I'm avid amateour/photographer, married to Minolta A mount and own Minolta 7D DSLR + 7 different lenses. My best friend has same relationship with Pentax (currently K10D), other friends are in same type of relationship with Canon and Nikkor(nikon), Olympus..
You need to go to camera store and TRY cameras. You will like feel of particular camera, you may not like other one. If you have SD card, take it with you and do test shots right in the store, review images at home..
Lenses have even stronger impact on image quality. 50mm prime lens will beat any default camera zoom at 50mm focal lenth in detail and color. Each maker made weak,mediocre, and winner lens models. Right choice with lenses is more important then camera body. You will use same lenses 10 years later with new camera bodies if you buy good lenses..
Generally, every modern DSLR can do winner shots. Nikkor, Canon, Pentax, Minolta (Sony) have longer history and longer line of great quality lenses..
Before buying particular lens sheck out MTF score here (higher score - better):.
Try the Rebel XTI and the Nikon. If you find you like the ergonomics of one brand, consider buying a USED model one step up (e.g. used Canon 20D / 30D)....you'll extra features and maybe even save a little cash...
Is that sometimes camera makers have rather different design goals as you move "up" as you call it... especially Canon. E.g., the 400D and the 40D while being similar have quite a different feel (given different physical gadgets on the camera.) In the case of Pentax and Nikon one gets a big jump in function or performance (from a K100D to a K10D, or from a D40 to a D80.).
Also, the bigger brother to the entry level cams from those manufacturers are indeed that, *bigger*, and someone who hasn't held a particular model may not realize the difference in size..
So, what is a newbie to do?.
My best advice is to just jump right in. It is by trial and error one will get knowledge on what one really needs. And, since today's cameras really are for the most part operator-limited and not function, capability, or performance limited (for many purposes), it is difficult to imagine anyone being left high and dry by any choice of the current models..
Best point and shot DSLR is D40x I think. Its easy and fun. I recomend to stay on canon or nikon because of accessries and 2nd hand offers..
Http://www.howtoshot.com/7/nikon-d40x-vs-canon-400d-rebel-xti/My fotoblog: http://www.howtoshot.com/My fotoblog (czech): http://fotaky.xf.cz/My photos (leazy to update anyway): http://gady.idomena.cz/..
Now that I've had a chance to shoot with better bodies (canon 30D and now 5D) I wouldn't go back to a consumer-level body (except as a backup or maybe for travel where weight/size were a big deal). in order to hit the lower price points something has to give..
So based on my experience I'd suggest investing in a mid-range body (such as d200/d300, 30D/40D) if at all possible...
Best budget camera with the best value for money and easily the best kit lenses is the Olympus E500360 for camera 14 - 45 and 40 - 150 which covers 28 - 300 mm focal lengthsThere is little difference picture quality wise at this end of the market Canon Nikon Olympus Pentax are all on a par pretty much. I am just saying if you are on a budget the E500 gives you the most features and value for money. I'm pretty sure you can still pick it up at this price ..
You can also pick up a very good cheap macro lens for the E500.
I don't have that much money and I can't see the benefit of spending 500 more dollars on a camera that's virtually the same as low end SLRs except with a couple "special" features. This is my first DSLR, it doesn't have to be an amazing camera, but I want to be happy with it..
It seems like everyone pretty much has a different opinion so I'm still back to the beginning. I have to admit that the Nikon D40x is very tempting. I'll probably take the suggestion of going to a camera store and trying out the cameras that match what I'm looking for..
I do have one additional question, however..
Is ebay buying for cameras advisable? I've bought a lot of stuff on ebay but never electronics. Thanks...
I have a friend avid photographer who owns D200 and recently bought D40 to have light camera\lens setup for everyday shots. He is very happy with D40 and does most of shoting with it, leaving D200 at home..
In reality, all modern DSLRs are very simitar, main difference is between 1.5 crop factor bodies and ones with full frame sensor. But price difference is tremendows too (>$2000 price difference)..
If you'll get good lens, you will be happy with any DSLR you'll get..
Check http:\old.photodo.com for lens MTF. Better lens - higher MTF score..
MTF higher then 3.5 is good. higher then 4.0 are winners..
Read online reviews of the various camera systems - camera, lens, and accessories. Decide on which ones fit your current and projected needs, then go to a store and try the various bodies that interest you. Purchase the one that you like the best..
Remember you are buying into a system, not just a camera..
Best of luck..
Remember the Nikon D-40 and d-40x don not af with all lenses. Maybe not a big deal to some people, but was the deciding factor for me to go d-80 more lens options down the road..
I don't mind manual focusing, in fact sometimes I find it preferable, so I'm not really concerned about compatibility. Thanks for all the suggestions...