I don't understand why it is so hard to be a camera operator or why people put so much merit into the position. I mean, really all you are doing is inserting the settings that a director of photography directs you to do so and even the angle and position you are holding the camera is dictated. It seems like this would provide for a fairly limited experience.
If I was ever to actually do some camera operation work I can guarantee you it will be in the type of crew where the operator has a lot more freedom then those who film movies.
There is a huge difference between holding a camera for someone and actually getting to setup a shot and film it. I think that every operator should be able to work independently if needed but obviously the best kind of operations will have a valid team effort to put forward in the creation of a movie or television show.