Canon Digital IXUS 950 IS digital camera

The Canon IXUS 950 IS updates the almost identical IXUS 850 IS with another million pixels and a new 4x optical zoom lens. Other key features include optical image stabilisation, a very clear, bright and easy to see 2.5-inch colour screen plus 18-scene modes (one more than the 850 IS) and Canon’s reliable DIGIC III image processing engine.

The DIGIC processor is responsible for the usually very clean, low noise images and fast data processing that helps to make the 950 fleet of foot. Start up to shooting the first image is around 1.5-seconds, shutter lag is minimal and continuous shooting (shot to shot) timing is good at around 1.5-seconds. When the flash is activated this drops away to about 4 seconds however as you await the flash to charge between exposures.

The design of the camera means it is extremely nice to hold and use and its metal bodywork feels very tough indeed. The innovative multi-control pad (or touch dial) adds a very neat spin to controlling the things. Resting a thumb on the pad activates a small, animated menu showing the options available to you on the pad. Then, spin your finger or thumb on the dial and another animated menu brings into play a range of shooting options and scene modes from the camera’s FUNC(tion) button that sits in the centre of the pad.

The pad does not spin but works iPod click wheel fashion transferring your finger motion into an animated display. All very cool to play with and watch but it also makes using the camera and getting at options very easy and fast. One downside is it’s quite easy to overshoot an option when “spinning” the pad.

Another control that suffers a similar problem is the recessed, shoulder mounted mode dial. Positive click stops make the dial nice to use but it feels flimsy (it seems loose in its slot on the side of the camera) and overshooting the required setting is easy to do until you’re used to it.

The 950 IS has a new lens but I found to be a disappointment on two counts. First the 850 IS had a wide angle 28mm to 105mm 3.8x zoom lens that provided a good balance between zoom ratio and usability. The 950 IS has a 4x optical zoom with a 35mm to 140mm zoom range but the 35mm wide end is for instance, simply not as useful when shooting groups or if you want to cram in a wide scene.

Interestingly however, the lens offers a slightly better maximum aperture at the long end of the zoom the 850 had a F28. F5.8 aperture range while the new camera provides a F2.8 to F5.5 maximum aperture range.

But the second problem with the lens is its softness at the extremities of a scene, which was obvious in some of my landscape shots where tiny detail is already hard to hang on to. Perhaps this is why the new camera has eschewed the wider lens zoom focal range of its predecessor?

The camera’s 2.5-inch screen has been boosted with improved colour performance and its 230k-pixel resolution is also very good indeed. A low reflectivity surface works very well and the screen is usable in all but the brightest of conditions.

Moreover, when direct sunlight becomes an issue the 950 sports a small optical viewfinder that can come to the rescue; a useful addition but one that lacks any form of dioptre control and is rather blurry in use. However, it’s better ‘n’ nowt.

Other kit includes the improved-by-one scene modes where you get the usual array of daylight, night scene, portrait and sports modes along with some accessed via a separate “SCN” choice on the m ode dial and then pressing the FUNC button while more often used modes such as landscape and macro are directly accessed by the multi-control pad.

Other neat functions include in-camera redeye removal in playback mode and auto ISO shift that automatically changes the sensitivity to allow the exposure settings in use to remain unchanged. And the optical image stabilisation is superb proving around two stops of extra “handholdability”.

The inclusion of an extra million pixels (from the 850 IS) was a worry because of its effect on unwanted image noise, thankfully however; the image quality is rather good with a couple of caveats and issues over the focus system.

The AiAF focusing system is very fast but lacks accuracy. In some shots I got some rather oddly soft results that seemed to have nothing to do with camera shake (IS was on and shutter speeds more than ample), sharpening (other, similar, images were fine) or noise processing (I was using the ISO 80 sensitivity) so noise reduction should be at a minimum.

The face detection AF/AE system I found works best when subjects’ faces are front-on to the camera and when this was the case the system worked well enough to prevent any of those blurred people, nice flock wallpaper shots you can otherwise get.

The camera’s metering is excellent; I did not have a poor exposure in my entire test. On the other hand, white balance seems less well accomplished. The set up includes the usual presets and performs well in most situations but in mixed light, say, indoors with tungsten and fluorescent lights on I had some odd, yellowish results. And in daylight, my shots of large white flowers came out oddly yellow as well.

In terms of noise I’m happy to report, the new IXUS works quite well; despite having an extra million pixels this has not meant images loaded with unsightly noise, at least not at the lower sensitivities.

Between ISO 80 and ISO 200, images are clean but under magnification, there is slight noise evident in images of single colour such as blue skies even at ISO 80! Up to ISO 400, noise is acceptable but beyond ISO 800, it becomes noticeable but not distractingly so. Noise suppression starts to kick beyond ISO 400 with only a limited impact on detail, which is great however, at ISO 1600, the top sensitivity setting, things become quite poor.

Image detail is very good overall but there are some anomalies. Detail on landscape shots is compromised when using the Landscape scene mode and on checking, I found all the auto settings for noise in the scene modes worked overtime on detail, blending it away too heavily for my liking. And another disappointment is shadow detail or rather, the lack of it. Deep shadow areas have been filled in on many of my shots, high contrast or otherwise but on the plus side, highlight detail has been handled much better.

Verdict

On the final analyses, the 950 IS looks expensive at £329, though, as always, try shopping around and you’ll find it for much less. It also has a few too many foibles for me to be able to heartily recommend it. The less-wide lens is problematic and the foibles with the focusing, detail loss in scene modes and the filled in shadow areas all made me worry.

Despite these limitations, the Digital IXUS 950 IS offers a well-built package without the worst of the pitfalls of having too many pixels crammed on a tiny sensor but there are a few to many issues that mean, it has dropped points.