When choosing your first DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) there are many things to consider.
Apposed to buying a compact, when you buy a DSLR you are buying into a system.
DSLR lenses often last longer than the body, and you can buy your next body as a 'body only' package (if you stick with the same brand).
Pentax, Nikon, Canon. Choices, choices, choices. A few others used to make DSLRs (Sigma, Leica, Sony, Olympus, etc..) but not any more.
Reading this guide, you will learn features that would affect your camera choice.
You could also buy a CSC (compact system camera) which has interchangeable lenses but this guide focuses more on 'entry level' DSLRs.
Step 1: Price...
First thing to consider is price!
You have to set a budget when buying a camera.
I had a budget of $600, for the camera and lenses.
Think about your budget does it include the lens as well?
If you're budget includes the price of a lens look at kit lenses.
Step 2: Ergonomics...
This can be the big choosing factor!
For example you have a Canon camera and a Nikon camera, same price, same specs, same lens.
What one do you choose? The camera that feels the best in your hand.
If you're buying a DSLR, you probably use it a lot, you want one that the grip fits snug in your hand, doesn't give you blisters, not too heavy, won't make you put your camera down and use your phone.
ALways pick a comfortable camera, I love the feel of my Pentax in my hand.
Step 3: MegaPixels....
Do you need many?
In our current age, anything with more than 16MP is high enough quality (unless you are making giant wall prints).
A standard printed piece of letter (8.5" x 11") paper only needs 8MP for a high quality print.
Manufacturers advertise the MP first as if it is an important thing, it really isn't, with DSLRs the important thing is the lenses.
Step 4: Sensor Size...
Another important factor is sensor size.
You get to main sensor sizes for a DSLR: APS-C and Full Frame.
A FF sensor is 36mm x 24mm, an APS-C sensor is 23.6mm x 15.7mm (except for Canon which an APS-C is 22.2 x 14.8).
With a bigger sensor FF cameras have better image quality and a wider angle of view.
An APS-C sensor has a crop factor of 1.5x meaning that a 50mm lens on an APS-C camera would look like a 75mm lens on a FF camera.
Most first DSLRs are APS-C as FF are a lot more expensive.
Step 5: ISO...
Most DSLRs cameras go up to a high ISO, mine goes to 51200 but at most I only use ISO 3200 if it is really dark.
Noise is created at higher levels of ISO so try and stay around the natural ISO (mine is 200).
Notihng much to say here.
Step 6: Camera Modes...
Modes on the camera mode dial.
Often you will see PASM on mode dials.
Here are the ones from my camera with a brief explanation:
AUTO - Automatic mode
Video - Video mode
P - Program (shift) mode
Sv - (PENTAX ONLY) Sensitivity value
Tv - (S) Time value (Shutter)
Av - (A) Aperture value (Aperture)
TAv - (PENTAX ONLY) Time Aperture value
M - Manual mode
B - Bulb mode
U2 - User 2
U1 - User 1
SCN - Scene mode
Step 7: Viewfinder...
This is really (really) important factor to me.
Two different types of DSLR viewfinders:
Pentamirror - mirrors arranged to reflect light to the eye - found in most entry level cameras
Pentaprism - prism to reflect light to the eye - better quality and brighter - found in Pentax entry level cameras, and mid/pro level DSLRs
A bunch of entry level cameras cut off part of the frame in their viewfinder making it only 95% coverage, so look out for this when buying.
Step 8: Other Features...
Look for other features to help you decide which camera to buy.
Here are some:
Dual control dials
Built in flash
Remote control (IR, wired)
Shake reduction in body
Ability to use AA batteries
SD card / CF card
Step 9: Kit Lens...
Buying with a kit lens?
Most cameras offer a kit with an 18-55 lens (or thereabouts) or a kit with a 18-135 lens (or thereabouts).
You can also buy multi lens kits (18-55 & 50-200).
Buying with a kit lens can be a great way to save money.
Or make your own lenses: https://www.instructables.com/id/Homemade-Camera-Lens/
Step 10: Buying the Camera...
Where to buy?
Online is great, but you can't feel the camera.
Going into a local shop and feeling the camera, then buying online for cheaper is also possible.
Don't forget to talk to a representative on a phone and haggle to find a nice price, I saved about $50 doing this.
Places to buy:
Step 11: Accessories...
What do you need to buy for your brand new camera?
Here are some ideas:
UV filters (protect front of lenses)
Step 12: Current Options (August 2015)...
Here are some reasonbly recent cameras that are classified as 'entry level'. Older cameras are also great and cheaper but the have less features and lower specs.
These are listed cheaper to expensive: