Canon pioneered the premium pocket compact with its IXUS brand, continuing its marriage of style to substance into a second decade with the launch of the image stabilised 105 model: a 12.1-megapixel palm-sized offering with wide angle, internally folded 4x optical zoom boasting a 28-112mm focal range.
Such specification suggests the camera is as adept at capturing landscapes and sweeping vistas as it is portraits and still life. So are we looking at a candidate for the perfect travel camera?
Providing this snapshot with a smooth, pebble like finish, Canon has certainly made the metal and plastic construction IXUS 105 easy to use. It feels solid with optional SD, SDHC or higher capacity SDXC cards (battery inserted a weight of 140g combined) and looks attractive too, chrome lens surround hinting at sophistication though quickly attracting fingerprints.
Point and shoot operation comes courtesy of the company's Smart Auto functionality, the camera comparing common scenes and subjects with 18 on-board pre-sets and selecting the most appropriate to (theoretically) deliver optimum results. Compositions are framed up using the 2.7-inch modest 230k-dot resolution LCD screen at the rear, Canon having jettisoned an optical viewfinder on this latest IXUS incarnation.
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Other automatic image enhancing technology on board includes the exposure adjusting iContrast function that most noticeably pulls detail out of shadow areas, plus shutter speed/ISO boosting Motion Detection technology and Smart Flash that will fire if the camera detects sunlight throwing harsh shadows across a face. A Face Self Timer mode also utilises face detection technology and delays the shutter firing until the camera registers that an extra face has joined the frame.
The above all contributes to the fact that the user can point and shoot and still get a picture they'll be pleased with. The "auto everything" nature in part excuses that the full manual is provided on CD only, with only a quick start pamphlet miserly offered in print form.
Unlike the IXUS 130 sister model which sits above the 105 in the current IXUS range and offers high-def clips, this model features a modest standard resolution 640 x 480 pixels video, though at a respectable 30 frames per second transition rate. However only digital rather than optical zoom is accessible once recording has commenced.
Otherwise, despite the camera's overall compact dimensions (90.5 x 55.8 x 21.2mm), Canon has bucked the trend for resulting fiddly operation by including sufficiently large buttons - even if at the back they are set level with the bodywork to maintain the minimalist design ethic.
Press the on/off switch atop the camera's top plate and within a second the lens extends to maximum wide-angle whilst the rear LCD bursts into life, a plastic shooting mode switch presented top right of the backplate allows the user to swap between Smart Auto, regular program auto and video capture. Playback usefully has its own button, providing the advantage for photographers of being able to more or less instantly jump back into shooting mode with a half press of the shutter release button should a picture opportunity unexpectedly present itself.
Other key shooting settings - flash and exposure compensation (+/- 2EV) options – are tabbed through and selected with a press of the directional thumb pad at the rear, which hosts a "func. [function] set" button at its centre.
Press this in an image capture mode and a familiar (to Canon users) toolbar appears down the left hand side of the screen, sub options extending out in a L-shape across the screen when each setting in turn is highlighted. It's here that in program auto mode users can additionally access dedicated subject modes for shooting portraits, night snapshots, kids and pets, an indoor/party mode and the aforementioned face self-timer. White balance, ISO (ISO 80-1600), metering and "My colors" digital effects options (vivid, neutral, sepia, black and white) are also accessible via the same toolbar. Thanks in part to the camera being equipped with DIGIC IV processor, it responds instantly to each button press and selection, changes implemented with a press of the central set button.
The rest of the camera's shooting options are to be discovered with a press of the self explanatory menu button at the rear, sitting next to one for display, a press of which can be assigned to summon up a nine zone compositional grid on-screen for anyone looking to practice their rule of thirds.
The IXUS 105's clearly presented and easily navigated menus are divided up between shooting options and set-up folders, the latter mainly governing sound and LCD brightness options, as well as the ability to format the card in use or reset all settings to the factory defaults. Here image stabilisation can also be adjusted to operate continuously, kick in when taking a shot only, when panning with the camera or deactivated entirely. We went for the first option that provided a reliably consistent performance.
Once downloaded to the desktop, pictures from the Canon IXUS 105 were a little softer than viewing them on the rear screen in situ, despite being colourful and for the most part evenly exposed. The iContrast option, if selected in Program mode, occasionally had the effect of making the overall image appear slightly washed out and lacking contrast.
Playing around with contrast and brightness levels in Photoshop achieved more pleasing results, but this arguably isn't what the main audience of fashion conscious "happy snappers" are going to want to be spending their time doing.
There are also inevitably some instances of pixel fringing but these are no more pronounced than we'd expect from rival models in the Canon's 12-megapixel compact class. In conclusion the camera gives an image performance that is closer to average than to impressive.
Fortunately then, this camera is as much about style as substance. Predictably the IXUS 105 is available in a quartet of colours: silver, pink, brown and turquoise ("aqua"). And if you feel that headline resolution still isn't high enough, then check out the 14-megapixel IXUS 130 released in tandem with this model.