Photography (either as a hobby or a profession) can be pretty gear-centric. There are so many cameras, lenses, lights, filters, software programs, and accessories out there ro choose from that it can either be overwhelming or get completely out of hand financially. This topic is also HUGE, so I am not even attemtping to cover it all today in one blog post (im-poss-ible).
What I did want to talk about today are the two BIGGEST decisions that you will make regarding gear that will have profound impact on the whole rest of your shooting experience. You may have already made these choices without even realizing the impact of them. I am talking Canon vs. Nikon and Mac vs. PC.
Why are these choices such a big deal? Because once you make them you are probably going to be stuck with them for a really long time. The camera bodies and the computers are expensive, yes, but not nearly as expensive as the lenses, flashes, cords, misc. accessories and software that go along with them. Once you start collecting gear (and you will at an alarming rate) it gets really expensive to make the switch.
So, what do I use? I am a Canon shooter and I use a PC. What was my compelling reason for these choices? There absolutely was none. My husband bought me my first DSLR as a gift and I have been a Canon shooter ever since. Honestly, and this may anger a lot of people but here we go, I don't think that there is a big difference in quality between Nikon and Canon. They are both such large companies with such big budgets that even if one does something first, you can rest assured that before long the other will match or exceed it and on and on it will go ping ponging back and forth. My feeling is as long as you are picking a major, reliable brand you are probably getting a good quality product.
I am not completely a brand snob. I actually like the way that the Tamron lenses switch from auto to manual focus a lot better than my Canon lenses. No matter how much I try I never can seem to find the stupid switch on my Canon lenses without looking for it. This brings me to probably the most important point. Before you buy anything - DO YOUR RESEARCH.
Go to your local camera store and hold the cameras. Scroll through the menus, work the controls. If you live in the Sandhills area I recommend Peace Camera in Raleigh. The guys there are always very nice and helpful. A better idea yet is to do your research on the internet (DPreview.com is a good resource) and then rent the camera that you are looking at and take it out for a test drive. You can rent about anything you want (EVEN the famed white lenses) and the pricse are pretty reasonable considering what you are getting. When I checked internet rental drices in January you could rent a Canon 5D MarkII for about $125/day. Not too bad considering it retails at over two grand. The best way to know what you like and what you don't it to go and find out.
Another good investment is to actually READ your manual (you can download most online at the camera manufacturer's website), or if the manual sucks (as is the case with the 450EX flash unit) buy an aftermarket book and read it. You can't expect to to get the most out of your camera and equipment if you don't know how to use them.