Canon Digital IXUS 210 Review

March 18, 2010 | Mark Goldstein |


The Canon Digital IXUS 210 (also known as the PowerShot SD3500 IS) is Canon's second touchscreen compact camera, replacing last year's IXUS 200 / SD980 model. You can focus on a subject by simply pointing at their face, review your images and change the camera settings, all by interacting with the larger 3.5 inch LCD screen. The Active Display also allows you to browse through your images by tapping the sides of the camera. The 14 megapixel Canon 210 IS additionally 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 - black, silver, gold and pink - the Canon Digital IXUS 210 IS is available now for £349.00 / $329 / €379.00.

Ease of Use

The Canon Digital IXUS 210 is stylishly designed with rounded edges, elongated shape and a smooth-to-the-touch finish. The IXUS 210's 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, it tends to fall prey to being obscured by fingertips when gripping the camera 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 130 IS model. 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 210 to get a firm grip on, except a raised vertical lip on the right of the camera back that provides 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.

Unlike its predecessor, which used a hybrid system of touch operation and a smattering of buttons, the new IXUS 210 does away completely with any rear controls other than the massive 3.5 inch touch-screen LCD. 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. It's perhaps no surprise that if you turn the IXUS 210 through 90° to shoot portrait fashion, the backplate recalls the look of a camera phone. The resolution of the LCD has been increased to 460k dots, a sensible move by Canon which prevents such a large display from appearing grainy.

Canon Digital IXUS 210 Canon Digital IXUS 210
Front Rear

You 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 you initial preconceptions. This active display also allows you to 'flick' through and review captured images by tapping the actual sides of the camera, a clever gimmick that's sure to impress your friends..

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 210 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.

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. Like the previous 200 IS model, the IXUS 210 offers an intuitive menu system for beginners thanks to the '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. ISO 80 through 1600 is selectable in Program mode, and among the 20 scenes modes is a Low Light mode that boosts the ISO to 3200 equivalent, albeit with a reduction in image size to 3.5 megapixels.

The IXUS 210 features a Digic 4 processor 'under the hood' to keep things zipping along, with continuous shooting offered at a slow 0.7 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. A side mounted HDMI port is provided for hooking the camera up directly to a compatible advice. 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.

Canon Digital IXUS 210 Canon Digital IXUS 210
Touch-Screen Front

The top plate of the IXUS 210 features a narrow 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, a Play button and On/Off button. The main shutter release button is round, large, springy and obvious, encircled by a zoom control lever with only the merest suggestion of a lip at the front for catching the forefinger. At the far left of the top plate is a tiny pinprick housing the built in microphone, with the speaker on the camera's left flank (if viewing from the rear).

Press down on the power button 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 average and perfectly adequate for its class.

In Smart Auto mode the IXUS 210 continually adjusts the focus and exposure, depending on what you point it at and the 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 left to right. Unlike the previous IXUS 200 model, there are no other controls at all on the rear of this camera, one of the biggest differences between the two. Instead the Playback button has moved to the top of the body, while all the other settings have been subsumed into the touch-screen menu system. These include 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), display info on or off, which includes - in playback mode - bringing up capture details including, date, time, resolution and a histogram. While this simplifies the camera's external controls and provides room for the larger LCD screen, it does make the IXUS 210 a touch more difficult to operate, particularly if you're in a hurry.

Canon Digital IXUS 210 Canon Digital IXUS 210
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

Pressing the new Function icon on the LCD 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 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 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 ISO 3200 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 (ISO80-1600), white balance, drive mode (single shot or continuous shooting), focus range (normal, macro, infinity), metering (evaluative, centre weighted or spot), image size, 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.

A press of the Function then the Menu icon 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 210 - if viewing it from the rear - features two covered ports, the top housing the HDMI connection, the bottom a dual purpose AV out/USB connection. The base of the camera meanwhile features a standard screw thread for attaching it to a tripod, plus a sliding door protecting both the SD/SDHC card port (with no internal memory to fall back on) and rechargeable lithium-ion battery. Battery life is a little worse than the IXUS 210's predecessor at 220 shots from a full charge, which is adequate rather than class leading.

Using the IXUS 210 proved to be a generally fun and intuitive experience, although having to use the touch-screen interface to control virtually every aspect of the camera inevitably slows things down. Now let's take a look at the camera's Image Quality.