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If you fancy getting serious about photography, but either can't afford an SLR, or just don't want the hassle of having to carry one around, then you really can't go far wrong with Canon's Powershot G6.
While it has been replaced by the new G9, this camera is still a serious bit of kit. You get a reasonable 4x optical zoom, 7.1 megapixels, and a good range of aperture, from as low as f/2.0, so it's nice and fast, even in darker conditions.
The screen isn't the biggest, it's about 2", but the great thing with this one is that you can flip the screen out, swivel it round and close it even backwards if need be. This means you can take photos from the ground, or take photos of yourself or things behind you. If this sounds like a good feature now, you'd be amazed at just how many uses you can find for it. Of course it does have a viewfinder as well, though it's not that great as it cuts off a little bit of the picture. Battery life is good considering the screen, and one charge can last about 6-8 hours depending on how much playing you do.
The camera has 9 focus points, and has an auto focus option where it constantly focuses as you move the camera around, making that quick snap really easy.
I've taken pictures with this one that are as near as makes no difference to SLR quality. You get rich colours and deep contrast, and you can even take pictures in RAW format for editing later in Photoshop.
The only problem I've ever had with it is once it stopped taking photos completely, but it turned out that this was down to the use of a bargain basement SD card that it disagreed with! I got a Sandisk card and it's worked fine ever since.
This cost me £350 when I got it 2 years ago, but now that the G9 is out, there are plenty of bargains to be had on eBay and the like. In fact you can get them for under £150 now, which frankly is incredible for what you get.
You can get plenty of accessories for it, it comes with a remote control and you can fit an adaptor to take 58mm filters, also you can get a telephoto lens adaptor and even a fisheye adaptor. Also the more obvious items such as a car charger and spare batteries are both reasonably priced and readily available.