Find the right DSLR body and lens to jumpstart your visual story
If you've read our pros + cons list for each camera type and decided a DSLR is right for you, then let's jump in and check out your best options. We'll outline below a recommended camera body and lens for each price point. As a reminder, DSLRs offer you many brand options, many price points, and room to upgrade or add to your gear.
Before I lay out options, let's talk about budget versus high end gear. Budget gear does not automatically equal lower image quality. Most often, gear is priced lower because it has fewer physical features (exposed dials and knobs), slightly lower capabilities (maximum ISO or shutter speed), and a less hardy build quality (plastic parts vs. metal parts). A fully booked wedding photographer needs extra dials, extra capabilities, and extremely durable parts throughout the camera in order to accommodate every shooting scenario he/she will face. If you're shooting product photography for your Etsy shop, though, you don't need the spend the extra cash.
One final note: I make every attempt to avoid too much technical jargon, but if you have technical questions, ask away in the comments below!
The Budget Option
Budget DSLRs are a fantastic option for most photographers—particularly if you're just beginning to explore photography for your business. Entry-level or budget DSLRs will have APS-C sensors or crop sensors. You can google "sensor size" to get visuals, but the basic point is that these cameras have a bit lower light capabilities than full frame DSLRs. This makes a difference if you're doing outdoor night photography or are photographing inside dimly lit homes or venues. Otherwise, you won't notice a huge impact.
Nikon and Canon are the powerhouse companies in the DSLR space. We recommend selecting a camera within one of those two lines. Once you commit to a brand, lenses and bodies are mostly interchangeable within that brand. You can upgrade to a higher end body, for example, and still use your existing lenses. Here's how you choose between Canon and Nikon: which one feels right in your hands? I highly recommend testing out both.
Our personal budget DSLR preference is the Nikon D3400. This camera has a max ISO of 25,600 (which is really high), it weighs under a pound a less than its predecessor, and you get the benefits of Nikon's speed. We've always loved the way Nikon images look. Another great budget option is the Canon Rebel T6i, with capabilities very similar to the Nikon.
Both the Nikon D3400 and the Canon Rebel T6i include the kit lens. This is a basic lens that will cover a midrange of focal lengths. They're okay lenses, but they're not great. If you buy a camera second hand, I recommend buying the body only (without any kit lens) and then looking for one the "Nifty 50" in your brand. The Nifty 50 is so name because it is an excellent focal length for a variety of photograph from landscape to portraits. You can also purchase them at a reasonable price and they are much faster and let in more light the the kit lens.
The Mid-Range Option
After your budget cameras, the prices of DSLRs jump fast. There are plenty of cameras with slightly more features than your budget camera in the $700-1000 price range. We recommend skipping these. If your entry-level DSLR isn't doing the job, it's time to think about a full frame camera to get the extra light capabilities.
We owned and loved the Nikon D610 and recommend it whole-heartedly. This camera isn't too big (for a DSLR) and it just feels right in your hands. It has easy-to-access and customize dials and buttons, but it's not an overwhelming amount. And the images are buttery. If you don't know what that means, you will. Google "Nikon D610 images" and see for yourself.
As far as mid-range lenses go, we recommend the Nikon 28mm f/1.8. This will give you a much wider field of view than your Nifty 50 and it will allow you to shoot in tighter spaces.
The Luxury Option
If you're ready to go all-in and purchase a high end DSLR, look no further than the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. The 5D Mark line is the line pros lust after and live with day in and day out. It's a beautiful beast. (Note: the Mark IV predecessors like the Mark II and Mark III are also very very good.) An entire generation of high end professional photographers carry this camera in their work bags and wouldn't trust anything else. It's truly something spectacular.
An out of this world body needs an out of this world lens and we recommend the Canon 85mm f/1.2 to knock the world's socks off. This will give you bokehlicious portraits all day long. Seriously, you'll want to swim in these portraits.