Hi, some grandfather story (pls don :flame: me!) Just happen to be free now, so maybe contribute a bit.
I'm like a newbie like u. Playing around with many brand and models for the past 3 years or so. Looking at the products you mention, I guess maybe your budget is ~700-1.3k.
The reason the kinda prevented me from entering the dSLR arena was:
2) Pretty complicated technical things need to grasp to really know how to use it well;
3) Not quite sure if I need (not want) such higher end equipment;
4) Still not quite sure if I really like photography;
5) No video recording (very handy in times) in dSLR;
6) Maintenence issues.
If all of the above does not concern u then maybe u just pay a bit more go into dSLRs, as there are many good entry level ones like D40, D50, 400D, etc. Sorry I too luo-so but I think u had to consider this stuff. I can be wrong, just my opinion. If u wanna buy dSLR, then u gotta think of system instead of body liao, which is something else nt the scope of this thread already. But I have to agree that it's pretty hard to get a good len range coverage for a dSLR for less than $1k.
Answering ur question:
Just compare and contrast the product u stated.
Canon PowerShot S3 IS
IMHO, very good camera. Used it for 1 mth+ b4 i sold it to a friend.
Pros: Got IS, uses AA batt, pretty good AF, small, big zoom.
Cons: Need to pay a high price to get the adapter if u wanna play with filters and wide tele adapters, len not wide enough, no hotshoe, EVF not very gd (but nt very impt also lah), electronic control of zoom and focus.
Fujifilm FinePix S9500
IMHO, also very good camera, cost more than S3. Used 4 half a yr, still pretty happy with it. I think it's discontinued due to S9600.
Pros: uses AA batt, good form factor, direct 58mm mounts, hotshoe, good EVF, good control, wide len angle (28mm in 35mm equi), very nice colours of pics (the key reason why it's still in my dry box), AF assist light looks cool :bsmilie: .
Cons: Noisy (sound) during focusing, image nt quite usuable above ISO400 (IMHO), rubbish RAW support, no IS.
U can try out the Fujifilm Finepix S6500fd. It's much cheaper than S9600. Just that it has no hotshoe, and I heard that the noise control is pretty good.
Samsung Digimax Pro 815
Tried it b4. I think this is the most ex in the range u said. So just tell u what I observed.
Pros: I can't ask for more for it's len range, good batt life (according to reviews), good handling.
Cons: Funny location of EVF, pretty serious shutter lag, no IS.
Some other models I can think of now:
Pany FZ30 and FZ50 -- Crazy noise issue, just looking at the sample pics turns me off. But I must agree that at low ISO, its produces very nice images. Good control also. I don really care about the Leica len issue. Not wide, but pretty tele. Got IS.
Sony R1 -- Tot of buying one b4. But discontinued already. Cannot find new ones. Very expensive for both body and accesseries (It's a Sony). Performance wise I heard it's best among all mentioned proconsumers. Very wide len (24mm). CMOS "big" sensors. But no video recording. If anyone happen to know where to get one pls let me know .
Konica Minolta Z series -- I owned a Z3 b4 but was sold to someone in clubsnap. Very cheap and good for beginner. Uses AA batt. Big zooms. But hard to find first hand liao. Notice I didn't ask for too much for this model, due to it's low price.
Megapixels should be the last thing u should worry about. To me, noise is the key problem in prosumers. It drives me crazy sometimes. Shutter lag will be another very key issue.
If u don intend to go further and play with filters or ext flash gbounce: ) and don mind the handling issues, Canon S3 is a good bet. If u have plans to play further, go get the S9600. Go to any good shops ard and try out to your heart content b4 you buy. Then goto Cathay (gd tripods) or carrefour (cheap tripods) to get a tripod and play ard with it; try getting those with base plates; ball or pan head has their own advantages. Try to play with all the features in the camera manually when u r good liao. Until then u decide for yourself if u wanna carry on upgrading or what (I assume u a newbie to photography), and what is impt to you. Don buy a monster camera for looking nice only, it's the person behind the camera that makes great images. Be a photographer, not cameraman/woman.
Ok story over. Gtg liao. Time for shooting. Seeya ard.:bsmilie:
If you like landscape, a cam with wider lens would suit you. Fuji 6500, Olympus 550 (both 28mm) or Sony H7 / H9 (31mm) would suit you.
However, if you are seriously considering of shooting events, then a DSLR will be more suitable for the job. Since you have the budget, you can consider Nikon D40 (900+) and a 18-70mm lens (used one ~$300, new one ~$450). Kill 2 birds with one stone