Are you thinking of swapping your compact camera for a more advanced digital SLR? Now's a great time, because the range and quality of dSLRs is excellent. They are no longer purely the territory of experienced photography masters -- an expanding array of models are perfect for the casual hobbyist and the slightly nervous SLR beginner.
Compacts are fine for casual photography and quick holiday snaps, but they have limitations that quickly become apparent if you decide to get serious about taking pictures.
On the other hand, dSLRs have bigger sensors that produce better picture quality. They have more advanced controls, and they're more flexible than compacts, because you can use interchangeable lenses and accessories such as filters and powerful external flash guns.
At first, dSLRs can look frighteningly complicated, but they all have fully automatic modes for the less experienced. The least expensive models are designed specifically for people moving up from a compact. You can then go on to learn about more advanced features at your own pace. Models like the Nikon D3100 come with built-in guides, helping you navigate the menus and choose the best settings for your shots.
Most dSLRs now have high-definition movie modes too, allowing you to get as creative with video as you do with your stills. If you're in the market for a new camera and a camcorder then a dSLR with a movie mode could be a money-saving option. The artistic results that can be achieved, together with the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, has helped make dSLRs a popular choice for amateur and professional film-makers alike.
Resolution makes a difference with dSLRs, just as it does with compacts, although it shouldn't be the main factor when you're choosing a new snapper. Even a basic digital SLR will be capable of producing sharp prints. While more expensive models may have sensors with over 15 megapixels, the gains in definition can be quite slight.
Selecting a brand is more important because this could be a long-term purchase. You can buy extra lenses for any camera but they will only work on a particular make. Canon and Nikon currently have the widest lens ranges, although other companies like Sony are quickly catching up.
Typically, you'll be buying a camera and lens kit, and this is certainly the most cost-effective way to go. Kit lenses vary in quality, but they're an important part of the camera package, so check our reviews section before making your decision.
The cameras I've included in this round-up show a good cross-section of what's available in the beginners' market. At around £600, the Canon EOS 600D is at the top end of the price range, but it offers features that are likely to keep your creative juices flowing beyond the basic learning stage. The Nikon D3100 might have been joined by its bigger brother the D3200, but it's still widely available and can be picked up for a very reasonable price, so don't be afraid of shopping for slightly older models.
Have a look through the line-up I've provided and check out the full dSLR reviews section to see what's what.