I have a Nikon Coolpix 800 which came out a couple years ago.
The problem with the shutter lag is due to the autofocus feature of these cameras. If you depress the button part way , it will lock in the focus. You can then press the shutter button fully to shoot the frame. For action shots, depress the shutter button part way and hold just before the subject comes into veiw, then press it fully to take the shot with zero lag time.
Manual focus will also help. If your camera has manual focus capability, you can set it to focus at a certain distance or infinity and the lag time will be greatly reduced.http://www.dpreview.com/http://www.steves-digicams.com/
The above sites are superb for comparing cameras. Words to the wise...
Concern yourself only with OPTICAL zoom. Zooms on the cameras in your range are primarily 3x optical which stinks for distant outdoor or action shots. Go higher if you can afford it.
You can disregard the digital zoom as this merely blows up the individual pixels and degrades image quality. I have never used mine. It is useless.
most of the entry level cameras have weak flashes. So think about paying more for a model with a hot shoe. Since you will shoot primarily outdoors during the day, maybe this won't matter to you.
Buy from a reputable internet retailer and you'll save mucho dinero.
You will end up spending money on accessories like extra memory cards, a bag, batteries and possibly the charger. So factor this into the cost. The manufacturers have come a long way in catering to the needs of the consumer, but they still don't cover all the bases. For instance, many cameras come with a 16mb smartmedia or compact flash card which isn't very big at all when you are taking higher res images or short mpeg movies (if you have that function). Also, the ones that work with alkaline or rechargeable ni/mh AA batteries (convenient and cheap) often only give you the alkalines which last like a fart in the wind when powering the display. So you end up shelling some dough for a couple sets of rechargeables and a decent charger.
The variables with these puppies are seemingly endless depending on your needs and wallet. Fun stuff for the techie. But don't fret too much. Just about all the 2 megapixel cameras and above take great pictures that give nice prints up to 8x10.
Good luck![ December 11, 2002, 11:13 PM: Message edited by: AtomicMark ]