I have read your posts with great interest. I have been digitising and reproducing images professionally since 1994. It streatched even the abilities of my Mac then - and my wallet! I remember needing an extra 16Mb of RAM to run Photoshop 4 a bit faster - it cost me nearly $600!
However, I've been fortunate over the years to have cameras bought for me by my employer, The British Ministry of Defence. Including a Kodak DCS 520 back in 1999 which had a 2 Megapixel CCD and cost $28,000!
I won't hesitate to tell you I have a preference for Canon. The first EOS film cameras were a revelation in the early 90s and the introduction of digital in conjunction with Kodak(as mentioned above)enhanced their reputation. More on that later...
The old rule that a camera is only as good as it's lens applies. But then you also have to consider that it will only be as good as it's chip. There's an economic and industrial reality here. Most of the chips, like most of the LCD screens and the lenses, are made in 3 or 4 factories in the far east. You could say that these days with the cheap availability of the raw components there should no such thing as a bad digital camera. Yet, we know that can't be true.
Like we say in the ebay scams thread, "if it looks too good to be true".
Anything with a name you recognise should be ok
Having said that, an aquaintance of mine visited New York about 10 years ago and came back proudly with what he thought was an SLR but was in fact a thinly disguised Instamatic with a plastic lens. It was a Suny and he paid $250!
Men will tell you that a big one is always better than a small one! You should get the metric system over there! The average works out at 150!!
I remember the days of the Bunker-Hunts when Kodak tried to make film smaller and smaller to save on the cost of silver. Digital put a stop to that and halved the price of silver jewellery. In pixel to print terms anything bigger than 5 megapixel will be as good as your 35mm film camera was.
I agree that a 1 megapixel chip will supply a pic just the right size to fit on a computer screen. However, at that scale you are losing detail because, invariably, the resolving power of a decent glass lens will be higher than the chip. For really crisp on-screen images use a 3+ Megapixel camera and rescale the image to fit. I generally resize to 900 x 600pixels. At 100% it will damn near fill the screen.
Back to my preference for Canon. At the same time I was procuring the aforementioned DCS 520, Canon released the D30. I tried to interest my boss in a $4000 pro-sumer camera but he was a little too buttoned-down and wouldn't take a chance on a camera equipped with what he said was a chip, "only good enough for counting potatoes!" - the C-MOS. A colleague of mine bought the D30 and we compared it with my DCS520. The difference was startling! The C-MOS chip was and is an outstanding piece of technology!
Densely packed transistors and a low energy draw reduces noise and greatly enhances the ability of the chip to resolve detail and gradation. So much so that the latest 8+Megapixel chips can out-resolve medium format film!
Now the bad news! I don't have one!
The British Army did a deal with Nikon eons ago and that is all I can get. Even Nikon have bowed to the superior C-MOS technology and my One Page Business Case for the D2Xs (which for some strange bureaucratic reason takes One year to read) is in and I will get one ...sometime? ...maybe? ...never? ...perhaps eventually!
A sackful of lenses
Sony Cybershot - great Zeiss lens
Canon Powershot G1 - great camera! Ancient in digital terms, but has bounced and survived!
Canon IXUS 400 - great camera - found in the back of a New York taxi cab and resisted all attempts to be returned to it's rightful owner! It's my wife's but I use it on my days off! A no-brainer!
This is my next camera but I will have to give you a link to the UK version. I can't find a US equivalent. I think over there they're called Elphs.
Canon UK - Digital IXUS 800 IS
A truly fantastic compact! OK, it doesn't have a C-MOS - you need to go to the Canon digital SLRs to get that - but the spec is just amazing!
A proper wide-angle lens, a noiseless 800ASA and Image Stabalisation! Over here it's less than $500. I wouldn't hesitate to use it professionally.
Back to the size thingy: When I first got involved in photography I joined a camera club. I spent my first and last week sitting amongst affluent middle managers talking incessantly about the latest bit of expensive "kit" they had acquired. It taught me a lesson: Never buy a piece of camera equipment just for the sake of it. You may get bragging rights but where's the bloody results?! I've taken great pics with a pin-holed biscuit tin and a piece of 5" x 4" film!
I hope you like them...