Affordable Doesn't Mean Cheap
Canon's A-series has long been regarded as exceptional, consistently producing high-quality cameras that satisfy both advanced and novice users with its comfortable form factor, versatile controls, and phenomenal photos.
Still, even with this illustrious reputation, it's hard to look at a camera with a price tag under $150 and believe that it might be something other than a cheap, slapped-together lemon. It's a psychological hurdle that a camera like the Canon A580 must overcome, and if you're able to look beyond the price tag, you'll see that such assumptions are entirely unfounded.
Based on specifications, the Canon A580 certainly doesn't sound like a cheap camera. It has an 8-megapixel CCD and 4x optical zoom, both of which are generally above average. The advancement of digital camera technology has progressed so quickly that models can offer such specifications at surprisingly low prices.
That said, the Canon A580 is absolutely a no-frills camera, a fact that is apparent when it is compared to its close relative, the Canon A590 IS. Virtually identical, the A590 IS features some extra features like image stabilization and additional auto-exposure shooting modes. If those extras are important to you, it'll only add about $30-$50 to the price. That still seems pretty cheap! Nevertheless, the Canon A580 has staked out its position as the ultimate affordable casual point-and-shoot, and is definitely a winner in that respect.
It's also quite small and light for a point-and-shoot camera, not quite ultracompact but small and comfortable enough to fit in the palm of the hand and slide into a pocket without much fuss.
Face Detection: It Really Works
The Canon A580 features face-detection autofocus, a relatively new technology that is quickly becoming standard on most cameras. When reading about it, it sounds too good to be true, but it really does work. When you point the A580 at a person (or group of people), little white target boxes appear tightly around their faces on the LCD display. The camera pays special attention to the faces so they come out clear and crisp in the photographs.
The accuracy is impressive: even when a subject moves around the frame, the target boxes follow them around. Once, I set up to take a photo of an illustration of a human face, not even thinking about the face-detection autofocus; sure enough, the little white box popped up around the face in the drawing. It did not, however, find the faces of the geese I snapped, so the camera's magic is limited to human subjects.
Zoom and Macro: In Pictures
Zoom and Macro: Capture Every Detail
The three pictures to the right (click for larger images) show three shots of the same scene: the first is a normal snapshot, the second is taken at the camera's maximum 4x optical zoom, and the third is an up-close shot taken in the camera's macro mode. This should give you a good idea of what the A580 is capable of.
The zoom and macro modes work very well, even without image stabilization, and add to the versatility of this ostensibly simple camera.
Conclusion: A Great Value for Truly Casual Shooters
Using the A580, I couldn't find a reason to complain. It worked admirably, didn't fail to achieve what it claimed it was capable of, and produce fairly good-looking photos that were satisfying.
The only potential downside to the A580 is also its biggest asset: simplicity.
If you're looking for a camera to grow with, to learn about photography on and perhaps increase your overall skill level, then the A580 is definitely not for you. If you're someone who doesn't particularly care for photography, say you just want something easy to snap away with on vacations or every once in a while, then the A580 is perfect.
It's not a big investment and will perform to your needs. Still, it's hard to look at the minimal extra cost for the A590 IS and not want to suggest an upgrade.
In any case, the A580 is, in fact, an excellent camera, one that would be perfect for simple shooting and everyday use.