Canon IXUS 240 HS Review
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The Canon IXUS 240 HS (also known as the ELPH 320 HS) is a small and stylish compact camera boasting a 5x 24-120mm optical zoom, 16.1 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor, a 3.2 inch LCD touchscreen with 460k dot resolution, Wi-Fi connectivity for easy image sharing, full 1080p HD movies and the latest DIGIC 5 processor. Priced at £279 / €319 / $280, the Canon IXUS 240 HS / ELPH 320 HS is available in silver, black, purple, blue and pink.
Ease of Use
Announced alongside the Canon IXUS 510 HS at the start of the year, the typically fashion conscious IXUS 240 HS is £70 cheaper, but as far as headline resolution is concerned offers a higher pixel count of 16.1 megpixels, as opposed to the 510's more modest 10.1 megapixels, and from a 1/2.3-inch back-lit CMOS sensor. The IXUS 240 HS comes across like a hybrid version of the current IXUS 125 HS and 1100 HS models, with the addition of wireless connectivity.
The IXUS 240 HS is a little less boxy if more rectangular looking than other IXUS models , and sports softer rounded edges as opposed to sharp corners. Barely larger than a business card in width and height it slots comfortably into any trouser or shirt pocket. Official dimensions are 93.5 x 56.8 x 20.8mm and it weighs 145g. Thanks to being fashioned from aluminum, the IXUS 240 HS' body feels solid yet lightweight with it when held in the palm. We had the serious black variety in for review, with silver, purple, blue and pink the other alternatives.
It follows on from last year's HS (High Sensitivity) models in the 220 HS, 310 HS and most obviously the 115 HS, which offered 12.1 megapixels and a 4x optical zoom. Here the zoom is of the broader 5x variety, offering a focal range stretching from 24mm to 120mm in 35mm equivalent terms. In as far as the main features go then, the Canon IXUS 240 HS is pretty much your standard ‘class of 2012' pocket point and shoot.
One thing that elevates the Canon IXUS 240 HS above rivals however is, unfortunately, the price. At a suggested £279, it feels a little steep despite the touchscreen and built-in wi-fi. OK, so the Canon may be prettier and have a few unique functions that we'll alight on in a moment, plus IXUS models have historically always commanded a slight premium, but can £100+ be justified compared to some rivals?
The new wi-fi capabilities go some way to justifying the IXUS 240 HS' price premium. They allow you to share images during playback via the Wireless icon in the top-left of the LCD screen. Simply enter a nickname for the camera and four more icons then appear, connecting the IXUS 240 HS to another camera, a smartphone, a computer and the internet respectively. Setup is relatively straight-forward for each scenario, although you'll need a basic understanding of the protocols involved. Note that you need to install the dedicated iPhone app to connect the IXUS 240 HS to the world's most popular smartphone (or the Apple iPad, iPad 2 and fourth-generation iPod Touch), and there's no Android app at the moment.
With a back illuminated sensor, an ISO range that stretches from ISO 100 up to ISO 3200 at full resolution, an optical image stabiliser offering a suggested 3.5 stop advantage, plus a four megapixel Low Light mode among the shooting options, Canon in part justifies the IXUS 125's ‘HS' suffix. Also included here is a latest generation Digic 5 processor, to not only improve performance but to help operation speed along too.
If you do actually want to attempt low light work however you'll ideally need a steady surface for resting the camera on or a tripod, as, to maintain the IXUS 240 HS' clean lines, there is no handgrip here to speak of and the surface of the camera we found rather slippery. The two handed approach is therefore the best policy if you've no additional means of support. Try this though and the thumb of the right hand automatically comes into contact with the LCD screen at the top right of the backplate.
With the Canon IXUS 240 HS there is a choice of shooting Full HD 1920x1080 pixels clips at 24fps or dropping down in resolution to 1280x720 and filming at a smoother frame rate of 30fps. Thankfully the optical zoom can also be utilized when recording, although it is much slower to move through its focal range. In stills mode the lens mechanics sound rather like a buzzing insect.
We were able to shift from extreme wideangle setting to maximum telephoto in 2-3 seconds by holding a forefinger against the forward-facing lip of the zoom lever, though this extends to 10 seconds when shooting video. Still, despite the diminutive dimensions the IXUS 240 HS does sport an HDMI output port to one side for hooking the camera up to a flat panel TV if purchasing the necessary lead as an extra expense. This port is located next to a joint port for AV and USB connectivity. The thin plastic flap that protects both does however feel a little flimsy and we can see this becoming weakened with prolonged use.
As with any IXUS camera, exterior looks are as important as performance and go some distance to supporting a few extra pounds on the price tag. From the front then the IXUS 240 HS presents a relatively flat streamlined appearance, lens retracted within the body when the camera is inactive. Top right of the lens sits a small porthole housing the AF assist /self timer lamp, and directly above it is the bulb for the on-board flash.
The top plate layout recalls the IXUS 500 HS in that, in lieu of a shooting mode dial, a simple switch is provided for flicking between scene and subject recognizing Smart Auto, which has up to 58 pre-programmed scenes to choose from, and the more user-controllable Program Auto. In the latter mode access is additionally provided to a plethora of further shooting modes via a left-of-screen toolbar. This is brought up on screen if subsequently pressing the Function option on the touchscreen LCD.
Next to this top plate mode switch is a small recessed on/off button, and along from this again we discover the largest button here, the shutter release button, which is surrounded by the lever for operating the zoom. Power the camera up and as long as the date, time and time zone have been pre-set the camera is ready for action in just under two seconds, lens having extended from flush to the body to its maximum wide-angle setting with the rear LCD blinking into life. Whilst expectedly no match for a DSLR's response, the IXUS 240 HS' response is nevertheless fast enough for you to largely be able to capture the image you saw in your mind's eye before powering up.
A case in point: a half squeeze of the shutter release button and the IXUS 240 HS had determined focus and exposure in the time it took us to blink, auto focus point/s highlighted in green with an accompanying bleep of confirmation that we were free to press down fully and take the shot. Do so and it's possible to commit a full resolution, Large, Fine quality JPEG to memory in 2-3 seconds; here said memory is a removable SD, SDHC or SDXC card as there's no internal data capacity.
For stills and video playback, a dedicated button has been squirreled away near the base of the camera on the backplate. Canon have been able to do away with all the buttons and integrated everything into the large 3.2 inch touch-screen LCD. The Canon IXUS 240 HS doesn't use the whole area of the screen for shooting unless you're in the 16:9 aspect ratio. The resolution will alter depending on the ratio you choose.
When starting the IXUS 240 HS up, there's a number of icons and options on-screen. In the top left, there's the shooting mode you're in. This can be tapped and the mode changed when in program on the top of the camera (white camera icon). All the available shooting modes are here and it seems that the IXUS 240 HS has been designed for fun. There's all the new filters such as toy camera, miniature, colour swap and colour extract as well as typical ones such as snow, foliage and fireworks. Modes such as landscape and sport have been removed and Movie Digest added. This mode will take a 4 second video burst whenever you take a picture allowing you to create a small video montage of the day out shooting.
In the Program Auto setting, denoted by a camera icon, this list of LCD toolbar options grows longer. In this mode we can alter image compression level, choose an ISO setting between ISO100 and ISO3200, all at full resolution, alter white balance or metering mode (choose from centre weighted average, spot or evaluative), or drill into Canon's My Colour mode options, which include some of the fun digital effects alongside mere colour adjustments.
Additional scene modes cover underwater photography, low light photography (whereby resolution falls to four megapixels to limit noise), snow scenes, a long shutter mode, plus hand-held night scene, burst mode (again a resolution drop to four megapixels in exchange for 5.8 shots per second; otherwise it's 2fps at full res), a trio of further portrait orientated options including a skin smoothing filter and the ability to fire the shutter when a camera detects a face.
There are also two stitch assist modes for shooting panoramas (panning left to right and vice versa). It might have been nice if Canon has included a 360° self-stitching panorama mode for complete beginners as many of its rivals now are. There's no 3D capture option here either - though that may be largely because its maker doesn't also have 3D TVs to sell. The last item on this list of shooting options is the Casio Exilim-alike Slow Motion movie mode. As on the IXUS 500 HS, this allows 240fps capture at an email-friendly 320x240 pixels.
In the bottom left corner of the Canon IXUS 240 HS's screen is the Function button. This is a menu to allow fast access to frequently used options such as ISO, metering, white-balance, focus modes and resolution. The main menu button is in the bottom right when you open the function menu. If you're just on the main screen, the bottom right button will scroll through the display options. Interestingly, the Canon offers features found on the high specification Powershot series such as a histogram and other shooting information. However, this is only in playback and it would be great to see this as a shooting option. Likewise, the option to shoot in RAW would be great.
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One area of the function menu that annoys us is the continuous tapping we have to get through just to choose something. The screen seems to be more responsive in the middle because we always had to press the function button a couple of times before it worked. If you want to choose a different setting, you have to tap to the right setting, tap the change that you want to make and then tap again to confirm. We felt that shooting with the IXUS 240 HS was 60% tapping the screen and 40% picture taking. It's fair to say that once you're used to it, this would get easier. After all, we only get the camera for a limited time so you may find that you slip into a routine with it.
Despite this change in the way the Canon IXUS 240 HS does things, the menu layout is the same as any other IXUS which is great because it's an easy system to get used to. The menu colours are gun metal grey with orange highlights. It sounds nasty but actually looks quite attractive. The resolution of the screen is 461,000 dots (153,600 pixels) but looks a lot higher because the images are crisp and sharp.
The Canon IXUS 240 HS has a touch focus/shoot option which is on by default. To switch it off, press the icon at the right of the screen. This becomes a touch focus screen and will lock onto the subject where you touched. Other focus modes can be found in the function menu for landscape focusing, macro and landscape/portrait which is the standard setting. Calibration of the screen isn't all too impressive and needs a touch pen which doesn't come in the box. You have to use your finger, but the touch focus will miss smaller subjects. Macro focusing is impressive and in our tests we got near to point blank range. At this range the image quality suffers immensely with a lot of drop off from near the centre of the frame.
Also available via the touchscreen are a means of adjusting exposure (here -/+ 2EV), summoning up flash options (auto, forced on, off, or slow synchro, with red eye reduction enabled separately via the menu screens), and altering display settings (basically just the screen showing the very basic shooting options or none at all).
Whilst the right hand side of the IXUS 240 HS, if viewed from the back, features the output ports and a lug for attaching a strap, the opposite flank of the camera is devoid of features entirely. The base of the IXUS meanwhile features a screw thread for a tripod and a covered compartment housing both vacant memory card slot and rechargeable lithium ion cell. This is ‘good' for a fairly miserly 170 from a full charge, which is below average and makes the supplied NB-11L lithium ion cell seem rather underpowered.
Once again, whilst one could criticize the IXUS 240 HS for lacking much in the way of real photographic control, that's largely missing the point. This camera is all about fuss free photo taking and sharing, and looking good while you snap away, and in that regard it largely gets most things right.