Cheap optics and makeovers
Cheap cameras has cheap optics. A typical case in point is the Minolta Z10. This is a 8x “superzom” that comes complete with a bad case of pincussion distortion and a generous amount of chromatic aberration (CA, aka. purple fringing). In other words, this camera has a less than ideal lens.
The good news is that this type of optical defects can be fixed. Panorama Tools (free) with PTlens (also free) corrects pincussion distortion in a few seconds, and the colour replacement tool in Adobe Photoshop CS (not free) paints over purple fringing like magic. There is also a specialized software package, DxO Optics Pro (not free) that is supposed to automatically fix the following optical defects: blur, distortion, CA and vignetting, based on precise mathematical modelling of the camera and the lens. So - if you feel like it, you can save yourself a few bob by buying a camera with a cheap lens, and fix up the images afterwards.
Not all optical defects can be fixed by post-processing, but radial distortion and CA can.
When you've got the defects of your particular lens pinned down, you should be able to automate these operations as a Photoshop action - so doing these corrections doesn't need to take much time.
This opens up for some intertesting possibilities. Instead of having very complex and expensive high presicion optics, lenses could be made simpler and to looser standards. The manufacturer could then profile each lens, and embed the profle in the lens. The lens should then pass its profile on to the image file (like EXIF), and any software processing the image (in or out of camera) should be able to use the embedded profile to automatically correct for all the profiled optical defects.
Why do this? I believe that using software fix optical defects is several mangnitudes cheaper than manufacturing "perfect" optical hardware. Such "self-correcting" lenses should be cheap, lightwight and fast. Wow!