i'm definitely no expert and don't have much experience...
when shopping for a camera, i really liked the Canons.
most small digital cameras have 3x optical zoom. i was considering the Canon A75 (3.2 Megapix) or the A80 (4 megapix) now already a newer model is out A85 (improved A80. like the A75 is an improved A70).
but i wanted something more than 3x optical zoom.
i bought the Canon S1 IS.
i think it's within the price range you mentioned in the US
got some good reviews and user opinions in forums too.
but only if you really want that 10x optical zoom.
if that matters to you at all, the S1 IS has very good video capability, it's video quality is much better than that of most digicams and rivals or equals that of videocams (some of them anyways). but for that you'll need to buy a really big compact flash card (1Gb = 9 min @ highest quality video).
its only downside as far as i'm concerned is that it's 3.2 megapix, not 4 or 5...maybe there'll be a S2 IS?
the pics of dodec jr. were taken with this camera.
all Canon digital cameras (AFAIK, this is definitely true of the PowerShot series of cameras) uses Compact Flash cards. the PowerShots use 4xAA batteries, rather than a custom battery, which i consider a plus.
if you want i can help you a little more reguarding info on these Canon models (you can benefit from my research