Canon IXUS 200 IS digital camera

The Canon IXUS 200 IS is a stylish, compact pocketable snapper that comes in silver, light blue, purple and a posh-looking golden livery. The smooth lines of the camera are punctuated only by the slightly protruding shutter button on the top and the wrist strap lug and that's it until you turn the camera on.

Then the 200's excellent 25-120mm 5x zoom lens springs into life; the camera's wide end of the zoom is excellent for getting in broader vistas and so makes the camera appealing for those shooting landscapes and wider views, but it's 120mm full zoom end means it also handles closer subjects well too, so a good focal length balance.

Its 12.1-megapixel sensor allows shots to printed at large sizes and provides bags of detail at lower ISOs; higher ISOs - over ISO 400 - have some image noise issues but not dramatically bad for a camera of this type. At ISO 800 and 1600 however, noise and the noise suppression software, which eats into detail, combines to produce less satisfying images.

On a more positive note however, one of the key features of this camera, and one that's sure to appeal to many of you, is the 720p HD video capability. It does a great job, able to shoot to the limit of the SD card capacity you have installed at 720p and 30fps.

You cannot zoom the lens once shooting though, so you need to set the focal length and stop shooting to adjust the lens further. Disappointingly, a similar restriction is enforced on the AF during movie shooting too, it too is fixed once you're shooting.

However, in stills shooting, while the AF it is a little slow to grab onto your subject via a half press of the shutter button, there are neat AF additions to play with to jolly things along. You can tap the touch-sensitive 3-inch colour screen to assign a focus point anywhere within the scene, which is superb to use. And once a point is selected it is fixed and no matter how you move the camera (barring completely away from the point focused upon of course), the point of focus remains locked.

This is great for recomposing a shot around a group or people, say, of if you know you'll be adjusting the camera angle, but want a set focus point for when a moving subject passes by, when panning for example. Face AF is included of course and this is fast, but we found it has some problems on some faces in profile, particularly anyone with a beard!

Disappointingly, touch focus is not available in movie shooting, AF is fixed to where it started. This makes videoing a moving subject, where the distance between the camera and the subject might change particularly problematic without stopping and starting the video each time, irksome (and jumpy to say the least in the video) for subjects fairly close to the camera or approaching the camera.

Some of the key camera controls can also be accessed via the touchscreen; a press of the icons on screen will activate a new menu such as the shooting modes. For still images you get Program (with exposure compensation being the only real manual control option) and 18 scene modes that include a high ISO 3200 setting for low light without flash (just bear in mind the noise/detail caveat as above) and a selection of the "usual" scene modes such as portrait, indoor and sunset modes to name a few.

In terms of overall handling the camera's compact nature and the large screen mean back plate controls are small and fiddly to use. Playback and menu buttons are larger and sit as neatly sculpted lozenges above and below a small mode dial. For the latter, the outer ring rotates for faster menu and option scrolling, it can be "rocked" to access the flash, macro, display toggle and self timer modes too, while the central button provides a way to set choices in menus, ready for shooting, or brings the FUNC(tion) menu into play, allowing you to select metering, ISO, white balance and the like from a vertical menu on the left of the screen.

With so many options on such a small dial and button assembly, those blessed with larger fingers will have problems such as frequently pressing for one mode and getting another entirely. Ditto the top plate's stills/video/auto mode selection switch, which can be oh too easily moved to the wrong setting as it is simply too small to use with anything other than a fingernail.

Another positive is the vertical orientation shutter release, which as the name suggests, allows you to shoot from the screen by pressing a red camera icon, its nice to use, particularly shooting one handed and a neat touch – something that really helps handling in portrait format shooting.

In terms of white balance (WB), auto WB leaves a little to be desired in mixed lighting where you are greeted by a predominantly orange tinged effect. Set the correct WB for the lighting and things are fine however and you can even set the WB in movie shooting too, which is a good feature.

The battery and SD card slot home underneath the camera both sit below a rather flimsy hatch; battery life is good though, a single charge saw me through around 20-mins of video and around 100 stills and it's still going strong as I write.

In terms of overall image quality, the first thing to say is the metering is excellent and only strongly backlit subjects forced me out of the evaluative metering to spot or centre weighted average modes, where you can better grapple with shadow and highlights in a scene, depending on your intent.

The lens is a cracker packing in detail on that sensor although the 25mm wide end is prone to slight barrel distortion, so watch for wonky horizons all you landscape snappers. Image stabilisation (IS) can be left on continuously and helps make more of shots in low light without flash, the latter being a little underpowered. But IS provides about two stops of extra hand hold ability in low lighting and so the IS is great; you can avoid flash - or upping the sensitivity - in gloomier scenes, both things that can make for a more creative option if needed.

Colour is very good (though again, with the caveat on noise suppression software at high ISO settings) and natural looking in the default setting, but as you'd expect there are plenty of colour tweaks to play with as well to tailor the colour rendition in a shot or even isolate and capture specific colours, such as red that you want to keep and make the rest of the shot black and white; a fun and funky effect.

Verdict

Apart from some fiddly controls the IXUS 200 IS is very nice to use and the active screen technology is great, particularly when selecting the focus point on the screen or the vertical shutter trigger. Image quality and movie picture quality is excellent and so, overall, the Canon IXUS 200 IS should be high on your list possible cameras to buy if you're in the market for a compact such as this.