It's a question I've been asked quite often, so I wanted to make a simple reference guide, especially for anyone enrolled in my Nature Photography Couse at Irvine Nature Center. However, these recommendations apply to anyone interested in photography, so I hope you find them helpful.
In my opinion, the Nikon DSLRs are some of the best ' entry-level' cameras on the market. Depending on your price range, there are newer models like the d7500 and then all the way down to the old stuff- d40 and such. For reference, you can get a d5300 for around $600, but that's new. I'd recommend getting a used camera, which can slice the price nearly in half, and doesn't take much away, especially for beginners. If you do buy gear used, do it through a reputable middle man like B&H or Adorama, because they will offer returns for damaged products. Getting gear through a service like Facebook Marketplace poses inherent risks, although it's never off the table.
My Nikon d5300 with a kit (right) and upgrade (left) lens
I can personally vouch for the d5300, since I have used it for many years and have had no major issues. Another great choice is the d3500, which is more affordable. While it loses out to its modern competitors in terms of image quality and low light capabilities, this makes for a less distracting starter kit; these cameras also have the benefit of being capable of a wide range of shooting- they won't specialize in landscapes or portraiture, for example. If you want to narrow down your options here, try using an online price filter to find a model that matches your budget!
Frontside of my Nikon d5300
Despite never having owned one, I've heard great things about the Olympus DSLRs as well, which I tend to think of as great options for street photography, given their compact design.
For travel photography, definitely also check out compact digital cameras like the Sony HX90V, Pan Lumix TZ100, or similar models. They are extremely portable and simple to use, but don't achieve nearly the same quality or customization.
If you want a mirrorless camera, there are some affordable options here as well. The Fujifilm X-T200 is a beginner mirrorless camera that strikes me as a great choice for portraiture especially, but it's also capable of a wide range of shooting. Another similar option is the Olympus OM-D Mark 4.
Lenses are equally as important, even though most entry level cameras come with a lens. Before splurging on a camera, a photographer should purchase a good lens. To start, get a cheaper lens with a sizable focal range, such as the Nikkor 18-55 mm (pictured above). There are similar makes across all other camera brands to go with your chosen body. Brands like Sigma and Tamron also make lenses for other camera brands, and are usually cheaper than buying a lens native to the brand of your camera body. For my Sony camera, I use one Tamron lens and one Sigma lens, and it saved me quite a bit of money without any major downsides. And don't forget that buying used is still an option, although lenses do tend to degrade faster than camera bodies.
My Sony a7rii with a wide angle (right) and multi use (left) lens
If you're looking for an upgrade, think first about what direction you'd like to take your photography in. Start with what focal range you want, if it's wide or more tele (zoomed in), and then go from there. What attributes matter most to you- Crisp focus, light bokeh, fast autofocus? And always read the reviews to get a better idea!
I've saved the best for last: the splurge options. If you're looking for a more expensive kit, definitely put in some research before making any decisions. It may also help to wait for online sales, like Best Buy, etc. Personally, I would get a mirrorless camera if you're spending the money, although some people debate in favor of expensive DSLRs. My Sony a7r is a camera that continues to impress me every shoot. Great quality, even in low light situations, and an amazing video capability. These models come with other perks as well, like excellent image stabilization and zoomed focus on the digital viewfinder.
Frontside of my Sony a7rii
I hope this has been helpful. For more information, check online forums and customer review pages.
Until next time,