It's Christmas and many people are looking forward to moving from their point n shoot to a more complicated camera; the DSLR.
The first thing to consider is cost. A new DLSR kit may come in a box on sale for $500+, but there will be add on's. Expect to pay closer to $1000 for your new camera.
First there is the extra battery ($50), Class 10 SD card ($30 to $100), a book on how to use your particular camera...you will want this. Google your cameras name plus book to find one. The owners manual are not real helpful to novice camera owners.
Next, you will find out the kit lens does not fit all your needs and you will need to buy another lens to fill in the MM that your kit lens does not have ($300-800). If this is a problem, stop here. There is no such thing as a good DSLR kit under $1000. You will also need a camera bag ($60 to 400)
Another secret about DSLR's; the entry level cameras all boast automatic modes like you find on your point n shoot. For some reason, most of these auto features do not give near the quality picture of your point n shoot. This is very disappointing. You will have to shoot in P mode to get a decent automatic shot. Aperature Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual are the settings you will need to learn how to use.
Now, finding that wonderful camera. You can get advice from the camera guy at work to buy a Nikon 5100. This is a great camera. So is the Canon T3i.
But, is it the right camera for you.
Consider ergonomics. Full size DSLR's weigh about 4 or more pounds. Add another 1/2 to 6 pounds for a lens. Heavy.
You may consider APS-C cameras. They are smaller DSLR's with all the same features just a slightly smaller sensor. The Canon Rebel T3i is an APS-C. Sony, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax all make this type of camera.
A very important thing in picking out a camera is finding one that has all the controls placed where you are comfortable working with them. Each camera puts stuff in slightly different places.
Learn about Focus Modes, ISO, E/V (exposure compensation, a very well used feature), metering, white balance. These are buttons/settings you will use often. Especially the ISO and EV. Another feature that is wonderful is Manual Focus. Does the camera have a way for you to switch quickly to Manual Focus. (Manual Focus is useful if there is a lot of clutter in front of or around your subject like branches, bars, screen. When this confuses the auto focus you can step in with manual to focus on what you want to shoot.)
How do you learn this stuff? First, Google "Best Cameras 2012" or Best Cameras from previous years, these may be on sale to make way for the latest model. Read about their features, their specs etc. Then, go to a bunch of Best Buys and other places that sell cameras and check out all these features. You may find one camera becomes your favorite. Also, many stores do not carry Sony or Pentax. You can look at these on line after you learn a lot about camera features.
The try before you buy contract. Some camera stores and many online camera stores will let you try a camera or lense for thirty days. If you don't like it you can return it. BUT, READ THE CONTRACT CAREFULLY. Some places will specify you can only take 200 shots with the camera. At 201, you have just bought the camera. Playing with burst mode can have you owning that camera in less than five minutes.
Also, some places stipulate it has to be returned with all it's packaging and wrappers in "New Condition". When you open the box, take pictures each step of the way on how it is wrapped so you can re-pack it EXACTLY the way it came out of the box if you want to send it back. Some places will ding you on this and send you back the camera saying you bought it. Do not accept a verbal, "we don't mind how you wrap it".
Hope this advice is helpful. One more thing, if you want a small camera, check out the Micro Four Thirds Cameras. These can fit in a large purse if you don't have a long lense attached. Some of these also have "digital zoom". This can take the place of a long lense. Of course many DSLR people hiss at digital zoom, but it's still a great feature in my humble opinion.