My friend recently bought a Nikon D3300, inspiring me to get my act in gear. When I asked her why that specific one, she said, "It's the best in the market for the price, and it still packs a pop." Or something like that. Now, I originally intended to prove her wrong, not copy her, and go out and buy something else, but she was right.
So, to save you hours of Google searching (like her and I did), the best budget DSLR for Level 0 photogs (like yours truly) is the Nikon D3300. It's currently at $500 on Amazon or $400 for one that's certified refurbished, including a 18-55mm lens in both figures.
Now I've been loving taking photos for a while and am not an idiot when it comes to angles, the rule of thirds, etc., but I had never touched a DSLR in my life (well, maybe once or twice). The first fifteen minutes with my camera I was worried I was going to break it (still surprised I didn't). For the record, I had gotten pretty good at making my iPhone 6 fake it (every photo from header to footer on here that's not on a Shannon article is mine), but it's just not the same, even though the phone cameras are becoming amazing in their own right. The reason I say this is that if any of this noob-ness rings true for you, don't worry. It's a surprisingly unintimidating process, and here's why:
The Reason It's So Awesome
Okay, so there are a number of reasons it's supposedly awesome, most of which I don't understand well enough to elaborate on, but check this out:
Do you see that little bar below the F8 (the aperture setting)? That bar exists in every mode (manual included), and basically flares up whenever you're being an idiot. That means in manual mode, you can experiment around and learn SO EASILY when something (like your shutter speed/aperture/ISO) is even marginally off. That's a big deal because it means you can be in manual mode (which is way mo' betta) pretty quickly and still learn with your hand held.
Now is it possible this feature is on every other camera ever? Yes. But the fact that THIS camera has this for the price AND the shooting power (you'll have to look up the stats yourself, but they're pretty impressive), that's what I call a deal.
Sorry, Apple, Sorry, Canon
To add to the point, I might've had this camera for less than 24 hours, but am already doing decent in manual mode, I feel like. I don't think these pictures are terrible (I haven't even edited them!), and they're certainly better than my iPhone and offer more flexibility. Yep, that's my apartment, and that's me breaking the fireplace, btw. Progress, kids, progress! In both the camera game and the heating and cooling game!
And if you're wondering about getting a Canon – which, I'll be honest, was the brand I would've for no reason but brand recognition preferred – it doesn't seem like, as of October 2015, that there's a viable budget option that does the same stuff. I considered the Nikon D5500 before I ran into a Canon that seemed to put up a fight. I'm sure this will change fairly quickly, but for now, Nikon has this beginner budget game on lockdown.
And the way I look at it, this isn't going to be my camera forever. This is going to be my tricycle DSLR and I can get the super expensive stuff when I feel more and am more confident. For any beginner, it does well more than necessary. And in the meantime, I'll just take pictures of random things in my house like puzzles. Isn't this puzzle awesome, btw?