Canon IXUS 300 HS Review
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The Canon IXUS 300 HS (also known as the SD4000 IS Digital ELPH) is a premium compact camera with some advanced features that grab the attention of any discerning photographer. These include a back-illuminated 10 megapixel CMOS sensor, a 3.8x, 28-106mm lens with a fastest aperture of f/2.0 and optical image stabiliser, 3.7 frames per second burst mode at full resolution, 720p HD movie recording with stereo sound and a HDMI port, 240fps movies, a 3 inch LCD screen, and Aperture and Shutter Priority exposure modes. Available in blasted steel silver, matt black, glossy white or high gloss red, the Canon IXUS 300 HS costs £379 / $350 / €419.
Ease of Use
As with the majority of IXUS / Digital ELPH cameras, the Canon IXUS 300 HS is stylishly designed with appealing rounded edges, an elongated width and a smooth-to-the-touch finish. The IXUS 300's faceplate is an exercise in cool minimalism, its smooth surface broken only by the mirrored circular detailing of the lens surround, a small round window for the AF assist/self timer lamp above the lens, and to the right of this a narrow sliver of a window for the on-board flash. As this is positioned at the far right edge of the faceplate, it does tend to fall prey to being obscured by your fingertips when gripping the camera with both hands to take a shot. Tiny holes either side of the lens house the built in stereo microphone, with the speaker on the camera's left flank (if viewing from the rear).
Weighing 175g with the battery and memory card fitted, the IXUS 300 HS's curved edges mean that the unit slots comfortably into the palm of your hand. As its lens is internally stacked, it only protrudes from the body when the camera is in use, thus the device can be easily stored in a trouser pocket between shots. Build quality is good, with the usual mix of mainly metal body and plastic buttons, controls and port covers. Like its other IXUS siblings, there's very little on the 300 HS to get a firm grip on, except a slightly raised vertical lip on the right of the camera back that provides a small degree of purchase for your thumb.
The IXUS 300 HS' 'modest' back-illuminated 10-megapixel sensor indicates that Canon is continuing to call a halt to the race for more megapixels in preference to improving said sensor's ability to perform better at higher ISO settings. Canon also suggests that its f/2.0 lens has been fitted to allow in twice as much light as a more standard issue f/2.8 aperture optic, allowing for faster shutter speeds and shallower depth of field. The 28mm wide-angle setting is very welcome if not quite as wide as some rivals, with the optically stabilized 3.8x zoom providing a four stop advantage.
Also appealing to the serious photographer in you are the Aperture and Shutter Priority exposure modes which provide a level of user control not seen on many IXUS models. Although there's no fully Manual option on offer, the ability to set the aperture and shutter speed rather than let the camera take control is very welcome, with a full range of values on offer which are set using the intuitive rear command wheel. Combined with the maximum f/2.0 aperture, it's easy to quickly throw the background out of focus, or alternatively make sure that everything in the frame is sharp by using the other end of the range.
The IXUS 300 HS only has four rear controls in addition to the large 3 inch LCD screen. This is in the widescreen format, meaning that regular 4:3 format still images appear with bands left and right, as when watching an analogue-era TV programme on a new digital HD set. The resolution of the LCD is only 230k dots, a somewhat disappointing decision by Canon that results in a rather grainy display, although it was thankfully perfectly visible in all but the brightest sunlight. It's perhaps no surprise that if you turn the IXUS 300 through 90° to shoot portrait fashion, the backplate recalls the look of a camera phone, with images automatically orientating themselves when played back.
An operational feature shared with most recent IXUS offerings is Smart Auto with Scene Detection technology. This is Canon's version of other manufacturer's intelligent auto mode, whereby the user points the camera at a scene or subject and the IXUS 300 HS recognizes it and adjusts its settings accordingly to deliver optimal results with minimum user input. For example, if you point the lens at a close object the camera will switch to macro mode automatically, detecting up to 22 scene 'types' and choosing the most appropriate one, which is a lot more intuitive and reliable than trying to choose the correct mode yourself.
Further hand-holding features include face detection, auto red eye removal, blink detection - flagging up the fact that your subject has their eyes closed so you can take a replacement shot at the time - and the new Smart Shutter mode. This lets you take a picture simply by either winking or smiling at the camera, or when another person enters the frame. The FaceSelf-Timer option sets the camera to shoot automatically when it detects a new face appearing in the frame, useful for including the photographer in a group shot. The Smart Flash Exposure mode intelligently adjusts the built-in flash so that it doesn't overpower the main subject.
Photos are recorded to removable SD, SDHC or SDHX media - there's no internal memory to fall back on and no cards are supplied in the box. Canon was one of the last manufacturers to do this, but now seems to have dropped the practice of supplying media at the time of purchase entirely. The IXUS 300 offers an intuitive menu system for beginners thanks to the 'hints and tips' text that pops up when the user alights on a particular setting. More experienced users can also deactivate this feature via the menus should it start to prove tiresome. ISO 125 through 3200 is selectable in Program mode, and among the 20 scenes modes is a Low Light mode that boosts the ISO to 6400 equivalent, albeit with a reduction in image size to 2.5 megapixels.
The IXUS 300 features a Digic 4 processor 'under the hood' to keep things zipping along, with continuous shooting offered at a snappy 3.7 frames per second at full resolution. If that isn't fast enough for you, the High Speed scene mode increases the burst speed to an impressive 8.4fps, albeit with a reduction in image size to just 2.5 megapixels.
There's also the ability to record high definition 16:9 widescreen ratio Mov format (H.264 compression level) movie clips at 720p 1280x720 pixels resolution at a maximum 30 frames per second with stereo sound. A side mounted HDMI port is provided for hooking the camera up directly to a compatible device. You can also use the 3.8x optical zoom complete with image stabilizer when shooting movies, and thanks to the lens’ quiet drive system there's less audio interference when zooming than on other compacts. Unfortunately the zoom moves much more slowly during movies than when shooting a still image, seemingly the price you have to pay for the reduction in noise levels. A novel feature is the ability to capture movie footage at 240fps and then play it back at a much slower 30fps via the Super Slow Motion Movie mode, although only at a rather meagre 320x240 pixel size.
The top plate of the IXUS 300 HS features a narrow black band into which operational buttons are recessed. There's a three setting slider switch for alternating between Smart Auto capture, Program and Video recording modes, and an On/Off button. The main shutter release button is round, large, springy and obvious, encircled by a responsive zoom control lever with just the merest suggestion of a lip at the front for catching the forefinger.
Press down on the On/Off button and the IXUS 300 HS powers-up quickly in just over a second, rear LCD bursting into life with a brief flash of the Canon logo before reproducing the scene before the lens, which extends to the 28mm wide-angle setting ready for the first image capture. A twist of the zoom lever and the lens powers through its focal range to maximum telephoto in just over two seconds, the transition smooth and steady. Take a shot in the regular single capture mode and the camera commits a full resolution JPEG to memory in around one second.
In the absence of an optical viewfinder the IXUS 300 HS's backplate is dominated by the previously mentioned widescreen ratio LCD, with just four other controls positioned to the right. A large Playback button is located where your right thumb naturally grips the camera, with a small activity LED alongside indicating if the camera is busy performing an operation like saving an image to memory.
Underneath those two controls is the command/dial scroll wheel, which, unusually, is free from external markings. Yet give it a press and a virtual dial appears on screen with the formerly hidden settings now revealed. It's here alterations can be made to flash settings (auto, on, slow synchro, off, with the additional ability to implement automatic red eye reduction via the on-board menu folders), as well as those for the self timer, turning the display info on or off, which includes - in playback mode - bringing up capture details including, date, time, resolution and a histogram, auto-focus mode including normal, close up (to 3cm from a subject) or infinity, plus exposure compensation (+/- 2EV).
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Unusually there's no manual focus mode, which will disappoint those looking for finer control than the AF system offers. Any changes to the status quo are naturally effected with a press of the central Function/Set button. While this simplifies the camera's external controls and provides room for the larger LCD screen, it does make the IXUS 300 HS a touch more difficult to operate, particularly if you're in a hurry. For example, we'd have liked Canon to have found room for a dedicated delete button somewhere on the camera back. As it is, no less than six button presses are required before a duff shot can be deleted.
Pressing the Function button brings up Canon's now familiar toolbar onto the screen, running from top to bottom of the left hand side of the screen rather than in the L-shape of previous generations of IXUS. If Smart Auto capture mode has been selected, here we get the chance to influence the self-timer, image size and resolution and that's it. Flick the top plate slider switch across a notch to the Program shooting mode, however, and many more user selectable options present themselves. Here you can tab down from the first option, Light Metering, and select one of the camera's additional built-in scene modes. Each time one of the options - from portraits to kids and pets, fireworks, aquarium and ISO 6400 equivalent low light mode - is highlighted, a small 'hints and tips' box of text appears instructing the user as to the benefits of and uses for the proposed settings.
Additionally manually selectable in Program mode are the usual suspects: ISO settings (ISO 125-3200), white balance, drive mode (single shot or continuous shooting), metering (evaluative, centre weighted or spot), image size, self-timer, compression, plus Canon's regular 'My Colors' modes that allow the user to switch to optimal settings for more vivid colour, neutral, sepia, black and white, positive film, lighter skin tone, darker skin tone, vivid blue, vivid green or vivid red and finally a custom colour setting that can be adjusted to the user's preference.
Completing the rear controls, a press of the Menu button brings up two folders on-screen - the first containing the shooting menu, the second the more general purpose set up menu. Folder number one provides the ability to activate the digital zoom, call up grid lines or a 3:2 format ratio guide on screen, activate Canon's exposure adjusting i-Contrast, image stabilisation modes (continuous, shoot only, active when panning, or off), plus face and blink detection. The second menu folder contains the Set Up menu, offering the chance to tweak various sound and start up options, plus format the optional but essential SD or SDHC card in use. The more experienced user can also turn off the aforementioned 'hints and tips' speech bubbles if they prove too much as well as manually adjust the LCD brightness or reset all settings if someone else has been playing around with the camera.
Leaving the back plate, the right hand flank of the IXUS 300 HS - if viewing it from the rear - features two covered ports, the top housing the mini-HDMI connection, the bottom a dual purpose AV out/USB connection. The base of the camera meanwhile features a standard metal screw thread for attaching it to a tripod, plus a sliding door protecting both the SD/SDHC/SDHX card port (with no internal memory to fall back on) and rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Battery life is around 250 shots from a full charge, which is adequate rather than class leading.