After studying the responses I received in the Four Thirds thread (thank you all), I am thinking that I should maybe start out in the DSLR world with a used camera. Price and feature wise, the Canon D60 and Pentax *ist look the most promising. My thinking is to just get a quality camera and a lens or two to get into DSLR shooting, without spending so much that I feel "committed" to a particular system. In other words, once I learn enough to know what I really want in a DSLR system, I can trade to something else without incurring a major loss. What are the pros and cons of these cameras? What are the differences between the *ist D, DL and DS? Are used DSLRs a smart buy, or is it risky business? (I'd most likely purchase from KEH)
Any of the above, and more. In days of film, buying used was an excellent idea. At any given point in time, the camera of that day was not a whole lot different than the equivalent camera that was a decade old - about one generation. The key was that if it was a good camera, you could jog down to the camera store and fill it with a state of the art film. Using the same lens, a $200 camera produced exactly the same image as a $2,000 camera.
Now digital cameras ARE the film. Furthermore they are digital devices that more or less follow Gordon Moore's Law, so generations are more like one to two years now, and the differences between generations can be pretty dramatic.
It is not just a maker moving some trim about and labeling it "New and Improved". I am on my third digital camera now, with each camera costing about the same as the previous one or even a bit less. The difference was breathtaking both in usability and in picture quality.
Committing to a system is not a bad idea. Lenses will move with you when you eventually upgrade. While a camera body will be surpassed by a new body costing less in two years, a great lens is nearly a lifetime acquisition.
Cameras from any given maker, are designed by the same team, and each brand has its own style. If you find that a camera today fits your hands, allows you to see as you wish to see, and just "feels right", chances are pretty good that a film camera by the same maker from the 1990s would also feel great - and a digital in 2016 will still feel great.
A camera that feels unbalanced, with controls awkwardly placed, a viewfinder that is difficult to use and menus that don't make sense, is not likely to be improved in coming generations. While it may fight you and you will hate it every shot, I might find that it feels like it was designed specifically for me. In the right hands, across a generation, any of them will do a fine job of photography. Even if you never feel the least bit of brand loyalty, it is generally most comfortable not jumping between brands.
Were it myself, I would be hanging out at camera stores and handing the merchandise, looking for a brand where the cameras were really nice to handle, even if I was planning on buying used.
Assuming a tight budget, I would also be comparing a potential used camera with the entry level models now available. It is entirely possible that the bottom of the line body is way better at producing quality work than the pro-level body of just three or four years ago. Compare a four year old computer to the quad-core processor machines of today. Digital cameras are single function computers, dedicated to image capture and progress may be even faster than with desktop computers.
If you know the sort of photography you plan to pursue, then the choice becomes simpler. List your requirements, and find the best fit within the budget.
If you are new to photography, Probably the best would be to buy just an entry level body with a moderate range kit zoom lens. Most brands have such "kits" at a good price. Consider the price to be the cost of tuition. Learn it totally, then when it is time to move up, you will really understand your requirements and the choice will be easy. There will be little trade-in value, so keep it as a backup.
What is really unwise is to tell the sales dude - "I want to be equipped!!!" Your plastic gets mighty lighter, but the box you haul home is much too heavy. You look at all the stuff you have and realize you don't have any idea what most of it is for, or how it works.
Learning photography with a digital camera is a dream come true. On the monitor, you can immediately see the results of any change you make. Take the time to go through the manual with the camera in hand, and try every feature, even if you don't really understand at that point what use it would be. Then play - a lot. After a month or two come back and do the manual again, cover to cover. Much of what was not clear initially will be, once you have some practice.
Once you are familiar with camera operation, then move on to learning photography itself. This is the way to get the very most for your money both in results and satisfaction.
I appreciate your taking the time to make such a detailed response, but I'm afraid I left out some important information about myself: I have studied photography and been shooting with 35mm SLRs for over 30 years. My current 35mm film cameras are Olympus, which have no digital counterparts. Before Olympus, I had Canon; an F1 and an EF, which are so far removed from the world of EOS that the only link is the name Canon. So I have no predilection toward any current camera system, although I can say that I do not find any Nikons in my price range that interest me (sorry, Nikonians).
Currently, my main purpose for a digital camera is shooting photos for a regional motorcycle magazine, mostly candids of people at rallies and poker runs, etc. Because of short deadlines and the fact that my day job consumes most of my time, using my film cameras and waiting for the photos to be developed and then scanning them is just too inconvenient. I am currently getting by with a Nikon Coolpix 4300, which is adequate, but shutter lag, along with the lack of a true wide angle lens makes it very limiting. I don't shoot sports-type "action", so burst rates are immaterial to me, but I do want a camera that can take immediate follow-up shots. Few "super zoom" cameras have true wide angle and the ones that do are priced about the same as the used DSLRs I'm looking at, so why not just go DSLR?
My thoughts on used vs new are these: I can get a 6MP DSLR for 1/2 the price I'd pay for a new entry-level camera kit; The image quality will be all I'll need for the task at hand; I can learn the ins and outs of DSLRs and what I like/dislike, need/don't need as far as features and functions and if I later decide that another system has more of what I need/want, I can trade up without incurring a major loss.
My main reason to post the question "New or Used?" is to get opinions on the risk factor of buying second-hand high-tech equipment and what to look out for, and also get some user feedback on the Canon and Pentax cameras I'm considering.
Since the D60 and the *ist D series seem to have comparable features, it makes a tough decision. The Pentax is smaller and much lighter, presumedly making it easier to stash in my saddlebag, but on the other hand, I have found that heavier cameras hold much steadier in the hand. I'm sure either one will do the job for me, but some advice from those who know the cameras would be very helpful.
(One thing that I really like about the Canon is the fact that I can easily pronounce the name "Dee Sixty". I haven't the faintest idea of how to say "*ist". I'm not sure I want to own a camera I can't pronounce!)
I believe Larry Bolch is right; I have other posts on the same lines regarding differences between the digital and film worlds. With film cameras used bodies from KEH are good bets; I don't see the point with digital bodies. Lenses, yes. Filters, by the way, no (in my experience). But I digress. And while KEH is responsive and responsible nothing beats a good locally owned camera store in the long run.
I guess my main concern with going used is simply the risk factor. With a new camera I get a factory warranty and can add an extended, if desired, but with used there is usually only a 90 day return guarantee and I won't have figured out all the settings on one of these things by then. How repairable are digital SLRs anyway? I know from my old camera salesman days that the all-program film SLRs were often sent back from the repair shops as "unrepairable", or at least not cost effective to repair.
I believe both KEH and B & H may offer extended warranties on used equipment.