Canon Digital IXUS 200 IS Review
Canon Digital IXUS 200 IS Introduction
The Canon Digital IXUS 200 IS (also known as the PowerShot SD980 IS Digital ELPH) is the first-ever touchscreen IXUS / ELPH camera. You can focus on a subject by simply pointing at their face, review your images and change the camera settings, all via interacting with the rear 3 inch LCD screen.
The 12 megapixel Canon 200 IS also offers a 5x optical zoom lens with an ultra-wide 24mm setting and Optical Image Stabilization, 720p HD video with an HDMI output connection, Smart Auto mode with Scene Detection Technology, and a useful Hints & Tips feature for beginners.
Available in four colours - Blue, Gold, Purple, or Silver - the Canon Digital IXUS 200 IS is out now for £329.00 / $329 / €379.00.
Ease of Use
With its rounded edges, elongated shape and smooth-to-the-touch finish, the new pocket-sized Canon Digital IXUS 200 IS' (image stabilized) design suggests a pebble plucked from a beach, even if there is little that's actually organic about this point and shoot camera, which sees the world in widescreen.
Like the simultaneously released IXUS 120 IS, it offers a 12.1-megapixel effective resolution and very similar functionality, but boasts a lens starting wider at 24mm, rather than 28mm, making the 200 IS the debutant of such a wide-angle lens in the Digital IXUS range. A 5x optical zoom, hidden within the body when the camera is switched off, also provides a greater range of framing and compositional options than the regular 3x. It offers an equivalent 24-120mm focal range, in old 35mm terms.
Better than average basic specification then, but on its own not enough to justify the high £329 suggested UK retail price for this model. Especially when you consider that's just a tad cheaper than a basic, albeit much more fully featured, DSLR body. Let's not forget that at its heart the IXUS 200 IS is still a point and shoot snapper, even if it is a rather clever one.
Another first for the IXUS compact range, but not a massive surprise given the popularity of the iPhone and its ilk, is some innovative touch-screen operation. Unlike competitors such as Sony whose thus equipped models do away with almost all supplementary buttons, a smattering of physical controls has additionally been provided by Canon, thus enabling (in theory at least) 'best of both worlds' operation for those who find prodding on-screen icons fiddly or bewildering. Or does the inclusion of both simply mean that the camera falls between two stools?
Sensibly the IXUS 200 IS features a large rear LCD screen at 3-inches in size and in widescreen format, meaning that regular 4:3 format still images appear on screen with bands left and right, as when watching a analogue-era TV programme on a new digital HD set. Its perhaps no surprise that if you turn the camera through 90° to shoot portrait fashion the backplate recalls the look of a camera phone. That said, the resolution of the LCD remains the standard 230k dots. You'd have thought that if Canon had really wanted to make a feature of this aspect they'd have ramped up the resolution further.
Users can indicate an intended focus point simply by tapping that area on screen with a fingertip, and in playback mode, similar gestures will enlarge portions of a picture, rotate images, as well as protect, delete or add them to 'favourites'. Obviously this takes an initial period of familiarization, but soon becomes second nature once you've switched off initial preconceptions. This active display also allows users to 'flick' through and review captured images by tilting the actual camera: a clever gimmick.
An operational feature shared with the most recent IXUS offerings is Smart Auto with Scene Detection technology - Canon's version of intelligent auto whereby the user points the camera at a scene or subject and the 200 IS recognizes it and adjusts its settings accordingly to deliver optimal results with minimum user input. Thus point the lens at a close object and it'll switch to macro mode automatically, with the camera detecting up to 22 scene 'types'.
Though some might consider this taking away half the fun of photography and something of a cheat, its reliable nature at least lets the user focus their intentions on subject rather than settings. Photos are recorded to removable SD or SDHC 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.
As a nod to its intended audience the Canon is available in four different colours: blue, gold, purple or silver. We presume our sample was the gold version, but it looked distinctly orange to us. Like the 120 IS we also get a more intuitive menu system thanks to newly implemented 'hints and tips' text bubbles that pop 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.
Like its siblings the latest IXUS features a Digic 4 processor 'under the hood' to keep things zipping along, with continuous shooting offered at a so-so 0.8 frames per second, plus again there's the ability to record high definition 16:9 widescreen ratio Mov format (H.264 compression level) mono movie clips at 1280x720 pixels resolution, here at a maximum 30 frames per second. Like the 120 IS, a side mounted HDMI port is provided for hooking the camera up directly to a compatible advice, and though ISO80 through 1600 is selectable in program mode, among the 20 scenes modes accessed via the function button is a further ISO3200 equivalent option. Unfortunately though the optical zoom is disabled when shooting movies; the framing stays the same as you had it before the shutter button was pressed to begin recording.
With the above in mind let's take a tour of the IXUS 200 IS' form, features and functions, dispensing critical barbs where necessary. As mentioned at the outset, the IXUS 200 IS' faceplate is an exercise in cool minimalism, its smooth surface broken only by the mirrored circular detailing of the lens surround, a window for the AF assist/self timer lamp top right of the lens, and above this again a very narrow sliver of a window for the on-board flash. As this is positioned at the far right edge of the faceplate, again it falls prey to being obscured by fingertips when gripping the device with both hands to take a shot.
Weighing 130g without battery or card, the camera's curved edges mean that the unit slots comfortably into the palm, albeit not as readily as the even smaller and lighter 120 IS. As its lens is internally stacked, it only protrudes from the body when the camera is in use, thus the device can be stored in a pocket between shots. Build quality is good; the usual mix of mainly metal body with plastic buttons, controls and port covers.
Like its other IXUS siblings, there's very little on the 200 IS to get a firm grip on, except two small raised curvy lines top right of the camera back that provide a degree of purchase for the thumb. That's the price you pay for near credit card sized dimensions but a large rear LCD into the bargain.
The top plate similarly reveals that shape and form is here as important as feature set, narrow band into which operational buttons are recessed tapering towards a central point. As a result, the on/off button plus separate three setting slider switch for alternating between Smart Auto capture, program and video recording modes, are squeezed into less practical pointy triangular shapes. They function OK, but are certainly more fiddly than a conventional round or lozenge shaped control in requiring a precise touch. Thankfully then the main shutter release button is indeed round, large, springy and obvious, encircled by a less recognisable zoom control lever with only the merest suggestion of a lip at the front for catching the forefinger. At the mid point of the top plate is a tiny pinprick housing the built in microphone, with larger speaker on the camera's left flank (if viewing from the rear).
Press down on the power button with a fingernail and the camera 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 - that feature itself extending to maximum wideangle setting ready for the first image capture. A twist of the zoom lever and the lens powers through its focal range to maximum wideangle in just over two seconds, the transition smooth and steady. Take the shot in regular single capture mode and the camera commits a full resolution JPEG to memory in three seconds. The above timings are, like the 120 IS, average and perfectly adequate for its class.
In Smart Auto modes the camera is continually adjusting focus and exposure, depending on what you point it at and conditions at the time. Press on the screen with your finger tip and a Touch AF point appears which you can guide around the frame; even if you then subsequently move the camera the AF point will try its best to remain on the object or subject you first indicated.
In the absence of any optical viewfinder the backplate is dominated by the previously mentioned widescreen ratio LCD, stretching from top to bottom and with three physical controls given space to breath to its right. From the top these are a large and self-explanatory playback button, for some reason fashioned as a petal shape, mirrored at the bottom by an identically shaped menu button. Between them sits a standard issue four way control pad encircled by a narrow scroll wheel, with a small function/set button at its centre.
As on the new IXUS 120 IS, pressing the function button brings up Canon's new look 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 image size and resolution and that's it. Flick the top plate slider switch across a notch to program shooting mode however and, as on the 120 IS, many more user selectable options present themselves.
Here you can tab down from program itself 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 ISO3200 equivalent low light mode - is highlighted, a small 'hints and tips' box of text appears alongside 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 (ISO80-1600), white balance, drive mode (single shot or continuous shooting), metering (evaluative, centre weighted or spot), exposure compensation (+/- 2EV) 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. This line up is again identical to the simultaneously released IXUS 120 IS.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
Ranged around the control pad encircling the function button are four settings for, variously, activating the self-timer options, flash (auto, on, slow synchro, off, with the additional ability to implement automatic red eye reduction via the on-board menu folders), switch focus from infinity to macro (and back) plus turn the display info on or off, which includes - in playback mode - bringing up capture details including, date, time, resolution and a histogram. In review mode a gentle nudge of the surrounding scroll wheel will speed you through the captured images - or the user can simply tab left or right using the edges of the control pad itself.
As we note in our review of the IXUS 120 IS, a press of the dedicated menu button situated below this control 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. As expected the camera responds instantly to each menu selection.
The second menu folder contains the set up menu, offering the chance to tweak various sound and start up options (which at one time had an entire folder to themselves) - 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 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 camera - if using it and thus viewing it from the rear - features two covered ports, the top housing the HDMI connection, the bottom a dual purpose AV out/USB connection. Blending with the curves of the body, the port covers are again unconventionally shaped, and we found we really had to dig a fingernail beneath their edges to flip them open for use.
The base of the camera meanwhile features a standard 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) and slender build rechargeable lithium ion battery. Battery life is however better than recent IXUS siblings at 240 shots from a full charge, but again that's adequate rather than class leading.
While using the IXUS 200 IS proves fun and its operation intuitive, that price still troubles us for what is a fairly basic point and shoot camera, funky touch screen operational extras aside. So it's down to the images produced to even the score. But can they? Read on to find out.