Looking for an uncomplicated snapshot camera that will slide easily into a top pocket to be carried around at all times and whipped out when that random photo opportunity presents itself?

Baby brother to the newest (and pricier) IXUS pairing of the 220 HS and touchscreen 310 HS, the IXUS 115 HS is the most affordable of the trio with a street price around £150. It’s available in four colour options, of which we had the classy battleship grey version in for review. Recent competition for good value snapshots comes in the shape of the equally svelte Nikon Coolpix S3100, though the Canon is slightly more reliable at longer telephoto settings. 

Dimensions here are an ultra portable 93.1 x 55.8 x 19.9mm, being a near match for your credit card in width and height, and it weighs a featherweight 140g, so you may even forget it’s there. Nevertheless it has a reassuring solidity when gripped in the palm and squeezed, even if the IXUS 115 HS looks rather more plastic-y from the back than it does the front, where the concentric mirrored rings encircling the lens are so shiny you can see your face in them. 

Like its co-announced siblings, the IXUS 115 HS is pretty much an “auto everything” snapshot, boasting 12.1 effective megapixels from a backlit 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor. Its “HS” suffix again indicates that this is a High Sensitivity model in the range, the pitch being that it performs better than we’d expect of a point and shoot camera in low light without flash.

This is in part thanks to a relatively bright F/2.8 maximum aperture, an ISO range topping out at ISO 3200 at full resolution, and Low Light and Handheld Night Shooting modes all helping us to go further without resorting to the narrow built-in flash. Further headline features include an optically stabilised 4x zoom with a modest focal range equivalent to 28-112mm in 35mm terms, plus a 3-inch, 230k dot resolution LCD that takes up four-fifths of the back plate for shot composition in the absence of an optical viewfinder. This shoehorns the few small-ish function buttons that are offered into a narrow strip on the right - and you wouldn’t want them to be much smaller than they are. 

Getting operation underway, the Canon IXUS 115 HS on/off control is part sunk into the top plate to prevent accidental activation when fetching the camera out of a pocket. Give this a press and the camera practically bursts into life, readying itself for action in barely more than a second. The lens, normally retracted within the body when not in use, immediately extends to maximum wide-angle setting.

Due to the overall compactness of this model and its smooth-as-a-pebble surfaces, there’s not much to get a firm hold on, so we unselfconsciously found ourselves gripping the camera in both hands to take a shot or film a Full HD video clip, for which there’s a dedicated camcorder-style record button provided.

While that control falls under the thumb of the right hand, the thumb of your left inevitably ends up part obscuring the screen and smearing it with prints.

Start recording video and the 4:3 aspect screen ratio immediately narrows to 16:9 format, black bands cropping the display top and bottom. While finding Full HD capability on a £150 camera is a surprise, getting HDMI output too is even more so. This features under a plastic flap at the side requiring a fingernail to prise open, alongside which we find a combined standard def AV out and USB 2.0 port. You’ll need to buy your own mini HDMI cable though. 

As with its fellow IXUS models, there is a choice of shooting stills in Smart Auto mode, which compares your subject with 32 on-board settings and competently selects the nearest match, or flicking the top-mounted switch to regular Program Auto instead and having a tad more hands-on control over the likes of metering, white balance and ISO speeds.

Accessing the latter options first requires a press of the “func/set” button in the midst of the backplate command dial, which brings up an easily navigated toolbar on the left-hand side of the LCD. Colour saturation can further be adjusted in this manner with the aid of Canon’s ubiquitous “My Colors” modes; the “vivid” option of the 11 on offer working best for us in delivering some visual punch to areas of blue and green in otherwise slightly undersaturated landscape shots.

A half press of the IXUS 115 HS shutter release button and after a briefly visible focus adjustment, AF points/s flash up on the screen in green. Press down fully to take the shot and the camera takes around 3 to 4 seconds to write a maximum resolution JPEG to memory, screen blanking out briefly before displaying the captured frame. Not the fastest response times ever, but taken in the context of a budget snapshot we haven’t got much cause for complaint. Files are committed to SD, SDHC or SDXC memory card in the absence of any internal memory. 

Via the same function toolbar Canon has provided access to a range of digital effects on the 115 HS that mirror those on the costlier IXUS 310 and 220 HS. Here we get the usual fun fisheye and pinhole/toy camera options, plus additional “super vivid” setting that’s rather too garish for our tastes. More visually pleasing is the “miniature” effect, which apes the result from a specialist tilt and shift lens, reducing the area of the image in focus to a narrow central band so that subjects resemble the denizens of a toy town village; again, fun if deployed in moderation.

Given the caveat that this is a snapshot camera, we were very pleased with the pictures we got with the 115 HS. At extreme wide angle good edge-to-edge sharpness is maintained and even at maximum telephoto setting we were getting nicely crisp detail with more consistency than the Nikon Coolpix S3100.

Sure, like any compact camera it has its occasional issues with pixel fringing visible between areas of high contrast, but other than that we haven't really much to spit feathers about here. As with the IXUS 220 HS and 310 HS, this camera’s performance in lower lighting likewise impressed us, with results usable up to and including its top ISO 3200 setting. Not something you find everyday, if any day, from a budget model.

Verdict

The IXUS 115 HS might not be the most exciting nor innovative pocket camera out there - and you’ll have to invest twice the asking price to afford the rather more photographically versatile likes of the Canon PowerShot S95 for that. But it does the job, and does it well for anyone looking for detailed, colourful, well-exposed images with the consistency of output we’ve come to expect from Canon. Users can just point and shoot and rest easy in the knowledge that exposure and focus will be spot on most of the time, which is all any of us could hope for from a budget snapshot. Results suggest that the IXUS 115 HS is rather more than the bit of fun the modest asking price might indicate.