Currently, through my 4 years history with photography, I’ve only ever owned 50mm prime lenses and nothing else. They’re cheap ($100), have good glass, and are simple. Sure, they may not have a very strong construction (plastic body) or any zoom… but they produce the results and I think that’s most important. I’m giving this example because I think it speaks on my philosophy with camera bodies as well.
The 550D I decided on is in the Rebel entry-level family of Canon DSLRs. Why didn’t I buy a more expensive camera like a 7D? Because the extra money in that camera are for features I don’t need. I consider myself as a hobbyist photographer, and I definitely don’t need things like weather-sealing or 18,000+ ISO capabilities. Most importantly of all, DSLRs nowadays are all capable of producing the same or similar level of photos. A Nikon D40 (which can be found for ~$300 used) can take pictures that are as good as the much more expensive D90’s. It really all comes down to how a picture is set up and the skillfulness of the person responsible behind the camera. It is not entirely dependent on who has the biggest lens. If you are a professional photographer and shoot sports or wildlife, then that’s one instance where the features of more expensive cameras are qualified. Things like lenses and flashes are more important than the body in my opinion.
Photography still isn’t a cheap thing to get into, but it doesn’t need to be outrageously expensive either.
You could also argue, why not just get good a point and shoot like a Canon S90 or Panasonic LX3? While they are capable of taking superb images, I still feel that the overall potential of DSLRs outweigh the portability of point and shoots. DOF is something that is amiss with pocket cameras, for example, I haven’t seen one that can stop down and produce nice bokeh equivalent to that of a SLR.
Plus, if I’m travelling… my mentality (and my lazy self) is I would rather just use a cellphone to document pictures if the pictures aren’t meant to be serious. While a point and shoot is small, it’s still another item on the list that you have to bring and carry. If I want to take more thought out pictures, then of course it will be worth it to lug a DSLR.