Canon's latest IXUS combines a stylish design and manual controls with both 720p HD and slow-motion video capture, plus its HS designation means an astonishing 8.4 frames per second still frames capture is also possible.
The IXUS 300 HS (the PowerShot SD4000 IS for our US readers) is all about high speed. A new 10-megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor can be found at the camera's heart - the 300 HS being the first IXUS to feature such technology - and the new HS System ensures high speed capture of up to 3.7 frames per second at full resolution (or 8.4 frames per second at 2.5 megapixel) from ISO 125-3200 or even ISO 6400 at lower resolution.
As well as the usual high quality stills, a 720p HD movie mode features alongside a 240fps slow-motion capture at 320 x 420 resolution for really slowing down the action. However, the resolution of this slow-motion capture is rather limited, with almost some 60 per cent less resolution than even standard VGA capture, which may be a disappointment to those hoping for full size and greater resolution and clarity - however, where other brands offer similar high speed performance the same sufferance to resolution is commonplace.
The IXUS 300 HS certainly does look the part: its slender body is dressed in black and has curves in all the right places that not only makes it look sublime, but makes it easy to hold and handle, as well as trim and small enough to carry around at all times. Controlling the camera is a breeze too: a top switch for selecting between movie, manual/scene mode or Auto sits next to the shutter and zoom toggle. The camera's rear maintains this minimalist approach with individual Menu, Playback and Function buttons sat around a rotational D-pad that can be used for quick scrolling through options.
Dipping in and out of modes is fairly easy, with an on-screen dual-menu setup providing quick access to all the key settings that include point-and-shoot Auto, as well as Aperture/Shutter Priority and Program Auto modes for more advanced control. However, with the limited array of buttons available, jumping in and out of these more advanced settings isn't necessarily at a great pace, though for the intended audience this simplistic operation is ideal. A variety of scene modes and an in-camera My Colour setting also allow for additional creative control should Sepia, Monotone or other colour enhancements be desired.
The IXUS 300 HS has a bright F/2.0 lens at its 28mm wide-angle setting with a fairly modest 3.8x optical zoom meaning 28-105mm in old money 35mm terms (F/5.3 best possible at full zoom). The wide-angle option is great to have, plus there's lens-shift image stabilisation too to counter shaky hand movement, but it is a little bit of a shame that a more versatile and longer telephoto focal length doesn't feature. The bright aperture can make for some fairly shallow depth of field shots though, due to the small size of the camera's sensor, don't expect the same kind of effects possible from beefier hybrid or DSLR cameras - but the extra light able to reach the sensor does make good for low-light shooting possibilities.
As with other recent Canon compacts the 300 HS employs a 3-inch, 16:9-ratio LCD screen which is great for shooting in the HD movie format. On the downside though, despite the screen's overall decent 921k-dot resolution and the PureColor II G designation providing punchy colour and contrast even in bright conditions, a lot of the screen's real estate is lost when shooting non-widescreen still images.
All the good bits considered, the IXUS 300 HS's main issue is with its price: at around £380 it's not too far removed from some really advanced compacts' price-points, including the Canon G11. These are certainly very different cameras with different audiences and yet, despite its "High Speed" appeal, the 300 HS is a relatively modest camera for its asking price, especially when considering some of the highly-specced competition compacts out there from the likes of Panasonic that include broader lens ranges, RAW capture and other features.
Thanks to the new backlit CMOS sensor, the IXUS 300 HS produces rather decent low-noise images that are usable throughout its ISO 125-3200 range. ISO 125-200 are the most clean, with colour noise and some rather granular-like interruptions gradually appearing thereafter. ISO 400 still retains detail, though from ISO 800 and above the image noise reduction system employed by the camera means that images appear progressively softer and with less detail. For point-and-shoot purposes with the ISO set to Auto, however, this will be of little worry given the general standard of image quality.
Auto White Balance generally reads scenes well, though some inconsistency between ISO settings and a slant towards the warm magenta tones was an occasional occurrence.
Overall though, clear, clean images that perhaps err towards the side of overexposure a little too much, yet retail a good enough level of detail and punchy, realistic colour and contrast.
The Canon IXUS 300 HS certainly meets up to the implication of high speed in its name, though it is worth noting the lower resolutions for the speediest burst modes and when capturing slow-motion video. The camera still has a fast 3.7fps burst mode and comes equipped with 720p HD movie capture, so can still be met in high regard for those demanding a fairly top-spec compact camera. Plus it undoubtedly looks gorgeous, takes decent photos and is simple to use effectively.
Where it fails, however, is with a limited zoom range and an extortionate price that is barely justified when considering some of the competition out there. Certainly a good camera, though for those not in the market for the high speed option there are plenty of other viable alternatives out there.