am considering buying a digicam. having previously played with compacts, i would am exploring the idea of moving up to dslr. what i was wondering was, would i necessarily get better picture quality with a dslr compared to a compact straight from box? (while i hone my skills)
From my own experience, yes. An "out of the box" DSLR will produce better pictures than a compact.
My 6 megapixels Nikon D40 with the 18-55mm kit lens produced considerably better pictures than my previous 7 megapixels Canon Ixus 75.
While the difference between the D40 and the D40X is only sensor resolution, that between the D40 and the D80 is not only sensor resolution, but different hardware. Check Gordon's reviews on both, here
As for the AF-S limitation, I don't feel this is a problem at all, unless you really need a prime (50mm or 85mm). AF-S means the lens itself will have a silent and fast motor, which is actually better
than the one other cameras have inside their bodies. Besides, AF-S lens cover a wide range of needs. Again, unless you really need a prime, I don't feel being limited to AF-S is a problem.