Announced alongside the previously reviewed Canon IXUS 500 HS but £80 cheaper, the 125 HS (High Sensitivity) pocket snapshot is no mere doppelganger. Apart from its offering a near credit card sized width and height, plus the fashion-conscious exterior synonymous with the IXUS range, the headline specification is markedly different.
Price and design
Here we get a maximum 16.1 megapixels and 5x image stabilised optical zoom in comparison with the 500’s 12x zoom and modest 10.1 megapixels. In respect of its headline features, the 125 HS matches the current requirements for entry-level point and shoots, though the £229 asking price is considerably more than the marginally less flashy Nikon Coolpix L26, which also offers 16.1 MP and a 5x zoom, for just £99.
So IXUS models continue to command something of a premium. Yet, more positively, we prefer the design of the 125 HS to the pricier 500 HS; it is less boxy for one, with clean lines and soft rounded edges instead of sharp corners. We had the pale silver variety in for review, boasting the requisite minimalist look with buttons set flush to the bodywork. Pink, blue, red and green are the colour options.
Dimensions overall are a manageable 93.2x57x20mm, so the IXUS 125 HS will slip easily into the pocket of your jeans, while it weighs just 135g in spite of the metal construction – the solid, yet lightweight, build in part helping to justify some of the cost.
As with the IXUS 500 HS camera, the 125 features a backlit sensor, here a 1/2.3-inch CMOS chip, which helps Canon make its high sensitivity claims, as there is no restriction of the light path. It also features the latest-generation Digic 5 processor to help performance zip along. In terms of focal range, here the lens starts out at a wide-angle 24mm in 35mm film terms, running up to 120mm at the telephoto end. To prevent blur resulting from camera shake it features an optical image stabiliser which Canon claims offers up to a 3.5 stop advantage in lower light.
It all helps, as - in common with most credit card sized compacts - the camera lacks anything in the way of a handgrip and is distinctly slippery to the touch, with the thumb of the right hand automatically ending up pressed against the video record button - for instantly filming Full HD clips - if attempting a firmer grip. Thankfully then, this button is also recessed, so accidental activation is avoided.
Video and outputs
With this Canon there's a choice of 1920x1080 pixels clips at 24 fps or the option to drop down to 1280x720 and film at a smoother frame rate of 30fps.
There are also slow-motion and miniature effect options for those who want to get more creative still, though audio capture is mono only. To enable HD video and slideshows to be watched back on your HD TV or monitor, the Canon IXUS 125 HS does, commendably, find room for an HDMI port at the side of the camera, slap bang next to a joint port for USB/AV connectivity.
Both are protected by a rubber flap, which is perhaps the camera’s principle exterior weak-point, as we can see this tearing loose with repeated opening.
Underwhelming battery, but a good choice of storage
This IXUS comes with a rechargeable lithium ion battery resembling an after-dinner mint, though good for a slightly undernourished 170 shots from a full charge. The battery slides into the base of the camera next to a vacant slot for removable media card, in the absence of any integral memory.
Curiously here, Canon has opted for compatibility with all formats of SD card, rather than the tinier microSD it went for with the 500 HS – something of a blessing in our book since SD is still the more widely used format across digital cameras of all shapes and sizes.
Simple to use
A press of the on/off button on the top plate and this Canon powers up in just over a second, the folded optics of the optical zoom lens extending from flush to the body to maximum wideangle setting and the rear LCD simultaneously blinking into life. Keeping things really simple, and the exterior relatively uncluttered, there’s no shooting mode dial or wheel, merely a switch for flicking between full auto – here the intelligent scene and subject recognising "smart auto" - plus the more tweakable program auto.
Operation is intuitive and straightforward – as it should be. A separate playback button sits near the base of the backplate. The zoom is operated via the familiar lever surrounding the shutter release button with a forward facing lip that digs into the pad of the finger to provide sufficient purchase.
In stills capture mode the camera glides through the entirety of its focal range in fraction over two seconds, though it’s sound tracked by a wasp-like mechanical buzz. To miminise this distracting sound, the optical zoom slows right down when video clips are being recorded, and thus takes around 10 seconds to move through the same range. Still this is preferable to the zoom - or sound - being disabled when shooting video.
Stills and video are composed via the 3-inch LCD back screen presented in 4:3 aspect ratio, which, unusually for an unprepossessing pocket snapshot, offers a better than standard resolution of 460k dots. When recording video the display is cropped top and bottom to mirror how the clip will look when replayed on a widescreen flat panel TV.
In full auto mode the camera offers continuous auto focus, surreptitiously making adjustments as you pan around a room. Although focus can, of course, be directed to a specific subject with the usual pointing of the lens and a half press of the shutter release button.
Happily Canon includes the now ubiquitous AF tracking here, should the subject then decide to be on the move through your frame. Face detection is also a standard feature, close ups can be achieved down to 3cm from your subject, while burst shooting offers up to 5.8 shots per second at a reduced four megapixels resolution; otherwise it’s 2fps at full res.
A good selection of manual options too
Though this then is pretty much the "auto everything" camera you’d expect from its dimensions and price, for anyone who does want to make manual adjustments there is quite a variety of alternative record modes accessed with a press of the centrally located "function set" button at the rear.
Alongside Program mode, which allows user control over metering, colour mode, white balance and ISO range – here running from a fairly conservative ISO100 to ISO3200.
A side panel allows access to the likes of Movie Digest mode. As on the IXUS 500 and recent Canon models, if implemented this shoots a brief movie burst every time the photographer takes a still, gradually ‘building’ a short 720p movie of, say, your day’s sightseeing. Not essential perhaps, but a funky little extra.
As are a smattering of digital effects, such as the now ubiquitous tilt and shift lens apeing miniature mode, fisheye and toy camera options, while the ability is added to boost colour saturation or conversely render a shot in black and white. What’s missing here is a convincing panorama mode of the self-stitching variety, or any 3D capture option – both of which are gradually creeping into non-premium-priced rivals.
Performance and quality
As we found with the equally new IXUS 500 HS, capture timings are pretty much what you’d expect from a pocket camera. There’s the very briefest of pauses while the 125 adjusts focus and exposure with a half squeeze of the shutter release button, AF point/s highlighted in green with a beep of confirmation, then, following a full press, a wait of around three seconds for a Super Fine JPEG to be committed to memory.
In terms of picture quality - despite some obvious barrel distortion at maximum wide-angle setting - given that this is a humble snapper it’s a pretty capable one. For low light work, and in spite of a high pixel count on a relatively compact sensor, selecting anything up to and including the maximum ISO3200 delivers a very usable, if slightly softened, result. Stick to ISO800 and below however if you require the sharpest, aberration free results.
While not razor sharp, the pictures from the Canon IXUS 125 HS are some of the better ones we’ve seen produced by an unassuming pocket snapper, and will satisfy the casual photographer – arguably the camera’s target market.
Though the exterior looks beautiful, the headline specification here is fairly run of the mill for a fully auto pocket snapshot in 2012: a 16 megapixel sensor plus a 5x optical zoom, backed up by Full HD video with mono sound and HDMI output.
Okay, so that may be more than enough for anyone who wants a reliable and unobtrusive tool for taking the odd snap, but there are cheaper, better value options for anyone who doesn’t covet the Canon’s icily cool exterior.
Still, although non-revolutionary, this model has pretty much everything in the right place, is easy to use and undemanding. You may however want to shop around to get the best price available.