If you want to know what I shoot (being a hobby only amateur photographer on a shoestring) and why, read on.
I started my 2011 Photo-a-Day project (all photos in this blog up through February 24) with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 point and shoot. It has 7.2 megapixels, a 28mm Leica lens and 10x optical zoom. I bought it in early 2008. I loved its sharp lens, beautiful color, extra wide 28mm angle, and great zoom. I can highly recommend the Lumix line as a great quality P&S to learn on. But as I learned and experimented more, I longed for a camera that would give me better performance in low light, shallow depth of field and manual control.
My initial DSLR purchase:
Nikon D3100 with 18-55mm zoom kit lens
Additional 55-200mm zoom lens
I don't intend to ever make money from my photos, and therefore didn't feel that I could justify a higher model, so the D3100 was the only one I really considered. I bought it from a local camera store (National Camera Exchange). With a 30 day satisfaction guarantee, I knew I could return it if I didn't get photos that made me gasp. Another huge reason I bought it locally instead of less expensively online was that it came with four free photography classes, which paid for the slightly higher cost many times over. The instructor was fabulous. Also, they will take used lenses for trade-in, and I thought I would have the best chance of dealing with them if I had purchased from them in the first place.
Lens choice: I constantly used 10x zoom on my point and shoot, so I placed a priority on a lens that would cover the same range. I take a lot of photos in my home (close up), and also on the baseball field and basketball court (far away), so the range was critical to me. The only way to accomplish this with the camera purchase and stay well under $1000 (initial outlay of right at $800), which was a must, was to start out with the two kit lenses.
What I wish I had could have chosen: Buy the camera body alone and one lens with the full range zoom. The two together would have been around $1000. I tired quickly of switching back and forth between the two lenses, so within less than a year I solved this issue, with the Tamron 18-270mm range. It's a big, relatively heavy lens, but it is manageable, and it's no heavier to carry in my bag than the two other lenses were. I give this lens a thorough workout at all of our sporting events. It's so worth it!
My current lenses:
1. Tamron AF 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC Zoom Lens
This lens is now discontinued and replaced with a quieter but more expensive model. (It is still available as of July 2012 at B&H Photo and Video while supplies last!) There is also a less expensive 18-200mm zoom, but it doesn't have vibration compensation. Because the lens is heavy to begin with, I would not care to own one without VC (a.k.a. image stabilization, optical stabilization, etc.) to keep shaky hands from ruining too many images. Sigma is another manufacturer with an economically priced 18-250mm zoom with image stabilization.
2. Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Lens
I just added the 50mm lens to give me a better option for low light and creative purposes. I'm very excited to see what it can do for me!
One last note: Numerous photographers I respect a great deal emphasize that you can't go wrong with Canon or Nikon. They both routinely offer instant rebates that you would want to be sure to take advantage of. One thing that I wish I had realized was that my camera is not compatible with the least expensive Nikon 50mm lens, so I had to spend an extra $100 to get the one that will auto-focus with the D3100 S-mount. If I had known this, I might have gone with Canon, which is a little less expensive at least at the entry level, and doesn't have the same lens compatibility issues.