I ended up with the Canon Powershot G9. This is the top-end Canon compact camera; effectively one of their SLRs rolled into a compact (it has their top-spec DIGIC III processor). I went with Canon, as they are a name I trust for reliability, quality of optics, and usability of the interface. I haven't been disappointed.
It's a 12.1 megapixel beast (in RAW mode, it burns through SD cards like you wouldn't believe). The large 3 inch LCD screen is really high quality. It has RAW imagine capture. The 6x optical zoom (effective focal 35-210mm) is very good, although my previous (physically larger) camera had 10x optical. Goodness knows how many times digital zoom it offers; I never go near that. The optical image stabilisation appears sound. The camera sports all manner of cunning shooting modes but, most importantly, offers full manual operation, which is what I really want at my disposal.
I've used the G9 for a few months now, and have been very impressed by it. It was a great purchase. It has taken a number of awesome shots, and has proven to be quick. intuitive and easy to use. I took it to Uganda with me and it coped with the handling, dust, and general conditions fine.
The G9 feels good in the hand, it's not too large and the weight is not too great (at 320g is heavier than some compacts). I rather like the pleasing retro styling, but it won't be to everyone's taste.
The problems I've so far encountered:
- Frustratingly, the ink quickly rubbed off the central FUNC button, but that's a minor (if embarrassing) inconvenience.
- The front optics wobble slightly. I presume it's OK, as the camera functions fine. It's got no worse, but doesn't feel very good.
- The Canon PC/Mac software is dire. I run the camera with iPhoto on my mac, which is great. But the Canon-supplied utilities look embarrassingly naff, with a very dated UI. The photo-stitch application really isn't all that clever at all. It makes no attempt to colour-match the photo seams and makes stitches really rather obvious.
Overall: I'd highly recommended the camera if you want a high-quality, high-feature compact.