When it comes to choosing a camera, the following five factors should be taken into consideration as the main decision criteria:
1. The main types of photos that you like to take
2. Your tolerance limits for the size and weight of the camera kit
3. The "feel" of the camera, meaning how it feels in your hand, how it sounds, and how much you enjoy holding and using it. You know it's the right camera if you feel like you want to 'play' with it, even when it isn't turned on.
4. Your budget for the camera purchase
5. Proximity to a service and repair centre
The above points are very personal to each of us. What's right for one person may not be at all suitable for someone else, so be prepared to take a plunge and "be your own person" rather than follow the flock. Photography is an individual thing, and your camera equipment should be chosen to fit who you are.
But "beginners" by and large don't yet know "who they are", as far as their photography goes, and therefore have no clue where to start when it comes to choosing a camera. The safe approach chosen by most people is to buy whatever Canon or Nikon digital SLR fits within their budget (point 4 above) and within their tolerance for size and weight (point 2 above).
Why do people automatically assume that they should buy a Nikon or Canon camera? It's just that the marketing power of those two giants in the industry has gradually implanted an indelible message in the minds of the mass market. Most people assume that they can't go wrong if they choose a Canon or a Nikon camera. Surely enough, Canon and Nikon do make some very fine camera equipment. But they aren't the only ones. And not every camera made by those two companies makes it onto my list of recommended cameras.
It was a fortunate thing for me that I spent fifteen years of my past career working for a Japanese company, because that gave me the opportunity to travel to Tokyo on a regular basis. During those business trips, the walking route between Shinjuku station and my hotel took me past several excellent camera shops. In those shops I was free to browse and play with any camera I liked, for as long as I liked, without pressure from a salesperson.
It's like I was 'dating' the cameras for a long period of time, visiting them in the shops and communing with them on a regular basis until my confusion eventually dissipated to the point where I knew which camera(s) I wanted to 'marry'.
So I recommend you to do the same. Ask your friends if you can handle their cameras from time to time so you can see how well the camera "fits" you. Ask the shops to let you see and handle the cameras that you think you might be interested in. Don't rush the purchase decision. Give yourself a "cooling off" period before you buy.
When it comes to a short list of cameras that I personally recommend, here it is, with some hint as to why the camera is recommended:
BECAUSE THE CAMERA IS EASY TO USE:
1. The Sony Alpha SLT-A55 and it's new siblings, the A65 and the A77. The user interface is clear and logical. It's easy to change the settings. The "frustration factor" is very low or non-existent. These cameras have a "live view" mode on the rear LCD which has no compromises (other cameras with live view are notoriously poor at auto-focus while in live view mode). The rear LCD can tilt in several angles, allowing the camera to be held comfortably at a low height for a better artistic result in many situations.
2. The Canon EOS600D or EOS 60D or EOS 7D: The user interface is not as clear as the Sony, but it's quite okay. The frustration factor is low. You can usually find what you are looking for in the menus.
3. The Pentax K7, K5, Kx, or the older K20D: The user interface is quite good. The menus are logical, but not as good as the Sony. The feature set, however, is very rich and impressive, without being difficult to use.
BECAUSE THE CAMERA HAS BUILT-IN IMAGE STABILISING:
"Camera shake" is the main reason for blurred photographs. Shooting indoors under dim lighting conditions, as many people do, the required exposure time is long, perhaps in the range of 1/4 of a second to 1/15th of a second. The camera can't be held steady enough in one's hands at those kind of long exposure times (aka: slow shutter speeds). The ideal solution is to use a good stiff tripod, but if that isn't possible, some cameras will steady the image inside the camera, using an image stabilisation mechanism.
Sony, Pentax, and Olympus cameras have an image stabilising mechanism within the camera body. So it doesn't matter which lens you attach to the front of the camera, the stabilising feature can always be enjoyed. Canon and Nikon cameras don't have a stabilising function within the camera body. Canon and Nikon only provide a stabilising feature in some of their lenses. That makes the stabilised Canon and Nikon lenses a lot more expensive than normal lenses. And many of the lenses in the Canon and Nikon range don't come in the 'stabilised' version.
Accordingly, Sony and Pentax cameras rank highest in my recommendation list, because they are easy to use and because they have built-in image stabilisation. Some Olympus cameras have built-in image stabilisation, but the Olympus user interface is rather illogical and confusing, and is therefore not recommended for beginners. Nonetheless, the Olympus cameras are very good cameras - once you get used to the user interface.
BECAUSE THE CAMERA IS SMALL AND NOT HEAVY BUT STILL HAS GREAT IMAGE QUALITY:
1. Panasonic G and GH series
2. Olympus PEN series
3. Sony NEX series
4. Samsung NX series
BECAUSE THE CAMERA IS SMALL ENOUGH TO FIT IN A COAT POCKET BUT STILL HAS MANUAL FEATURES LIKE AN SLR: