Why Moby Dick?
Because looking for a 'good' camera is a lot like searching for that white whale. The good news is unlike Ahab you don't have to go down and beckon, if you have read the last two posts you'll find your white whale and maybe even beckon and all save one, (Probably a Nikon guy), will follow.
So to review, DSLRs don't have to equal the Black Ops budget for The Republic of Irwadistan, they don't have to be more complicated than the stuff NASA uses to launch the space shuttle and you can with the tools I posted find one in less time than it takes to apply for Social Security.
So let's talk about that strange and curious thing quality.
Remember way back when I started this I stated, “Electronics either work or they don't.” That is true and will still be true when you do your search and will be true for the next lifetime unless they develop nanomachines to replace all humans with and the smart bugs won't have any use for cameras.
There just is no real difference between any of the top brands until you get to the professional level and we want to avoid that like the plague cause they cost more than an arm and a leg, they get used and abused more than a coin operated washing machine and they are just a little bit smaller than a '48 Merc.
So all things being equal you can pick any of the top brands and get a camera which will be reliable right out of the box, even if you aren't the first one to open the box.
You do want to chose an entry level camera.
But that doesn't make any sense, all along you have been talking about a 'good' camera and if the idea is to buy a used camera to save a few bucks then why not buy the top of the line?
Because that is where the usage curve starts to work against you. Every DSLR lives and dies on its shutter. The number of times a shutter gets activated is a better indicator of wear and tear than the age of the camera.
All of the top manufacturers engineer their cameras to take a lot of beating about and dragging around and most set the life of the camera at 100,000 shutter activations. Whew that is a lot of shutter pulls and it is more than any but the most dedicated amateur will ever do, but it is not more than a pro will do. That is why it is important to select an entry level camera. They will have a lot more life left in them than the work horse heavy-duty professional photographer's boat anchor.
Nikon and Canon both say one hundred thousand activations, Pentax says fifty thousand, but since that number is seldom reached it is just a likely spot where things might start going wrong. Sony claims one hundred thousand so you can see all of the Big Guys have a long way to go before they hit anything near then end of their service life.
My first Pentax came with 44,000+ activations and I have added another three plus since I got it plus plus I managed to take a dive while wearing it and it is still going so don't let a big number in the shutter count window scare you off.
Let's say that most DSLRs will do one hundred thousand shutter clicks before they head off to the Big Dark Room in the sky. So quality among the top three or four really is just a matter of personal choice.
What's next I heard you ask? Lens availability.
I picked Pentax because of two features; first I wanted AA battery power. Nothing stinks like grabbing your camera and finding the battery dead or almost dead when you get a chance at the perfect shot. And second Pentax has been around since the dawn of SLR cameras and there are literally thousands of compatible lenses made for Pentax cameras so I can use all of them when I find them.
Around here Canon seems to be to go-to brand. One look on Craigslist and you will find a dozen Canon lenses for sale, all of them too expensive but they are there all the same.
Nikon comes in third and they are even more expensive so think about what the lenses will cost when you are deciding what brand of camera you want to hang around your neck.
Oh yeah, Sony comes in last and you'll have to find lenses online or travel to Eugene, Salem, Portland or Seattle.
Now let me say that I have nothing against any brand. I think that Sony and Nikon suffer from name glitter without much substance to back it up. Canon's luster is a little bit of the same but not so dependent on the big budget add dollars. You make your decision on what you believe. Me, I'd rather save a buck or two and avoid the star-power of Nikon, but that's me.
But when making a decision about quality keep in mind this fact, bodies fail, get damaged or lost but lenses go on forever. You can get by with a dinged, dirty, scratched and skinned body, but when it comes to a lens, buy the best you can lay your hands on. That lens will travel with your next camera and the next and when you die the kid will fight over the lenses and throw the camera bodies out with the rest of the dust catchers.
Lenses fit on many bodies and manufacturers design their bodies so they are backward compatible with their older lenses. A good lens will sell for almost as much as you paid for it ten years from now while your camera, even if you bought it new and kept it in a mayonnaise jar over night on the porch of Funk and Wagnalls will be worth ten percent of what you paid if you are lucky. Spend more money on the lens and you'll be happy for years to come.
What about those bodies? And why buy just a body and not a whole camera? Most of those cameras come with an 18-55mm lens. Now this is a good ordinary lens which will take pictures and make your posts to InstaFame look really nice. But it isn't very useful when you start thinking about why you bought the camera. Better to let someone else worry about how to get rid of it and put your money in a lens you'll use.
So buy the body and the lens separately. Maybe you can't spring for the whole thing right now, probably a Nikon buyer, so you get the body and buy the lens later. No it won't be as much fun but it will make you hoard your pennies and save for that lens.
KEH will put you in a Nikon D3100 or a D5000 for $228 or 238 respectively. Then you can get a Nikon 55-200mm F4.5/5.6 for $79 and it is engineered for that body so your total expense is $307 or 317 for a Nikon camera and lens! And the lens will be something which you will actually use instead of trying to stick someone else with on Ebay.
One last word about quality, and this is completely anecdotal and not at all scientific, three weeks ago I was coming home form Coquille and had my Pentax in my hand when I missed a step and fell on my front deck. The camera wound up between me and the deck so it took all 229 pounds of Trawler on the body and lens. I was devastated.
No, not hurt but scared that my Pentax had been smashed to bits. This was not helped since a part of the lens hood went flying by my face as I landed. At the least I expected my lens mount to have been warped by the impact. Nothing doing, the lens hood part snapped back into place and I have run a coupla hundred frames through the Pentax since and there appears to be nothing amiss. That kiddos is quality. Try that with a point 'n' shoot!
So you now know how to get a 'good' camera and why to get a good 'camera' and what to buy with the good 'camera' so why aren't you out there buying a 'good' camera?
Parting shot, if you are truly worried about shutter count there is a free app you can download, Photo ME.
This will tell you the count every time you take a run of frames and you can worry about how close you are to hitting that hundred thousand count!