It is very easy to get excited about purchasing camera gear, especially for photos of the kiddos. There are so many features available, how do you choose?
Here is a practical guide for narrowing down the selection to fit your needs today and in the future. I am slightly biased but have made the mistake of purchasing a body that was not quite what I needed. Hence, I have the financial scar to share.
Here is a list of key features you should consider:
Dials - Many of the lower end models force you to change key settings using menu options. Look for a body that has dials that you can adjust the settings without using the menu. I especially like the bodies that have dials in close proximity to the shutter release button and right grip. After practice, you can adjust them as needed without looking. See on the images below where the dials are?
Buttons - Notice the back of the camera above has a row of buttons down the left side of the screen. These allow you to select which setting to adjust and then use the turn dials to change the setting.
ISO - Make sure your body can support ISO of at least 3200. Many of the bodies can go to 6400 or higher with satisfactory noise reduction. Lower than 3200 may force you to purchase some really fast lenses that are really expensive.
Frames Per Second (FPS)- FPS is key for shooting fast action shots like football or batters in baseball. The lower end bodies are around 3 - 4 FPS. I recommend upwards of 5 - 6 FPS (minimum).
Memory Card- Memory cards come in speeds called "class". Within the class are transfer rates displayed in megabytes per second (MB/S). I recommend a Class 10 card with at least 30 MB/S. Go with even higher speeds if you can afford it. Cards are cheap, relatively speaking, and slower cards will not keep up with the camera. With a slow card, you may get 6 FPS for a second or two. Faster cards will allow more pictures before the camera's buffer fills and you wait for it to catch up.
HD Video- I am not a fan of using the camera as a video camera. Camcorders and cameras are designed differently and have different lenses. When shooting video with a DSLR camera, you have to make sure you are focused using the lens you have. Not all lenses have great stabilization and autofocus. Enjoy it if it comes with the camera but do not pay extra for it.
Research- I recommend reading up on the body from some reputable websites. The two I prefer are:
Kenrockwell.com Here is the link I used on Ken's website when I purchased the body I have - http://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/d7000.htm.
DPReview.com http://www.dpreview.com/products/nikon/slrs/nikon_d7000 DPReview also has a camera forum for experts and amateurs alike.
There are other features like multi-card slots and battery packs that we could discuss but are not necessary. Use the list above and research before purchasing. I guarantee you will be happy with the results.