A few years ago, Canon's PowerShot A-series of compact cameras used to be very popular with hobby photographers and were designed with that audience in mind, with robust construction, comfortable handling, optical viewfinders and manual exposure controls. These days however most of those hobby photographers have graduated to a Canon G11 or S90, or moved on to a now-affordable digital SLR. It seems there just isn't much demand for cheap but versatile manual compacts any more, and so the venerable A-series has been reduced to a handful of low-cost compacts aimed at the point-and-shoot end of the consumer market. Only the A1100 IS still has an optical viewfinder, and none of them have manual exposure controls.
The current top model of the A-series is this PowerShot A3100 IS, a 12.1-megapixel compact featuring a 4x zoom lens, 2.7-inch monitor and optical image stabilisation. It's a pretty basic camera, and about as close to average as anything on the market. The body is made of plastic, and is available in red, silver or the blue version seen here. Unlike previous AA-powered A-series models it has a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and as a result it's a lot lighter and more compact than most of the earlier designs, measuring 97.2 x 58.2 x 28.1mm and weighing 155g including battery and memory card.
The overall build quality is good, with a tight fit between panels and no embarrassing creaks when squeezed. The semi-matt finish is attractive, easy to grip and resists scratches well. The battery hatch is a bit flimsy, with a plastic hinge and a tendency to pop open with little provocation, but at least the tripod bush is metal. The shape of the body includes a slight flare on the right hand end which provides a reasonably firm and comfortable grip, and the controls are large, well laid out and very clearly labelled. I wouldn't go as far as recommending it for anyone with limited eyesight or manual dexterity, but it's a lot less fiddly than most ultra-compacts.