Getting a digital SLR camera for the first time is a big step in any photographer's career. It's a big purchase, and there are many more things to keep in mind than when just buying a point-and-shoot model. Here are a few things you should be aware of when getting a brand new DSLR.
1. Don't Spend High Early: If this is your first DSLR, you don't want to splurge on one of the higher end models now. Stay within the $400-600 range (with at least an 18-55mm lens included). Judging from personal experience, when you're learning on your first DSLR, you'll do silly things with it like taking it too close to water or drop it on a football field. Plus, low-end DSLRs often have a lot of presets of different light and speed that you can practice on before graduating to the next level.
2. Buy In-Store vs. Online: While it might not necessarily be cheaper, I think the first time you buy a DSLR, you should see it in person. Each model weighs and feels different. Much like shoes, a particular model could fit one user, but not the next quite easily.
Five more tips after the jump...
3. Memory Card: Pay particular attention to what kind of card it is and how you can transfer files from your camera to your computer. Also, while any camera out there that connects via USB cables should be compatible with Macs and/or PCs, the software that these cameras comes with won't be necessarily, so double-check that before purchasing.
4. Lens: Note that if it says "body only," you aren't getting a lens and you'll have to buy your own. If you're a first time user, though, I recommend trying to find a model with a stock lens to get started.
5. Video: More and more DSLR models are coming with video capability now. Thus, if this is something you're interested in, make sure the model you want has it, and add a very large memory card to your shopping cart as well.
6. Test Features: This is another reason why I think you should buy in-store. It's important to get an idea of how well the shutter speed and autofocus work, as well as checking out the sensor as this varies by manufacturer. It's also just nice to get a good feel of the Menu system, buttons, etc. before you plunk down a few hundred dollars.
7. Extended Warranty: There are few companies worth buying this for (Apple is one of them, especially when it comes to first-gen products), thus Consumer Reports suggests you just avoid it, pay with a credit card and save your money.