Canon Digital IXUS 110 IS Review
The Canon Digital IXUS 110 IS (also known as the Canon PowerShot SD960 IS) is a new compact 12 megapixel digital camera with a wide-angle zoom lens. Offering a focal range of 28-112mm, the IXUS 110's 4x zoom lens comes complete with Optical Image Stabilization to help prevent camera shake. The The IXUS 110 IS joins a select band of Canon compacts that can shoot 720p HD video, and it also has an on-camera HDMI connector. A new Active Display and improved user interface, a wide aspect 2.8 inch LCD screen, Blink Detection and new Smart AUTO mode complete the IXUS 110 IS’ headline features. Retailing for $329.99 / £349.00 / €399.00, the Canon Digital IXUS 110 IS is available in silver, blue, pink and gold.
Ease of Use
Here we have another attractive looking addition to Canon's premium point-and-shoot range. Yet Canon's IXUS 110 IS has, initially at least, got to be one of the least intuitive (supposedly snapshot-operation) cameras I've used. Talk about a triumph of form over function: from the front the simple design recalls a clam shell mobile phone laid on its side – with curved edge to the left and beautifully smooth overall finish. But flip the camera around, try to get to grips with the functionality at its rear, and head scratching ensues.
We'll come back later to the reasons why, but for now let's examine the specification that brought us here; first and foremost a 12.1 megapixel resolution, coupled with a 4x image stabilised, wide angle optical zoom (28-112mm equivalent). Feeling more plastic-y in the palm than the more compact 100 IS model we were testing in tandem, and coming in a choice of silver, gold, pink or blue, the manufacturer's suggested £349 UK asking price comes as something of a surprise. Set side by side and on looks and feel alone, the £50 cheaper 100 IS ironically appears the premium model.
Like that camera, the Canon Digital IXUS 110 IS features the ability to shoot HD movies at 1280x720 pixels, at a speed of 30 frames per second (fps). It also sports Canon's newly installed Smart Auto mode which, with shades of Panasonic's own intelligent auto technology, switches settings (choosing from 18 available options) to deliver optimum results dependant on the subject and conditions the camera is presented with. With the Digic 4 processor on board to keep things zipping along, operation of the 110 IS proves to be pretty much point and shoot all the way – or would be, if its rear functionality was less obtuse.
A brace of beginner friendly features do however lend a hand in the pursuit of picture taking. These are motion detection technology to reduce the risk of blur when shooting moving subjects, i-Contrast (if selected) to brighten dark shadows and even out exposures, face detection incorporating blink detection (again if selected), and a face self timer option that waits until it detects the user themselves entering the shot before firing the shutter. And yes, you need to manually select that too.
With the above in mind let's take a tour of the Canon Digital IXUS 110 IS' form, features and functionality, dispensing critical barbs when and if deserved.
Staring reasonably enough at the front, the light, clean metallic finish to the face plate of our review sample and its curved edges unconsciously recall the tactile nature of a smooth pebble plucked from the shoreline. Its internally stacked lens, only protruding from the body when in use, is encircled by a mirrored surround that you can almost catch your face in. Top right of the lens is a sniper-thin slit for the built-in flashbulb, while top left of the optic is a small porthole doubling up as an AF assist and self-timer lamp. On a practical level, the positioning of the flash bulb means it's quite easy for your forefinger to stray in front of it when gripping the camera in both hands.
The IXUS 110 IS' top plate meanwhile features controls set into a tapering dark grey strip that encircles the camera's periphery. Starting from top right (if viewing the camera from the back), we find a large shutter button with just the right amount of give to be able to determine its half way point before firing off a shot, and so fix focus and exposure. This is handily encircled by a rocker switch for gliding between wideangle and telephoto settings within the camera's fairly standard focal range. A minimally protruding lip provides just sufficient purchase for the pad of your forefinger.
Still on the top plate, and moving to the left, is a lozenge shaped on/off button set into the bodywork, thereby avoiding accidental activation when sliding the camera in or out of a pocket. Press this and, with an ident-like 'sting', the camera powers up in just over a second, the rear widescreen LCD blinking into life while the lens barrel jets out to arrive at maximum wideangle setting. Adjacent is a slider switch with three available settings: auto mode (incorporating the Smart Auto setting-shifting functionality), program auto (which allows the adjustment and selection of a wider array of shooting functions) plus a movie setting. As you'd expect, given the preamble at the top of this review, everything is pretty much point and shoot in auto mode.
Press the 'function' button on the Canon Digital IXUS 110 IS' back and a left hand tool bar merely presents the user with the ability to set image recording size (therefore determining the number of pixels utilised) plus the compression level (Fine or Normal only). Should your thumb come to alight on the fiddly scroll wheel surrounding the function button, a virtual dial appears onscreen offering up the features normally surrounding a four-way control pad on rival models. These are the ability to adjust flash settings (auto or off), change the display (shooting icons on or off), select the self timer options (10 seconds, two seconds, the 'face timer' option, plus, unusually at this level, a custom option), while, in auto mode, the fourth option to swap focus distance between macro and infinity is disabled.
The scroll wheel itself appears overly sensitive – and frustratingly so – in that it's easy to over-shoot the option you wanted, and then, even once you have it highlighted, again slip along to the adjacent function. By including some functions in virtual form only, Canon has ensured a minimalist looking design but one, we feel, that is at times at the expense of operability.
Move the aforementioned top switch one notch along to program mode and, equally as expected, with a press of the rear function button the user has the choice of a wider range of manually selectable shooting options, including a range of pre-optimised scene modes – with an ISO 3200 option offered among the sunset and Canon-particular colour accent and swap settings. Also on the left hand tool bar is the ability to adjust regular ISO range (from ISO 80 through to ISO 1600), white balance, plus the selection of the 'My Colors' effects (including our preferred 'vivid' option and again the ability to add a custom setting), alongside evaluative, centre-weighted, or spot metering. Here too the user also gets to adjust exposure compensation in 1/3 increments from -/+ 2EV, select single shot or continuous capture, plus adjust the aforementioned pixel count and compression levels.
Push the top switch along a further notch to its third and final movie setting and there's the choice to adjust the capture quality from humble 320x240 pixels at 30fps, through the standard definition 640x480 pixels, and up to an HD 1280x720 pixels, at which points the black bands cropping each side of the view presented by the LCD screen (to provide a 4:3 ratio) drop away to present a 16:9 image. Some funky effects are also accessible in movie mode – namely colour accent and swap – plus the ability to adjust white balance and call up the same 'My Colors' options provided for stills capture.
Last but not least atop the Canon Digital IXUS 110 IS are a cluster of three tiny holes for the camera's built in microphone – a separate cluster of three for its speaker is to be found at the bottom of its (otherwise clear) left hand flank (if viewed from the back). Transferring our attention once more to the camera back, we find three quarters of the available space devoted to a 2.8-inch widescreen ratio LCD monitor, and, in the absence of an optical viewfinder window, that is all we have for shot composition plus review. Thankfully visibility is OK indoors and out, and we didn't feel the need to cup a hand around the screen to ensure a better look.
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To the right of the LCD is a streamlined trio of controls. From the top is a self-explanatory review button; press this to check out the captured JPEG file format images. Unusually the IXUS 110 IS incorporates what Canon is calling an 'active display'; tilt the camera on its side as if to shoot portrait fashion and the (captured) image on screen will also flip to present itself the 'right way up'. A gentle flick of the wrist while holding the camera in this fashion meanwhile will also advance the reviewed image on screen by a frame or two – though mastering this gimmick requires some practice. Below the playback button is the previously outlined 'function' button that brings up the side bar of shooting options, encircled by the less welcome scroll wheel that calls up the previously-explored virtual mode dial on screen.
The final control located directly beneath is again self-explanatory, seeing as it's marked with 'menu'. Press this with the camera active and in capture modes and we're presented with two simplistic but legible menu folders – the first with additional shooting options, including the ability to activate the digital zoom, i-Contrast, image stabilisation modes (continuous, shoot only, when panning or off), face and blink detection. The second available folder contains the set up menu, offering the ability to tweak various sound and start up options – for once on a Canon compact, there's not an extraneous separate menu folder for doing this – plus format the SD or SDHC card in use.
Moving to the right side of the Canon Digital IXUS 110 IS (viewed from the rear) we find a subtly incorporated lug for the attaching of a strap, next to which is a plastic cover for the 110 IS's available ports. Highly unusually for a compact of this size and simplicity we have an HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) connection, a feature normally found on high end DSLRs. Perhaps now that more of us have HD TVs, we'll find this feature creeping in to the humble compact. And as such its inclusion is a welcome one – another means of setting apart what is otherwise a fairly standard snapshot camera from the ubiquitous camera phone that has arguably been stealing away market share. That said, and as with Sony's competing T-series Cyber-shots, unfortunately there wasn't an HDMI cable (HTC-100) included in the box with our review sample.
Below the HDMI port is a second connection that doubles up as a means of connecting up the camera to your PC via USB, or alternatively the TV or video via regular AV leads (the latter both supplied). The base of the camera meanwhile features a familiar screw thread for attaching this IXUS to a tripod, plus a sliding door protecting both the SD/SDHC card port (with no internal memory to fall back on, the camera warns if there's no card inserted) and slender rechargeable lithium ion battery, good for a so-so 200 shots from a single charge, though admittedly we weren't left wanting for more.
Overall the Canon Digital IXUS 110 IS is as quick and responsive as you'd want a compact camera to be – and as we've noted in reference to the annoying fiddly scroll control, it can feel too responsive on occasion. Still, our initial infuriation lessened the more we used the 110 IS, so that alone shouldn't be a deal breaker. So, moving along, how about the images themselves? Do the results suggest that this is a camera that transcends its minimalist exterior and delivers images that have both form and that all important substance? Let's find out…