Lately, several of my friends asked me about which entry level camera to get for someone who does not merely want to take snap-shots at barbecues (amazingly, in 2012 most cell phone cameras are good enough for that ), but might want to get into photography, without wanting to spend a fortune on equipment.
What I can recommend is the Canon Rebel series of entry level SLR cameras. This is the type of camera I used when I initially switched to SLRs (higher-end cameras where a mirror flips up when pressing the shutter, allowing light to fall on the sensor. All cameras used by photo pros are of that type. They are typically big and black).
Basically, the Canon Rebel is a powerful SLR with a cropped light sensor – 1.6 times smaller than the sensor of a pro or semi-pro camera. This means that the size of each individual light sensitive pixel is smaller – and the camera’s pictures more noisy, especially at high light sensitivity settings (high ISO values). This does, in my experience, not matter too much unless you are trying to do some pretty specialized photography: Very fast shutter times to freeze super-fast motion, when high ISO values are necessary to still get a good exposure are difficult to do with such a camera. So is taking pictures in low-light situations like the very early morning or very late afternoon. But for anything else, a Canon Rebel will be a great SLR at a very affordable price. At low ISO values, the image quality is hard to distinguish from a full frame sized sensor camera in my opinion.
The current top Rebel is the Canon EOS Rebel T4i, which also has full HD movie capability, something my Rebel 400D a few years ago did not yet have.
The camera usually comes in a set with a zoom lens, such as the 18-55mm EF-S IS II – a lens with a decent range, and image stabilization. This is a reasonable, but not a fantastic lens, which will serve you well in the beginning. If you are serious about your photography, you will probably consider getting higher quality glass after you have figured out what kind of photography you would really like to do – macro, landscape, birds, porn, ect. Besides Canon itself, Sigma and Tokina (their 10-17 mm fisheye is fantastic) make some really high performing lenses for Canon SLRs. I early on bought the Canon 100 mm USM macro lens, which I am still using with my Canon EOS5DII now. So, even if you upgrade your camera body, you will be able to continue using most lenses you got for your Rebel.