I'd been thinking about buying an dSLR, but they're just SOOOOO freaking expensive. The cheapest I could find was a Nikon D40 with two lenses (18-55mm and 55-200mm) for $650. I'd done some research on cameras and came across the Panasonic Lumix FZ18, a camera that is a cross between a compact and an SLR. The lens is permanently attached and the body is smaller than an SLR, but it's much bigger than a compact and the lens is much, much more powerful. 18x to be exact. In 35mm terms, that's a 28-500mm lens! (And apparently I can add a teleconverter to double the lens power or a wide-angle adapter to half it). It also takes filters like an SLR (although it uses 46mm filters, which are hard to find), and the lens is made by Leica and is extremely high quality. The camera also has a fully manual mode where I can adjust the aperture, shutter speed and focus myself. Best of all, it's less than half the cost of the cheapest dSLRs.
I'm so pleased with this camera so far, I'm thinking of replacing the Pentax I normally carry around in my pocket with a Panasonic Lumix compact camera. My roommate has one; it's only about 1/4 inch thicker than the Pentax but it has 10x optical zoom.
Almost exactly one year ago, I posted a picture I took of the moon with my then new Pentax A30 compact camera.
Here's a pic I took today with the new camera.
Click on the pictures to see them full-size.
And I just bought the camera today. Imagine how much better I'll be able to do once I actually read the instructions.