In general, it's best not to expect too much from a budget camera: the 8-megapixel Canon PowerShot A580 exemplifies this philosophy. Sure, it's got a clunky design, feels cheap, and doesn't have all the latest features (in fact for about the same price or a little more you can get the A590 IS, which adds image stabilization). However, it does take great pictures for its class with minimal effort.
The A580 has a decent selection of Canon's shooting technologies. It offers no fewer than 16 shooting modes, including seven special scene modes such as Foliage, Fireworks, and Aquarium, the latter for capturing images of indoor aquariums without a flash. In Easy mode the camera makes all the decisions, Manual mode gives full access to all menu settings, exposure compensation, and white balance. But most important, the A580 has a face-detection-and-tracking system that worked as promised, keeping the selected face in focus even as the person moved among other people.
Though it lacks the sleek design of a compact model, with its bulky plastic body and bubble-like curves, the larger body does accommodate features like an optical viewfinder, support for AA batteries, and a comfortable grip. But it does look and feel like a toy. It measures 2.6 inches by 3.7 inches by 1.6 inches--a little too big to fit comfortably in a back pocket--and it weighs 7.7 ounces. Fortunately the right-side handgrip is comfortable and just deep enough to securely wrap fingers around. It also houses the two AA batteries and the SD/SDHC card slot. At the front end of the grip is the shutter button surrounded by a zoom ring to control the 4x, f/2.6-f/5.5 35-140mm-equivalent (4x) lens. The lens is a touch wider and longer than its competitors.
The power button and Mode dial are on the top of the body with the rest of the shooting options and menu navigation controlled by a directional pad and miscellaneous buttons on back. This aspect of the design works for me. Everything is easily recognizable--from turning off the flash to switching modes to setting the timer. There's a serviceable 2.5-inch LCD for framing your shots as well as playback (a slider to the screen's right lets you jump between shooting and playing).