Warning: this is filled with unfocused, newbie questions, so if you can’t stand that sort of thing, please move on (I don’t mind being corrected if you’re nice about it). After reading this, I realize it also sounds like I want the do everything camera for $1000 or less. I’m just looking for good value.
So I am a total beginner to photography, but am looking to improve the shots I take from my point and shoot canon sd800is.
I would like to get a good entry or mid-level DSLR to learn with. The type of photography I would like to do revolve around my interests in mountain biking, hiking, trail running, tennis, windsurfing, snowboarding, kayaking and rock climbing. I'd also like to take shots of kids and dogs at play, landscapes (outdoor and city), maybe some wildlife (elk, deer, lions on safari!), food I eat at restaurants, travel (not sure exactly what yet), and a little architectural. It would be great (but not a deal breaker) if the camera can also do a good job taking video with minimal effort (i.e. I don't have to worry about focusing video shots myself) for shooting family stuff without needing to carry a dedicated camcorder. And I need an articulating screen to frame shots of myself b/c my wife could care less about taking pics of me and I want to try out different shot angles.
From the little I've been told, I need to find a camera body that has a relatively fast continuous shooting mode (5 fps or more) with good auto-focus system. And the discussions I have browsed through all indicate that a fast lens is good to have (what does this exactly mean? Been told that the lower number on the lens means more light coming in and “faster”??). Sounds like to begin with, I would be safe carrying a wide-angle zoom lens and a telephoto lens to 300mm. Do I need a body that is "weather proofed" and usually cost a lot more? How bomb-proof does the camera have to be if I take it with me mountain biking or snowboarding???
My budget is in the range of $400 - $1000 (wow, big range, huh? I can maybe pad some more on this if it’s worth it, but as a beginner, probly doesn’t make sense to me to drop more than $1200). Am I better off buying a new entry-level DSLR or go with a used, but more advanced DSLR? People I am acquainted with and started photography went the used route. How would I know if I am buying a good used camera online?? Any websites good for used stuff?? Not sure how I would like carrying a lot of gear when out doing the activities I listed above, so something relatively light is nice too.
Seems like the “pros” all use Canon and Nikon, but if I'm just learning, that doesn’t matter too much to me (or should it?). I’m more in the stage of becoming an enthusiast with the wishful dream of being an outdoor action photographer for a magazine or blog someday. Of course, it would be great to find a brand that when I buy lenses, I can just upgrade the bodies, but how important is that? If I buy a Sony and use Minolta lenses for a year, get tired of it, would I be losing out by selling it and going Nikon or Canon?
Some ideas for DSLR brand / bodies I've been naively interested in, but don't know if they would be good for me:
Nikon d5100 (I like the ergonomics, articulating screens, but lowish fps for action shots? But I have a friend with a d300 who might lend me a lens or two to play with and all his friends have prosumer Nikons).
Canon T3i / 60D (I like the ergonomics on the 60D more than the T3i but it also costs hundreds more, video capabilities, articulating screens, good enough fps for action??).
Sony SLT-A55 / A560 (I think the 7 fps is good for action and built-in image stabilization is nice, but not huge fan of tilt screen. Friend bought Sony a550 last year b/c he got a deal on Minolta glass and has been taking amazing NYC shots).
Pentax K-r (I know nothing here, but was recommended on another site)
Oh, so many questions and seemingly too many options to confuse me... but I'd love to hear your feedback (without bashing other camera brands). My instincts tell me that I should just get something and worry about what I like later. Found the Nikon 5100 and Canon 60D at Costco so I could try either one of those out for 90 days if I return (or keep). I’ve also seen frequent Amazon deals for the Canon T3i which make it seem attractive. I just want a good value for my money.
All this time I spend trying to figure out what DSLR is best for me from forum discussions is time I'm not getting experience shooting photos
Thanks (and sorry for sounding so newbie)!!!