The best camera is the one you always have with you. Doesn't matter if it's a point and shoot, your phone or a 5D — Is it with you at all times for you to constantly practice and hone your eye (while simultaneously annoying your spouse for lagging behind while taking a picture; you know it!)? That's the camera I want y'all to have. This intention to always be looking and seeing will improve your photography more than your gear. That being said, here are my thoughts on investing in a new DSLR camera, a very exciting and worthwhile purchase.
The Basics: DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. This means when you look through the viewfinder, you are looking through multiple lenses of glass, seeing exactly as your camera sees, as opposed to a point and shoot's LCD screen, which is a digital synthesis of what's being photographed. Have you ever tried to look at the back of a point and shoot LCD screen on a very bright day? It's tough and most of these cameras are difficult to look through the view finder, if they even have one. DSLRs allow you to change lenses, which is very important, as the lens is almost more important than the body of the camera. Lenses enable you to upgrade your set up, one lens at a time, which can really give variety to your imagery and style of shooting (ie a wide angle is quite different than a macro lens). Lastly, a DSLR will create larger file sizes than most point and shoots. This can become very relevant if you are ever printing your images and the larger file sizes ensure higher quality image. You can always size down images for web, you can never size up and maintain resolution.
Which Brand? Easy to find DSLRs are made by two brands: Nikon and Canon. Canon's Rebel T3i (or the T1i/T2i, earlier versions of this camera, are perfectly acceptable as well) is a great camera that comes with a fine zoom kit lens (18-55mm). You can do a lot with this kit lens. It shoots video, is a comfortable weight and is a great DSLR. Nikon's D90 is also a great introductory camera, with a similar price point. Both cost $500-800, depending if you buy newest versions of these cameras. Many people are wedded to one brand over the other. They are both great. I'm a Canon person in case you're wondering what I use. The photographers who I admire, they all use Canons. It's the brand I'm most comfortable with, but I'm sure if I started my career with a Nikon, I'd be giving you my Nikon shpeel right now. It all depends on who you ask! My main suggestion is to go to a camera store to buy your camera (not online), feel the weight of it in your hands, test out all the features (including video!). Start with an introductory DSLR like those I've mentioned and you can always upgrade your kit by adding lenses, slowly but surely, as the need/passion arises. Make friends with the people who work at the camera shop — they will help you out in a jam and answer questions for you. I once freaked out over an SD card stuck in a camera and I called the store, they remembered who I was and opened a half hour early for me, fixed my minor problem for free and sent me on my way, in time for my shoot. Real life relationships go so far huh? What camera do you use? Are you pleased with it? xoxo, Leela the Photo Magician (Images: Leela Cyd Ross)