Originally I was looking at the Canon Powershot G2. But then I realized that the PowerShot S45 was basically the same camera in a smaller case. The biggest problem with my old Pentax K-1000 SLR was that it was so bulky I never seemed to have it with me when it really mattered. A few years ago I got a smaller autofocus Fuji camera to carry around, but I was never very happy with the quality of the snapshots it produced.
The S45 seemed like a good way to get a lot of flexibility in a 4MP camera, without having to lug around the larger body. (The biggest thing I gave up was the ability to easily attach interchangeable lenses or an external flash, but I think I can live with that.)
I'm having a bit of trouble getting used to all the digital gizmos. I never really realized how the controls on the K-1000 had become second nature until I tried to use the electronic settings for ASA, aperture, and shutter speed on the S45. What used to be an almost subconcious process of turning knobs now seems like programming a VCR. So mostly I've been using it in auto mode, but I'm really trying to learn how to push the envelope on it a bit before I go to Italy. (In the arena picture below, I had to fight with it, because the auto exposure wanted to pick up on the bright sky and underexpose everything else.
The camera does have some nifty extras built in. For example, it has a stitch assist mode that helps create a seamless panorama from multiple photos. (So far I've created a stunning panorama of my living room, but I'm hoping to try it on something more dramatic soon.) The camrea also allows you to do short movies and add audio annotations to photos, although I haven't tried these things yet.
I just got my first set of prints back from OFoto, and was pretty impressed with the quality. I was a bit skeptical as to whether I would really be comfortable using this as my primary camera for stuff I really care about, but I think my doubts are evaporating.
I bought it from some hole-in-the-wall on the Internet -- partly because their price was good and partly because I was able to avoid the outrageious 9.5% sales tax we have to pay here in Nashville. (I feel slightly guilty, but if this state would actually pass a decent tax plan, this sort of thing wouldn't be an issue!) I didn't really have any problem with the company except that they refused to ship anywhere except my billing address -- and I'm typically not home during the day to sign for things. It actually worked out, though, because they delivered it early in the morning before I left for work.
I just bought an extra battery and a 512 MB card (to augment the 32 MB it came with.) Hopefully that will be enough to get me through a day of trigger happy photography in Italy. I think I'm going to try to post photos online during the trip, depending on how often I can get decent internet access.
Which reminds me, does anyone have a European-style GSM cell phone that they want to sell for cheap? I'd like to get one, but it seems like a total waste to buy a new one for the short time I'll be there, and the rental rates aren't much better. I'm thinking a used one would be a good way to go. (Apparently an American GSM phone won't work, though, since they are on different frequencies.)