I have been looking to pick up a digital cam for about a year now. Prior to the, the consumer level cams were just crap, and the decent cams were a little out of this amateur photographers price range. I was looking for a sub $500 camera with optical zoom and compact flash. The zoom was a must but the CF was just a preference as I already had a couple 256 UltraCF cards kicking about. After consulting my wife, who is a photographer herself, she informed me that digital sucks and that I should buy a good SLR. Bah.
I took a trip to a friends camera shop and was confronted by far too many choices. I have dealt with both HP and Kodak digicams before so I started with them. The HP 812 and 720 just *felt* wrong and were plain ugly. The Kodak 4330 was pretty nice, but I really don't like the D-pad on the 4200 at work. The Olympus I looked at used Smartmedia cards.. Who uses that stuff anymore? Some of them also use the new xD cards, you know, the cards that are designed to be so small that you will invariably loose them after a weeks use. I wasn't kean on the Sony's MemoryStick either.
That left the Canon A60 and A70. Both very small, virtually disappearing in my gigantor hands, and both reassuringly heavy. In comparison to the plastic competition, the Canon has a metal body. Bonus! The hand grip is an excellent feature as well.
Ergonomically, I haven't used a better camera. While the HP 320 I have at work may be easier to use from the start, the Canon is logical. The A70 (which I ultimatly picked) has many more features than either camera at work and Canon has gone a long way in grouping the options well and not displaying so much information as to confuse the user.
With it's 3x optical and somethingx digital (ack, who uses digital zoom?) it totals up to 10x zoom. The zoom is controlled via a toggle on the top of the hand grip on the right side surrounding the shutter button. It's a single speed shutter and is pretty noisy. The auto focus quickly compensates for the zoom.
This camera also has the option to be fully manual. While my wife was quick to point out that fully manual meant twisting rings around the lense, not pushing buttons on a menu, it is much more than what I am accustomed to on a digicam. While not as flexible as a true analouge cam, it does give the user many variations from ISO film speed (50, 100, 200, 400), flash intensity, white balance, shutter speed (15 seconds to 1/2000th of a second) and F-stop. Wow. There is also 11 preset shooting modes, including movie and auto-stitch.
All in all, this is a great purchase. At roughly US$350 it can't be matched in my opinion. It is highly usable and full of features. 3.2 Mega pixel is plenty enough for me currently, at least until I can convince my wife to let me pickup a thermal wax (or any other exotic sounding) printer, 2048x1536 is fine. It doesn't write raw images, but it does have three levels of jpeg compression. The only problem I have with it is it's relativly slow shutter response after clicking the button. I will have to learn to anticipate this. It's significantly longer than either the Kodak 4200 or HP 320 that I have at work, but I am sure I will adapt. The option of adding extra lenses is a huge bonus, as is the under water case.