We're in kind of a golden age of DSLR cameras. They're cheaper than ever, so they're affordable, and they do more stuff than ever, so the time's right to jump in. Here's our DSLR picks for every (non-pro) budget.
Baby's First DSLR: Nikon D3000
The D3000 is cheap. We're talking a full kit (i.e., it comes with a lens) for just $460, making it the cheapest DSLR kit around. But what really makes it stand out for beginners is a built-in tutorial system that explains how to get certain kinds of shots—like shallow depth of field—in plain English.
Amateur Hour: Canon T1i
The next step up is Canon's T1i. What we like is that it packs a bigger boy's image sensor—it's got the same 15-megapixel sensor as the pricier mid-range 50D—and 1080p video into a camera that's $720 with kit lens. Also, for the money, it edges out Nikon's D5000 on a few points, namely superior video handling and Live View.
Bigger Britches: Nikon D90
Nikon's D90 was the first ever DSLR to shoot 720p video with manual controls, but that's only part of the reason we like it. It's got the awesome image sensor from the semi-pro D300, in a package that's just over $1000. And at that price, it's $100 cheaper than Canon's competing 50D, which has the same image sensor as the cheaper T1i above, but none of the video benefits of either camera.
The Budding Auteur: Canon 7D
The only camera on this list that's more expensive than its competition—the D300s—the 7D overwhelms with DSLR video that's superior to every camera but Canon's very pro 1D Mark IV (which costs $5000). It shoots in 1080p, with full manual controls, and it's amazing what it can do in low light. Besides that, Canon's somehow cheated physics with an 18-megapixel sensor that doesn't explode with noise at high ISO settings, all while cramming a whole bunch of new features, and an actually good autofocus system. It's $1900 with a kit lens.
Beyond here, honestly, you should already have a pretty idea of what you're gonna buy without our help. And if you've got your own opinions about what's best in every price range, let's hear 'em in the comments.