Last year in August I bought myself a Canon PowerShot S400 (also known as the IXUS). It's an UltraCompact camera, 4MPx and 3x optical zoom, smaller and lighter than a disposable camera.
I purchased it because I love taking pictures outdoors, and I was getting tired of buying disposable after disposable, and paying development charges that were adding up. I also didn't want the 'bulk' of a larger camera.
The camera is mostly automatic, and the range of 'manual' functions is limited. It does a fairly good macro, and takes fairly good landscape shots.
At first, the manual controls were a bit intimidating, but the learning curve was swift. There was also an image processing learning curve - Canon has a nice little program to do some basic digital photo enhancements (brightness, contrast, cropping), but I also own a license for Photoshop 6.0. Enhancing pictures with Photoshop is an ongoing learning curve. You can do so much (for example: grey sky? switch in a blue one! ...that kind of thing)
So, fast forward about four months, and I wanted more from my camera. I wish I could control aperture, and shutter speed. I wish I had a larger sensor. I have a list of things that I would like in my next camera.
I love the little camera. It is very portable. I bring it with me almost everywhere. I've taken some great shots with it. I've experimented and played with it - made some nice stop-motion films with it.
Since buying the camera, I've read many books about photography, and bought some magazines about digital photography. I'm carefully selecting my next camera, which will be a dSLR. In the meantime, I'm shooting more pictures with the S400. So far, I've kept over 13,000 pictures that I've taken with it.
What I learned in the last year:
1. there are two learning curves. One for the camera, the other for digital processing. Canon has great software, but ACDSee and Photoshop have good tools too (but I had to learn them).
2. At first I wanted a camera that is as simple as possible. But in choosing an ultra compact, I limited the range of pictures that I can take. Now I wish I had picked a camera that has a larger sensor and fully manual controls (shutter, aperture and full manual).
3. I've often read the following advice: "the best camera for me is the one that I will keep using". And, "learn all the features of the camera by heart, so that taking the picture is almost instinctive (rather than futzing with the controls)". "Read and re-read the owner's manual often".
I didn't expect to be looking for another camera so soon, but I am. I will keep the little camera for some projects, but I look forward to getting back on another learning curve with a camera with more controls, and a larger sensor.
I hope to hear others' experiences with their first (or current) digital camera. What you like, what you wish you had, what you really wanted but found out you didn't need.
cheers - C Wall