He's interested in photography as a hobby but can't afford a digital camera. I really want to buy him a relatively professional one- he takes photography classes with a borrowed camera so he knows some tricks. I guess I'm saying that he's past the pocket sized point and shoot. I know an SLR has removable lenses but that's about the extent of my knowledge! I'd also like to keep price in mind. My absolute max would probably be 400 but cheaper would be wonderful. Thank you! Xx
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There are several different kinds of cameras, but there are 4 main groups:
1) Point and shoot (P&S)
2) Micro four thirds (M4/3)
3) APS-C DSLR (lower end, referred to as DX by Nikon)
4) Full frame DSLR (higher end, referred to as FX by Nikon)
If he's pretty serious about photography, go for a DSLR. It's more expensive and can be over budget, but it will be worth it in the long run because he'd probably be moving up to a DSLR anyway.
If he's still playing around with cameras and not sure if he's going to be serious about photography, a high end P&S or M4/3 would do just fine.
If you plan on getting him any sort of interchangeable lens camera (#2-4), do buy a "kit" (e.g., the camera + 18-55mm lens) or a body-only with a separate lens. But make sure you have a lens, as the camera won't take photos without a lens.
For $400, you can't really get a good DSLR. If you're able to stretch your budget to about $600, the Nikon D5100 kit (with 18-55, basic lens) is great for beginners.
It has the same sensor as the semi-pro, $1000 (high-end DX) D7000 that I shoot with. Amazing color reproduction, very fast, quiet, swivel LCD, up to 1080p video at 30fps.. The list can go on. It's a very good camera for the price, especially if he wants to go further into the hobby.
The D3100 is not as great as the D5100, but it is only about $500. The D3200 at this point is a huge rip off, and it's nowhere near as good as the D5100 (in terms of ISO, color, speed, etc.--just because its megapixel count is significantly greater doesn't mean that it's better).
As for Canon, the T3i would't be a bad choice, but the D5100 is still a better camera. There's also the T3 and T2i, which are slightly inferior. I shoot only Nikon, so I wouldn't be able to give advice on this, but they aren't bad cameras. Canons are just a little noisier (especially in the focusing mechanism), and their controls are very different.
There's not much for around $400 in terms of DSLRs, but micro four thirds cameras are much cheaper. They may not be as good, and not as professional looking, but it's a good transition from P&S into DSLR, because it's as portable and almost as cheap as a P&S, but still gives you greater control over image quality, and choice of lenses.
Nikon's V1 has recently dropped in price. It's $500, but still a pretty good deal.
Olympus was one of the companies that started the M4/3 craze. The Olympus E-PL2 is a great little camera, takes good photos, and is under your budget ($350ish). The E-PL1 is also under budget ($250ish), but much, much older.
The Canon G12 is a high end P&S that is really great. It offers plenty of control and has a great sensor. It's also about $350.
If you need more information or suggestions, feel free to follow up on this question!
Also check out dpreview: link1