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Every day, people find the joy of photography using what they have and many get the urge to upgrade their equipment to a DSLR instead of a compact. The reason to upgrade can be that one want a system where lenses can be exchanged or perhaps where a better quality of the images that are being taken is needed. What ever the reason is to upgrade to a DSLR, there is a number of questions one should ask before running to the store.
What is your level of photography?
This is the most important question you need to ask. It is also the question where you need to be the most honest against yourself as you possibly can be. Looking from my own experience I say that you should buy system based on your current knowledge and not for what you hope to achieve. This is a tip that many other will say against but looking at my own journey I believe that I would have become a better photographer in shorter time if my first DSLR had been a more beginner type. Myself, I went for the amateur line instead of the beginner one and that made the theshold higher then it had to be. If I could go back, I would buy an entry level DSLR as my first camera.
Do you understand aperture, shutter speeds and iso?
An entry level DSLR will help the photographer with the three fundamentals of taking a photo. This help the photographer focusing on taking a picture instead of thinking about how the picture is to be taken.
What is your budget?
How much money are you ready to spend for your first DSLR is mostly based on which line you go for. Very simplified one can say that entry level or beginner DSLRs has a price up to about €500 (~$650). Amateur line range from €500 to €1000 (~$1300) and professional systems start at €1000 and continue up as far as you can count.
So summarize; if you are new to photography but have taken pictures with your phone or compact for a while I say that you should go for a beginner or entry line DSLR which can help you evolving you skills into that or what is called a “real camera”. If you know and control aperture and shutter speed you are ready to start looking at the amateur line. And in all fairness, the professional line of cameras are for those who work with photography or is completely at ease with all functions of an amateur camera.
To mention a good entry line DSLR I would recommend the Nikon d3200. For the amateur line I see Nikon D7000 or Canon 60D as the best in class. Lifting the bar to professional lines there is way to many to start write a list and many of these have niches on their own. From my personal point of view the Nikon D700 is top of it’s class. The Canon 5d Mark II is also one that is often hoisted as top of it’s class.