Kimos camera sugestions are where I would go for a camera if you want to dive in. Its really hard to get a kit for less then $1000, but it can be done. Under $400 is exreamly difficult at best unless you are cool doing the green thing and buying used. You can usually find stuff on Craigslist from people who got excited about the idea of owning a DSR and then realized that it was not what they thought it would be.
For the tripod thing, I guess I disagree with not having one at all because no matter how good a VR lens is, it will never compensate for truly lowlight situations (ie long exposure shots where your shutter is open for 1+ seconds a significant amount of time). Some of the coolest shots I have ever gotten were long exposures that would have been impossible to get without either a tripod or finding a stable surface to set my camera on to keep it stable during long exposre shots (like a friendly rock or my pack). Aside from that, if you ever want to do HDR, tripods are really a must.
Camera equipment and technique for taking photos.
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