This is actually a topic I wanted to avoid, however one of the readers asked for it. If you have very few readers, you cannot ignore that, can you? I would say even if you have millions of readers you cannot ignore them, but it might be much harder to satisfy them all.
Okay, I do think I should actually start with a disclaimer here. Specifically to point out that the stuff below is an opinion. Although I believe there is no error in the text, I am aware that a starting photographer has not seen all there is to be seen about gear. Not that a lack of knowledge keeps me from having an opinion, but really, use your sense when going out to buy. Don't just follow one opinion. I really would be unhappy if I am told later that I "advised" something that you would not feel comfortable with at all.
Now, my very, very short answer is:
Buy the entry-level Nikon or Canon DSLR. Not their latest model, but the model before that. For a beginning photographer, these are powerful enough, yet affordable. And by buying the model before the latest, you also save a bit of money. If possible: buy a kit (body and lens).
I ended up with a kit like this. Mine has a 55-300 mm lens and VR (Vibrance Reduction) though.
Needed equipment
Buying a camera is more personal than you would think. Sure, it's just a thing, but if you do well, it will be with you for years. Like your spouse. Or, if you really go too far with your hobby, even more than your spouse! I would suggest that you pay more attention to your spouse than your camera, though. Even if only that the camera will not divorce you. The spouse might.
Now, I bought my camera a little over a year ago and went to the shop having no clue what I needed, or even what I actually wanted. Even if I think I ended up with a camera that suits me, it was surely not the smartest thing to do. Not even for a noob.

So, I'll write about a few of the things that I picked up in the mean time, to hopefully help someone else make a better informed choice.
First though: what is needed for starting photography? Easy: anything that can make a photo is enough. A cheap camera can make photos, your cell phone can make photos. Most of this will be an opinion, and even a beginners opinion, the two lines before this one are a fact!
So, back to the opinion part, where I would say: before buying an expensive camera, you might want to start shooting photos with a cheap camera or a cell phone. Then see if you actually like taking photos and if you think about making "better" photos. If you just think about making more photos, don't buy the expensive camera yet.
The type of camera
I ended up with a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera, but you might as well get one of those mirrorless system camera's. The latter are a bit smaller and weigh less, while still having the capacity to switch lenses. As far as I read, the quality of both types are around equal. The system camera is currently most likely a bit more expensive, compared to a DSLR of equal quality.
Another difference is how you as photographer will look at what you will shoot. With a DSLR, a mirror will send the light coming in from the lens towards the optical viewfinder. That means that you are actually looking through the lens and see for yourself. Most also have the LCD screen on the back. That is not the light falling on the lens redirected to your eye, but the light falling on the sensor and from that the image is composed. That should be what the camera will "see" when taking the photo.
A mirrorless camera obviously has no mirror to send the light towards your eye. So it does the same as a DSLR does, it takes the image from the sensor and projects it on the LCD screen. To be more complete, there are also camera's that have an Electronic ViewFinder (EVF). This looks like the optical one of the DSLR, but the image is projected there.

I think here are interesting choices to be made. A camera with a viewfinder is basically held in front of your eye and a bit stabilized by your head. Also, your arms are close to your body, giving much less chance on motion blur. If you want real sharp while hand held, I would definitely go for camera's with a viewfinder and not only an LCD screen. If you mostly shoot on tripod, then this would not matter.
An EVF can show extra information, like a histogram when it shows you the image. Or any other overlay the manufacturer might think of. So far, I saw no use of that, but a pro could most likely point something out.
A camera with EVF instead of Optical ViewFinder (OVF) can be problematic when you need certain timing. The EVF's are getting better, but they may still lag a bit as they show the image. So when you need to press the shutter on exact times, you might miss the moment. Now, if you're a landscape photographer you would not care, as I never saw mountains run away. Nor an ocean or a tree. But should you want to take photos of running mountains, use an OVF. 😀
Also be aware that an OVF uses no battery power. You simply look and that's it. Of course, do not forget to remove your lens cap, or you won't see much. An EVF, like an LCD does use battery power and you might need to bring (more) spare batteries, or take less photos.
As I bought my camera, I had no clue about all this, so did not even bother to talk about such things with the vendor.
My personal choice would definitely be a ViewFinder, I would surely not go for the LCD only option. For system cameras. the EVF might be included (usually higher end models), or an extra option. I do not think there is a DSLR without an OVF.
If the choice would be between optical or electronic, the choice would be less clear cut. But in the end, I would prefer not using much battery power and I like to be able to simply look and see what is there to see. I should add that I have not that great eye sight, so sometimes just looking and zooming in can also help me notice things I did not see before. And I am too lazy to wear my glasses.
Glass! And more glass.
The more important part should be the lenses. Good lenses are expensive, so you surely would want to be able to use them on a better camera, should you decide later to upgrade. That means, unless you decide for a high end camera, you need to not only look at the entry level one, but also whether the lenses fit on other more high end cameras. If you take a camera from the big brands, that will not be a big issue, but you might be stuck on the brand. Or you might later want to sell your lenses. Given the costs, there is a market for sued lenses (and cameras, or as they are called: bodies).
More expensive camera's will probably yield higher quality photos. But the most can be gained by getting better lenses. Lenses that allow a lot of light through, that have little distortion and... well, tend to cost more money.
And I am not talking about this 2 million dollar lens here. In case you think you read it wrong. Nope, this baby is according to this article two million US dollars. But lenses costing thousands of euro's (I am European, so yeah, I always think euro's) are not exceptional. And should you buy something expensive it would be nice to be able to use that on your next camera.
As another indication of lens prices: I just looked at the lenses in stock in the webshop of the shop I bought my camera. Then I sorted by price and the cheapest on the first page (25 lenses) was still over 4000 euro. These probably will not be the lenses you start with, though. But if you really want to become a professional photographer: good luck, these are the prices you might get close to then.
In my opinion, this is where you would need to look at most, if you are serious about photography. Because if you want to get better photos, or specialized photos, then you will for sure buy new lenses. And you want to keep using those, even after you buy a newer camera. My personal advice would be: stick with the main brands on buying your (entry-level) camera.
They have plenty of lenses available, they also have the more expensive high-end cameras that go with these lenses. And when it comes to the top brands, there seem to be only two for beginning photographers: Nikon and Canon.

There is of course much more to be said about lenses, and accessories - which I have not mentioned at all yet - but I will leave that for a future post. I do hope this post at least showed a glimpse of things you might consider when buying. However: besides thinking long, sometimes the easiest thing to do is: go to the shop, let the vendor explain things and take his advice. Also nice to know: there might be shops near you actually renting out cameras. You might want to do that, as it does allow you to get a real feel about the camera.
© André Speelmans
28 february 2017

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