Many thanks for the info, good to know that their service centre works well here in case something needs attention.
To be honest this one's for my lady and I'm still not convinced I'll get the HS 310. I also needed to pick out a camera for myself, but after taking a close look at the Sony HX9V and Panasonic Lumix TZ20 I'm actually keen on the Casio (whoudathunkit?
) ZR100 that just came out recently. I've seen it in action and it's one great camera they've managed to produce.
As for my wife, do you think something from the Lumix series might be worth a look? She's used one in the past (a Lumix compact) so something like the FX700 seems appropriate. Unless I should go for the new FX78?
I am not exactly up to date with the cameras but lets try.
1) 310HS, FX700 are the cameras for an amateur who wants more control with good image quality (full or extended manual control with a moderate zoom)
2) HX9V is almost fully automatic with extended zoom
3) FX78 is a basic idioten kamera
4) TZ20 and ZR100 are less popular species and belong to the 4th category (extended zoom, manual). Normally more ambitious amateurs care about image quality and big zooms and quality do not come together.
First you have to decide if you want to have the manual control with better quality in expense of the zoom. If yes then cat. 1. Compare the 2 models and compare them with cat 4. If you see no difference buy TZ20. It has A LOT on board but people complain about image quality. If you see a difference then the Canon appears more interesting (very fast lens and more).
I own TZ7 and also bough one Panasonic of the cat 3. for my parents. Both have image quality that I do not like too much but it is more than acceptable - it contains some sharpening artifacts, so if you are fine with it you should be ok.
Frankly, once you decide about the manual control and quality chose the functions most important/appealing to you, google out the raw (unprocessed) images for the models and buy what you like most. I would not buy Sony because many sony appliances (not only cameras) I own got broken and their service in SG sucks including that everything beyond the guaranty period costs small fortune. Whether this is Canon or Casio or Panasonic it really does not matter.
You surely know DPreview site - you can compare the spec of all these cameras and see the sample raw photos.