Canon IXUS 100 IS digital camera review

Canon have been increasing their model numbers in tandem with upping the megapixels in their cameras on pretty much an annual basis. The IXUS 100, therefore, steps in where the IXUS 95 left off, bringing 12.1 megapixels to the new DIGIC 4 processor but keeping the same size sensor.

In terms of styling things have been tweaked slightly from previous years, with slightly more rounded edges leading to a slimmer look than earlier models. There is a great sense of design cohesion, with the screen, buttons and controls all sitting flush against the body, giving both a great look and feel.

You perhaps sacrifice some of the ease of use as a result, as you press the buttons into the body, or slide the mode changer in its discrete recess. For those with fat fingers this might be a little too fiddly, with the 3x zoom control encircling the shutter button giving little more than a knurl by way of grip - but it certainly lives up to its compact name, measuring only 87.0 x 54.5 x 18.4mm and weighing 115g.

So let's get the optical viewfinder out of the way first. We struggled to get on with it, because it is so small, even with good vision it is difficult to do anything with it. We had to squint to see much because of the small size. Its only function is to serve as a fallback, perhaps when the when the screen can't be seen in bright light, otherwise you'll have a pretty torrid time whilst framing pictures.

It is fortunate then that the screen copes rather well in bright conditions, so much so that on a sunny day we didn't need to resort to using the viewfinder. The 2.5-inch LCD display with 230k dots is bright enough to cope in most conditions outdoors too, but will struggle in the sun.

Sitting to the right of the display are the majority of controls, giving you the normal Canon four-way selector and OK button, along with a display, menu, playback and mode selector. As mentioned, the mode selector has three positions identified by auto, camera and video icons.

Auto takes you into the full auto controls, which engages the scene detection technology. This attempts to scan the scene in front of you and select the best settings. You do get a few other controls, like self-timer and the option to turn the flash off, but little else. The large icon in the top left-hand corner of the screen flips over to tell you what it has seen, so unlike some cameras, you have a fairly good idea of what is going on, including the ISO level that has been selected.

If you don't like what is happening and feel the need to regain control, sliding the mode selector to the camera position opens up a lot more options. You get the normal scene options through the Func menu, as well as program mode where you can simply scroll through the options to constrain the ISO, adjust the white balance or change the metering (evaluative, centre weighted, spot) to get the results you want.

However the Func only gives you half the options, with the rest residing under the Menu button itself. This is slightly confusing, although not uncommon, and it is here that you'll find settings that you probably won't want to change when you go to grab a shot, like blink detection, the size of the auto focus frame and so on. The menus, overall, are very clear and crisp, among the best looking among compact cameras we've seen, and whilst this might not make your pictures any better, it does give the impression that you have a quality product.

The bottom of the camera has a standard tripod screw mount alongside the flap covering the battery and memory card slot, accepting your SD or SDHC card. Also lurking on the back, under a flap that clicks in firmly, but ultimately might not last the life of the camera, are the connections. As well as the default Mini-USB you also get the mini variety of HDMI.

In a miserly move, Canon have not seen fit to supply the appropriate cable to take advantage of this connector. Once you have a cable, however, it provides a quick and easy way to hook up to your HDTV and take advantage of the HD (1280 x 720) movie recording.

You can opt to turn down the video capture to better suit your purpose, although with the rise in popularity of HD content online, you might be best at the top settings. The video results are pretty good with a nice balance of colour, but struggling with contrasty scenes or changing lighting conditions like many such devices do. Low light conditions are reasonable, things do get very noisy as the light drops however. The sound is not brilliant and the mic also picks up a lot of hand noise as you manipulate the camera.

Image capture itself is pretty good for this level of compact, coping with lower light better than some models and handling the change in ISO up to realistic maximum of 1600 without dragging in too much noise until you reach ISO 800.

Metering is generally pretty good too, with the Auto setting quickly picking settings, often faster than you could do manually. For example, pointing directly into the sun through the stained glass window, it selected the bright sun option and got a tricky shot without falling into an obvious exposure trap. For some this might be the difference between getting the shot and not.

However, the Auto mode is not perfect, so it is well worth diving into the direct controls, as you'll find that some conditions fox the camera and when you view them full resolution they'll be soft and lacking bite.

There did also seem to be a tendency towards over exposure in some cases, with a loss of colour (which is otherwise natural) as a result, although this is not uncommon in compact cameras. It also struggled with some high-contrast scenes, losing grip on tricky skies, leaving an image that was a little washed out.

Focusing is fast giving for the most part. Face detection goes hand-in-hand with the auto face focusing, ensuring that your favourite people are always in focus. Image stabilisation purports to take out a little handshake, which does help with those lower light shots where the exposure is slightly longer, but it won't work miracles, so when you see the icon on the screen, take the time to check the image before moving on.

The 3x zoom perhaps doesn't appeal as much as the 5x zoom now appearing on similar sized models, but will help you re-frame a little without moving. The macro mode copes will with close-range shots, delivering on the 3cm closest distance promise and giving some nice results too.

The flash can be a little harsh and it is a close call between whether you want to risk the loss of colour through the flash or accept a slightly softer and noisier picture, but arguably, much more natural, particularly for daylight indoor shots.

There is noticeable barrel distortion on the lens in the wide angle (the lens gives you 33-100mm, 35mm equiv.), so you might want to use the zoom to counter that if you have scene that calls for precision. In your average shot of the family, it probably won't be a concern.

An onboard accelerometer will reorient images when you view them back, making it a great snapper for showing back your images as you very often want to do at parties.

The battery life is also impressive too, with the 210 shots from Canon's documentation being realistic. It also holds its charge well, so if you use the camera over a number of weeks you don't have to keep recharging.

Verdict

So what you have in the Canon IXUS 100 IS, is a compact, lightweight and well-built camera, that will slip easily into a pocket or bag, ideally suited for snapping away without weighing you down. It looks good too and is a pleasure to use, bringing that quality look that is typical of this line of IXUS models.

The results are generally good too, but more discerning photographers may feel they have to work the settings to get exactly what they want, but for your average user looking for a versatile compact camera, then the IXUS 100 appeals. For those who actually want to make use of the viewfinder on a daily basis it is a less appealing.

What also appeals less is a suggested retail price of £299, inflated partly thanks to shifting exchange rates in these tumultuous times, but there are bargains to be had online, at more pocket-friendly prices.

But more significantly you have to ask whether the 12 megapixels on offer deliver results above and beyond the previous 10 megapixel offerings. We're not sure it does. The IXUS 100 keeps pace with the Joneses, cramming an extra 2 megapixels into a offering very similar to the IXUS 95, which ultimately offers much better value for money.