Nikon vs Canon? Buying a Camera?

Hi, I'm a beginner photographer, but this is pretty much what I want to do with my life. Photography and dog rehabilitation. Obviously, neither would actually get me a lot of money, but I'm hoping that, with photography, I could try to work for NatGeo. Anyway, as of now, I have no way to get a job (I... show more Hi, I'm a beginner photographer, but this is pretty much what I want to do with my life. Photography and dog rehabilitation. Obviously, neither would actually get me a lot of money, but I'm hoping that, with photography, I could try to work for NatGeo.

Anyway, as of now, I have no way to get a job (I don't have a way to get to a place until Fall, when I get my driver's license and a car) so my grandparents have agreed to buy me a camera. The problem is, they aren't exactly loaded. So, my dad is also going to pitch in.

Yes, this makes me feel extremely useless. But, with whatever money I'll make, most of it will be going to my grandparents. I do plan to help them with everything I possibly can.

Anyway, I would really like a Nikon, but I've heard that Canon also makes good photography cameras.

Basically, I need something that's under $500. Preferably under $400, but I understand if that's a little low. I want something that's fairly easy to use, but something that will also give me control. Basically, not exactly a regular point-and-shoot, but not something so advanced that I have to spend three hours on the manual. That's another thing. I would definitely like the manual to be easy-to-understand. I am rather intelligent, but I'm also rather lazy. The only thing that I really enjoy putting forth any effort for is photography and dog training.

My current camera is a Panasonic (don't know the exact type) and it pretty much just... sucks. I don't want to sound ungrateful, but there's very little that I enjoy about this camera. I've managed to figure it out, but I can't seem to get the images to stop looking so... bad. I take better pictures with the camera on my cell phone than with this thing.

My friend has a Nikon D3000 that she absolutely loves. And her pictures come out beautifully.

This is her photostream on Flickr:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/h-productio...

And this is mine:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/59871857@N0...
Not all of the ones that say 'taken with Panasonic' were actually taken with my Panasonic camera. They were from an older camera that belonged to the family, and my brother broke it, sadly.

Anyway, thank you so much for helping me.

OH! I forgot to ask my actual question. I was basically wanting to know which of the two are actually better for what I'm looking for? And if you could please give me the prices? And examples of the images that have been taken with the camera, please.

xo VIE xo
Update: @Ava Brown;; I just checked it out, and it's the exact same price as the Nikon I was looking at. Not only that, but I was looking at a Nikon D3000 with just the camera itself, and it was $300. The cheapest Pentax K-X/K-R I could find was over $500. Even if it's 'worth it', that is just way too much money. Whenever... show more @Ava Brown;; I just checked it out, and it's the exact same price as the Nikon I was looking at. Not only that, but I was looking at a Nikon D3000 with just the camera itself, and it was $300. The cheapest Pentax K-X/K-R I could find was over $500. Even if it's 'worth it', that is just way too much money. Whenever we have the money, I'll look into it more. But unfortunately, we just do not have that kind of money.
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