You can’t disregard today’s point and shoots.
They can rival a dSLR on quality. Here are some of my favorites…
Fujifilm X10: $389
This is what I use. I love it. It has an amazing aperture for wonder bokeh or shooting in low light. Mine’s wrapped in leather for an ol’ school look and feel. You can still buy it new or buy mine for $300 (including the leather case and strap).
Fujifilm X20: $524
This is the new version of my current PnS. Fuji upgraded the movie resolution among other things. It’s a sweet camera.
Nikon P7800: $546
This is the camera I’ll buy when I sell my current one. Why? Because this one works with my Nikon Speedlights. Other than that, the differences aren’t much.
Now for the dSLR…
These allow for more growth. I always tell people that the lens is FAR more important than the camera. With that in mind, I recommend the D3200.
Nikon D3200 Kit: $496
This one comes with the stock 18-55 lens. It’s actually a great lens- it’s just really light and fragile.
Nikon D3200: $384
This is the same camera without a lens, so you’d need to get at least one for now…
Nikon 35mm f/1.8G: $196
This is my personal favorite for this camera. I’ve had students refer to it as, “magical.” It has no zoom- but every picture will be amazing. It can shoot fast, in low light, and is a great lens to learn composition. By far- my top choice if you have just one lens.
So technically, if you pair this with the camera above, you’ll be over $600, but I had to mention it… As far as less-expensive zoom lenses go, this is my choice. It has a nice spread and decent aperture.
If you insist on having a do-it-all lens, this is my recommendation. It’s heavy and not as fast as the other lenses, but you won’t have to switch it out with another lens when little Johnny is running towards you from the other side of the soccer field.
Really though, if you want that kind of zoom range and no changing of lenses- I’d refer back to the PnS’s… They’d be a better all-around choice in one package.