“So, if you didn't change the distance to subject and you dropped the ambient light levels by a full exposure the flash has to output more power to expose the subject properly.“
I was limiting my reply to the OP’s recent store test with the H20 and to the Auto Flash setting on the F70EXR. Since the OP was testing a camera in a store (with the camera attached to a power cord), it is unlikely there was any reduction in ambient light levels during his test. Therefore, the only variable in flash recycle time would have been the distance to the subject, if there was one (unless of course, he manually adjusted exposure settings for his flash recycle time test, which he didn’t say he did).
The F70EXR’s “Intelligent Flash” jacks the ISO up to keep the recycle time down to around 3 seconds, which is why I suggested he consider this model (ref. his desire for shorter flash recycle times). Personally, I would disable the auto ISO function, set my ISO manually, and live with the slightly longer recycle times, but that’s just me.
My suggestion to the OP that he consider the F70EXR was only a suggestion. I am not recommending the F70EXR, nor am I claiming that it is a great camera, so you don’t have to apologize for not liking it, Sarah. My suggestion was in response to the OP’s stringent criteria for a camera. And I believe that my suggestion meets all of his criteria, except for manual focus, as I previously stated, and whatever a good grip means, but that’s his call.
Do you have a camera in mind that meets all of the OP’s requirements, John?