The camera's most obvious feature is its large 3-inch LCD monitor. It takes up most of the back of the body, leaving little room for the controls. As a result things are rather crowded at the right hand side, with four buttons and a small D-pad squashed up at the end. Despite this however, the controls do not fells cramped, and the buttons are reasonably large and easy to use. The D-pad is a little fiddly, and it does have a lot of features and options to control, but it's fairly quick once you get used to it. Like most Canon cameras, the 860 IS has a function-button menu which presents the most commonly used shooting options down the side of the screen for quick adjustment. It is basically a snapshot camera, so it's not exactly overburdened with features and options, but it does have a useful list of colour options, including various skin tones, as well as a custom setting with adjustable contrast, sharpness and saturation. As well as the fully-automatic program mode, it also has a useful selection of ten scene modes covering all the usual eventualities, including an underwater mode for use with the optional waterproof case.
The LCD monitor itself is excellent. It is a high resolution 230,000 pixel screen, which is nice and sharp despite its large size. It has an exceptionally wide angle of view both vertically and horizontally, which makes it ideal for tricky overhead shots, as well as for showing your pictures to a group of friends. Like most Canon screens it has an effective anti-glare coating, and is bright enough to use in bright daylight. This is just as well, because unlike some models in the IXUS range the 860 IS has no optical viewfinder.
The other stand-out feature is the lens. The 860 IS is one of those relatively few digital compact cameras to have a wide angle end equivalent to 28mm. Most compacts start at around 35-38mm, so that extra bit of wide-angle comes in very handy. It's useful for getting large groups of people into the frame at parties, and also for capturing panoramic landscape snaps. The 3.8x zoom range means that the telephoto end of the zoom is about the same as most other 3x zoom cameras, equivalent to 105mm. 28-105mm is a nice focal length range, and used to be a standard zoom range on many 35mm cameras, so older photographers may find it reassuringly familiar.
The 860 IS features Canon's acclaimed optical image stabilisation system, and as usual it is very effective. I found no problem with taking hand-held shots at shutter speeds as low as 1/10th of a second at full zoom.