If it helps any, I just bought a new camera, specifically for
shooting jewelry. I've been doing jewelry photography
since...1994, so I have some sort of a clue, (at least if you ask
I ended up with a Canon 20D. 8MP SLR. I used to work for a local
camera store doing their digital retouching, so I had 'borrowing'
rights to whatever I wanted to try.
I did a 'shoot off' between the Minolta 7D and the Canon 20D. The
Minolta's a 6MP. I've worked with Nikons before, so I didn't bother
with their mid-line SLR. (Personal bias: I've worked with them, and
I don't feel like paying the extra money just to have a Nikon
nameplate.) I ended up with the Canon based completely on image
quality. The ergonomics stink, and the control designer should be
shot, but the image quality is outstanding.
Personally, I've shot Minolta for years, and actually had the film
camera that the 7D was based on. The 7D has a small forest of
buttons and dials external to the body, which can be confusing at
first, but once you get to know them, they'll let you change camera
settings on the fly without having to mess about with menus, which
is very handy. If the Minolta had been an 8MP camera, I'd have
bought it in a heartbeat. It also has built in image stabalizers
which the Canons have to build into each lens, which makes each
stabalized lens more expensive. However, the difference in image
quality between the 6MP Minolta and the 8MP Canon was enough that I
bought it anyway. It should be noted that I picked it up with the
17-85MM IS (Stabalized) lens. The lower-end kit lens (The
non-stabalized one) is...not what you want for anything serious.
For really serious, plan on another $550 for the 60MM macro lens.
(Prices roughly similar for any D-SLR)
In a kit with the good lens, it ran me about $1600 this summer,
counting the $100 rebate they were offering at the time. It's a
little over your budget, but worth it if you want to get serious.
(Keep in mind that my budget was based on this being a tool I use to
take images that people pay me for.) By way of explanation of my
tastes: I'm a resolution snob. I've never met a pixel I didn't
like. More pixels is always better in my book, especially when
dealing with tiny details of small objects. I can always throw away
the data if I don't need it, but I can't get it back if I never had
it in the first place. I've also been known to print images 4 feet
wide, where having every last bit of data I can scrape off that
sensor really does matter. So my tastes are a little...spendy.
A little lower on the food chain, I've heard good things about the
new Canon Rebel 2, (Whatever they're calling the 8MP Rebel).
Whatever you get, make sure you've got an actual optical view of the
image, rather than some sort of digital viewfinder preview. In
other words, make sure you're seeing the light coming through the
real lens, rather than some sort of viewfinder that's offset to the
side. Digital viewfinders or screens are nearly impossible to judge
depth of field, or reflections with.
I've shot Olympus digital cameras for several years, and had very
good luck with them. I had a 3040 way back when, and then an E-20
for about 3 years, and they were both outstanding. The E-20 was
just a tank, and my mom's still got the 3040, and quite happy with
it, even now. I've heard good things about the "E-Volt". (Their
interchangeable lens camera, whatever they're calling it.) A friend
of mine really likes its ability to self clean its sensor. I looked
at it, but didn't like the ergonomics. (I've been shooting SLR
format cameras for....ever. The Olympus is built more like a
point-and-shoot. A problem for me, not necessarily for anyone
else.) Olympus sensors have always been good, and the two cameras
of theirs I owned were completely bulletproof, with excellent
I'd stay with the major camera companies if you're looking for a
serious camera. For more in-depth reviews, check out DP review.
(http://www.dpreview.com) They're the main digital camera review
For whatever that all's worth.
Best of luck