I am not an expert.
I know, super shocking words coming from moi.
I hope you didn't cry.
But it's true...I am not an expert when it comes to photography and camera equipment. There are some serious camera/lens buffs out there that make me feel like a first grader sitting in a college math class when all I know how to do is make a macaroni necklace.
After practicing photography for about 5 years, I can tell you what I've learned, and what I wish I would have done when I was considering buying a camera.
Maybe my thought process a few years ago describes what you're thinking and feeling now:
I liked the way the pictures looked in magazines, and I wanted to make pictures look like that. I liked how the colors were vibrant and the background was kinda blurry so the subjects really stood out. The pictures of people were fun and the people were smiling and they just looked awesome. Naturally, these photos were taken by people with great camera equipment. If I bought a "good" camera, then I'd be able to take those kinds of photos.
What I know now:
The things that I was noticing, and you're probably noticing too, are the color, the composition, and something called "depth of field." The images I was looking at were created. When I say "created," I mean someone with talent who knew what they were doing with the camera in their hands composed those photos. Yes, the quality camera body and camera lens the photographer used helped deliver the final product, but the photographer had to know what camera lens to use and tell the camera how take the picture he/she wanted. The image was then edited in a photo editing program further enhancing the awesomeness and covering up the non-awesome parts.
What I did that was right:
I had a point and shoot camera, a Nikon Coolpix 4100, that was advanced for its time. This thing even took video! Now, cell phones take better quality pictures and video than that little thing. Who would have thought in 2004 that cell phones would take photos and video?? I mean, you just use a phone to call people...and never while you're driving. My, how times have changed! Anyway, I practiced with that thing. I learned the "modes," you know, portrait, landscape, macro, party, etc. I was also practicing how to compose pictures even though I didn't quite know it at the time.
Clearly, you can tell that I'm on the cusp of becoming greater than Ansel Adams, can't you??? I mean, I could have at least turned off the date stamp. It adds a certain level of...something...to the photo, don't you think??? Whew - these pictures stink. But I wanted you to see where I started. I've laid my soul open and bare to you. Please, be gentle with my feelings when you mock me.
We had a Kodak 5MP point and shoot camera at work that allowed me to change the aperture and shutter speed which gave me greater creative control and ultimately started teaching me that you can't just point a camera at something and push the button. To take pictures like the ones in the magazine, I needed a different camera that gave me creative control and I needed to learn how to take control. Pictures rarely just happen.
What I did wrong:
I researched and I researched and I still didn't research enough. I didn't understand the impact the camera LENS makes. I wanted to make my pictures look like the ones in magazines, and I didn't know that to get the "blurry" or "fuzzy" background it came from using a LENS that has a wide open aperture (something like f/2.8, f/2.0, f/1.8, etc).
This photo was taken with the aperture set at f/11. See how clear everything is? You can see the building, plus everything behind it.
This photo was taken with the aperture set at f/2.8. See how the flower is the only part of the picture in focus?
I thought lenses were just meant to zoom; I didn't realize how much of a role they have in taking the picture. If I had known, I wouldn't have bought a "camera kit" from one of those dealers on eBay that had a couple of cheap, worthless lenses. I thought more lenses and stuff that came with the camera equaled better, and I was VERY wrong. I know I shouldn't have regrets because everything is a learning opportunity, but I regret spending what I spent on that...and it was A LOT...and it was and expensive learning "opportunity." As a matter of fact, I still have those lenses, sitting in the carrying case that came with the kit, and I haven't used any of it for years. The camera body and the camera lens(es) have very important roles in making a photo. I learned not to buy a camera lens just because it zooms.
What I would do today:
If I could go back in time, I would have purchased just the camera body (the Canon Rebel XT) and just one lens (the Canon 50mm f/1.8) instead of purchasing an entire kit, and I would have saved myself around $1500. If you're thinking of buying a camera, here's what I recommend...because it's what I would have bought for myself:
They no longer make the Canon Rebel XT, but there are a number of additions they've made in the series. The one featured above is the Canon Rebel XS, body only, which is $423. I picked that one as an example because it's the least expensive in the line, and you're probably shopping by price. With the addition of the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens, your total is around $535. By the way, I'm specifically mentioning Canon because that's what I know. I started out with it, and I've invested my money in their lenses, so I've stayed Canon. Nikon also makes some decent entry level DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex). If you're serious about buying, DON'T buy on eBay. Go to a reputable place like Penn Camera (local in Maryland), B&H Photo and Video, or Adorama.
Again, I'm no expert, but I have learned a few things the hard way. If you're serious about investing in a camera and camera lenses, research till you can't research any more and ask lots of questions...and not to the person in the store (99.9% are trained to sell you the features, not how it really works and how you'll use it because they've never used one in their life). You're always welcome to pick my brain, and I'll answer to the best of my abilities!