The Canon Powershot A1100 IS gives you great image quality and user-friendly controls, plus a ton of features and modes that let you control the final look of your images... but, it's still simple enough for beginners to use. All of this is packed into a pocket-sized, durable body with a large, bright LCD, a built-in viewfinder, and a 4x optical zoom. What more could you want, you might ask? The answer is: pretty much nothing. Having handled quite a few cameras while writing these reviews, I'm comfortable saying that the A1100 IS would be a satisfying buy for almost anyone.
The Powershot series has just gotten better and better over time, and it seems like all the things that make it good—the great low-light imaging, the intuitive menus, and the flexible controls—are combined inside this particular model. The body of the A1100 is slim and portable, yet not so small that you end up with your fingers all over the screen, or tripping onto the wrong buttons when you try to navigate the controls. One end of the camera body is slightly thicker, which gives you a comfortable grip while keeping the profile slim. The body comes in a range of color options, too. While it's not the titanium build that some cameras are boasting nowadays, it still feels durable, and is lightweight enough to be your go-to travel camera.
In terms of controls, the buttons are laid out in much the same manner as all other Powershots, with a control dial up top and a four-way controller on back. The built-in viewfinder is a major bonus for those who are used to shooting through more advanced cameras, or for use in bright light where the LCD of any camera would likely become useless.
Canon has loaded the A1100 with the DIGIC 4 processor, and it shows: image quality, even in low light, is clear and low-noise. A host of fun options are included, which I didn't really test out because I know how they work, but if you want them, they're there: Face Detection (including on the self timer), Motion Detection (tracks moving objects to reduce blur), Red Eye Correction, etc. Twelve megapixels is probably a bit of overkill, but I'm not complaining: the important thing is that the image quality is excellent. The camera also has Easy mode, which is exactly like Auto but disables every function except for shooting and turning the flash on and off, so that even beginning users can't mess up the photo.
The Scene Modes are also the usual line-up of suspects, with Indoors, Foliage, Snow, etc. The most-often used, such as Indoors and Kids / Pets, are located on the dial itself rather than under the Scene setting, which means they're more quickly accessible (a handy feature). Pretty much the only option missing from the A1100 is a full manual mode, and frankly, most people dealing with a pocket camera like this don't want one anyhow. If you do happen to be someone who likes to control the fine details of the shot, the Program mode should be enough to satisfy your cravings, at least in terms of a pocket camera—it lets you control settings like ISO, white balance, and metering (spot, center-weighted, and evaluative are all available).
The A1100 has speedy, smooth operation, with a quick zoom and capable, accurate focus lock. The only time I ran into trouble was during use of the self timer... for some reason, the camera produced a whole range of blurry photos before finally locking in. To be fair, I was shooting a low-contrast subject, and without me behind the camera to half-push the shutter button and lock focus, it just didn't go too well. As with any digital camera, half-pushing that button and ensuring that the camera knows where it's supposed to be focusing is highly recommended and gives you better results.
What it really comes down to when reviewing a camera is image quality and usability, and the A1100 excels in both areas. Final images are satisfying, with realistic colors and sharp focus; menus make sense, and the camera is comfortable and simple to use, with enough flexibility for users from beginner to advanced. With so many factors that have to come together to make a "good" digital camera, the all-around capability of the A1100 is worth noting. It's a good buy.