Squeezed between the £150 Canon IXUS 115 HS pocket point and shoot and £250 Canon IXUS 310 HS touchscreen model in Canon’s current line up of style and substance digital compacts is the equally new IXUS 220 HS. It has a street price around the £170 mark at the time of writing, pitching it into battle with other affordable and attractive snappers such as the slender Nikon Coolpix S3100, plus is available in the usual vivid array of colours.
Whilst no one is suggesting that purchase of a sub-£200 snapper is going to turn you into Anton Corbijn (although there is a monochrome digital filter on board), sometimes all we want to do is get usable results on our holidays and at social events with the minimum of fuss and in that respect the IXUS 220 HS delivers.
Fashioned from stainless steel, the IXUS 220 HS has a svelte depth of 19.3mm to the Nikon’s 18.4mm, meaning that it will slip easily into a trouser or jacket pocket, lens retracted when not in use. Gripped in the palm it pulls off the trick of feeling lightweight yet solidly constructed with it, despite dimensions barely larger than a credit card. There’s nothing resembling a handgrip supplied - the caveat with ultra compact models - and weight is 141g with battery and SD memory card inserted.
The Canon IXUS 220 HS betters the less expensive Coolpix in that its 5x optical zoom (24-120mm equivalent in 35mm film terms) boasts lens shift image stabilisation, with the Nikon possessing the less effective software-based digital anti shake.
Like its two IXUS siblings mentioned above, the Canon further offers a 12.1 megapixel effective resolution from a backlit 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor, and the model’s HS suffix again alludes to the fact that it’s one of Canon’s “High Sensitivity” range. Its chip, when combined with a DIGIC 4 processor has enabled noise levels 60% lower at higher ISOs than its predecessors according to Canon, a claim we’ll be examining in due course. Up to a maximum ISO 3200 is offered here.
With the camera powering up from cold in just over a second, Full HD video at 1920 x 1080 pixels and 24 frames per second also makes an appearance, supported by an instant record button that falls under the thumb top right of the rear plate plus HDMI output under a side flap, as on the IXUS 115 HS. Here there’s the addition of stereo sound for your clips; not bad at all on a model costing this little, even if the low buzz of the lens making its adjustments is picked up when filming in quieter environments.
Pictures and video are composed via 2.7-inch, 230k dot back screen, a spec that is distinctly average. The default aspect ratio is the standard 4:3, the display switching to 16:9 ratio when the video record button is pressed, black bands cropping top and bottom of the screen to ape how the footage will look replayed on your widescreen monitor or flat panel TV. Incidentally, that HDMI cable costs extra.
Controls are straightforward enough for the beginner and fall readily to hand, the largest being the shutter release button which is ergonomically encircled by the zoom control so that the forefinger can flit between one and the other. A half press of the shutter button and, after a brief pause, AF point/s appear highlighted as green squares on the LCD.
Press down fully to take the shot and the IXUS commits a maximum resolution JPEG to memory in around 3 to 4 seconds, screen blanking out momentarily then displaying the captured frame. Whilst the 220 HS couldn’t make the claim for a lightning fast AF or write speed then, again at this price point it feels like we’re nit picking.
In terms of picture quality we were very pleased with the results straight from the camera, which, apart from a slight tweak as regards contrast, largely don’t require any post processing.
For action shooters there’s the ability to record slow motion video clips, as on the Casio Exilim compact range, with a drop in resolution to allow for the higher frame rates. Here it’s a choice of filming at 320 x 240 pixels at 240fps, or 640 x 480 pixels at 120fps. Canon once again includes the Movie Digest feature we saw on the IXUS 115 HS and 310 HS. With this option selected the camera records a short 4-second video burst at the point each photo is taken. Stitched together these short low-res clips form a standalone “behind-the-scenes” video record of the day’s shoot - not essential but a nice, fun extra on a camera with a modest price tag.
The back of the IXUS 220 HS furthers the user-friendly feel with larger than expected controls that can be comfortably accessed with a thumb press rather than requiring fingernail precision. In terms of choosing which shooting mode to use there are just two main options. Ranged parallel with the video record button is a slider switch for alternating between the purely point and shoot option of the reliably consistent Smart Auto, and Program auto, via which a greater creative control can be gained, including the selection of effects filters.
As with both the IXUS 310 HS and 115 HS, on the 220 HS we get the usual black and white, fisheye, toy camera/pinhole style effects along with super vivid and miniature effect modes. All are fun, and the scene and subject shrinking and saturation boosting miniature mode can moreover be applied to video clips as well as stills and at 1.5, 3 or 6 frames per second to provide a time-lapse movie style effect. Neat.
We were lucky enough to be testing the 220 HS in the early spring sunshine - ideal conditions for a camera of the IXUS’ snapshot ilk. There are some slight if wholly common and expected quality issues, such as pixel fringing between areas of high contrast (dark tree branches and a bright largely featureless sky for example), plus corner softening when shooting at maximum 24mm equivalent wideangle, hidden better by natural subjects than harder edged man made ones.
The camera’s “HS” credentials also come good for more naturalistic low light shots without the aid of the small built-in flash, in that, as we found when rating the IXUS 115 HS and 310 HS, you can shoot up to maximum ISO 3200 and find noise pretty well kept under control. Of course you do lose some slight edge definition if we’re being picky when you stray above ISO 800, but again it’s impressive to find largely fuzz free images at this point and shoot level.
This competent user-friendly model has slightly more than one might expect from a typical “auto everything” camera lurking under its proverbial bonnet. Smart Auto is a reliable mode if all you want to engage in is happy snapping - automatically switching to macro mode if faced with a flower close to the lens for example - and for those who want to get more creative and drill down into a limited amount of hands-on features, then we have Program Auto.
Noise free results up to maximum ISO setting, Full HD video with stereo sound and HDMI output make this one further stand out from the crowd. The only increasingly ubiquitous feature the Canon misses out on is a stab at a 3D mode. But then its maker doesn’t have expensive tellies to flog.