As you may have known, digital cameras now come in basically 3 categories. Consumer, pro-sumer and DSLR (digital single lense reflex).
Consumer cameras are aplenty out there, with nearly 10 models from reputable brands coming out into the market every few months or so. And they are generally easy on the wallet. As technology progress and get cheaper, consumer cameras are getting more in their resolution and also more features like face detection. They also decrease in size and become slicker, thus the distinction between handphones and digital cameras are getting blurrer.
Pro-sumer cameras are those which do not focus on the down-sizing and are more interested in squeezing more optical zoom and getting as close to a DSLR as possible. Cameras like the Panasonic FZ-50 and Fujifilm F9600 are very good examples of pro-sumer cameras that are almost like DSLR, except that the lense is not inter-changeble.
Other examples of pro-sumer cameras include the one i owned, Olympus SP-500UZ. You can also find others like Canon Powershot series, Nikon Coolpix. Although they do not have the totally manual zoom and focus control rings on the lense, they boost some pretty impressive zoom range and features.
I see prosumer cameras as a stepping stone to DSLR. With a prosumer camera, you can learn the basics of photography (if you are interested in the first place). Since they come with full manual functions where you can control the apperture and shutter speed, the idea and physics of image capturing can be grasped easily. Plus prosumer cameras usually come with functions for you to adjust the white balance, saturation, contrast among others, one can easily have a lot of fun trying out different settings to capture the ideal photo (provided your subject is still).
As of now, i am having a lot of fun with my SP-500. I can switch to auto and take photos without worrying about the settings, or i can play around and learn a thing or two. Taking photos has never been so fun. And i see myself upgrading to another camera in the near future, one that allows me to have more control with the focus and zoom. Maybe a DSLR, maybe not.
I considered this quite an irony, as i was exposed to photography back during my JC days (no digital photography back then, still using film) but was never interested. Close friends were telling me about how to capture the perfect images and i even attended some photography exhibition. But the fire never ignited until now, until digital came along.
Wonder what may have happened back then if i had taken more interest in photography?