you only get one shot at a certain pic, once it's gone it's gone..
I shoot with a 5D but I wish I had weather sealing. We get a lot of rainy weather here in Oregon. Of course I could put on some sort of rain hood. But even weather sealing doesn't mean waterproof (i.e., you can dunk the camera in the ocean) as I understand it..
I think ergonomics are important. If the camera doesn't feel good in your hands you won't have as much fun shooting with it. If the camera seems a bit heavy then I think you can get used to that over time..
Buy from a place that allows an exchange if necessary. Even with a restocking fee it's better than getting stuck with a camera you don't like...
Wow, thanks for all the great advice everyone! I already feel like I have a better understanding of what I should be looking for. Now it's just a matter of saving all my pennies so I can get out and buy my camera!..