Thanks to Joshua's suggestion in response to my column on searching for a digital camera I wound up buying a Fuji Finepix S6000 with the money I got from selling my old 35mm compacts and some related odds and ends.
Clawing my way up the learning curve, there've been surprises. A few of them have been genuinely pleasant ones.
The biggest surprise is how satisfied I am with the picture quality. Overall it really is as good, if not better, than what I was getting from my old 35 mm compacts. I can make 8x10s that I'm very happy with if I use the low ISO settings, and I can obtain acceptable results at the high ISO settings if I'm willing to jump through a lot of Photoshop hoops.
Pretty spiffy for a $250 digital, I think! ISO 100, with the zoom at maximum (and cropped down from there). The moon and Venus look pretty good, I dare say. Heavily massaged in Photoshop to maximize lunar detail and minimize grain and noise, but otherwise pretty much as the cameras saw it. Note that the non-round Venus is evidence of residual aberrations in the lens, not an actual partial phase.
In terms of exposure range, it's no contest; film wins. But, then, this is only a $250 camera and I've been a color negative photographer who did all his own custom printing. This is more like what I would expect from slides or standard prints. I'm getting used to it. On the other hand, my Fuji pictures are definitely less "grainy" than my 35 mm work. That holds pretty much at all ISO's; it's definitely the case at ISO 100.
Which brings me to my next point. Neat Image and Focus Magic are my friends! Anything I photograph gets run through a 25–30% noise filtering by Neat Image and a one-pixel-diameter sharpening with Focus Magic. Invariably this gives me photographs with less "grain" and more detail. Naturally I do everything in RAW; otherwise the quality at high ISOs would be unacceptable, and I'd lose a couple of stops exposure range at all speeds.
Even so, I get 75 pictures on a 1 GB xD card. Let's not forget that I'm the fellow who spent 10 days photographing in the Scottish Highlands and came back with only 118 photographs, one quarter of which were good enough to make dye transfer prints of. A handful of cards will hold a LOT of photos for the likes of me. I fiddle a lot before making a photograph.
Which brings me to my next point. Battery life. I fully believe the CIPA figures of 400 exposures for this camera...but for me an exposure might involve several reframes, a couple of checks of the histogram and adjustments of the exposure, and writing a lot of RAW data. I get barely better than one card-full of photographs on a set of rechargeable batteries; maybe 100 photos if I'm lucky. Since I can delete anything I don't like and reuse the card, I am making more photographs than I used to (though I still make precious few by most photographers' standards). I'm eating lots of batteries.
Which brings me to my next point. The battery compartment cap on the S6000 is on the bottom of the camera, is heavily spring-loaded, and has no locking catch. Bounce the camera around a bit and the cap will fly open dumping your batteries on the floor. After this happened to me twice in one day, I put a piece of adhesive tape over the cap, and that's all it took to keep it from sliding and popping open. I have trouble believing this problem never turned up in any field testing of the camera. You'd think adding a latch to the battery cover would be a no-brainer, wouldn't you? A big boo to Fuji for that one.
And while I'm on boos, let me deplore the eye-level electronic viewfinders in virtually every camera on the market, including this one. They simply suck. They don't have enough pixels to let you see anything useful in terms of composing a photograph. (Minolta once made a camera with a decent electronic viewfinder and then abandoned it in the next model for yet another sub-resolution, sub-marginal atrocity.) Come on folks, if you're not going to give us enough pixels in the viewfinder to get some idea of what we're looking at, then just do away with it entirely and save the money. As it stands, 99% of the time it is worthless. Let's do better.