The Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS (also known as the PowerShot SD970 IS Digital Elph) is the new range-topping model in the extensive Digital IXUS / ELPH line-up of compact and stylish compact cameras. This 12 megapixel camera features a 5x, 37-185mm image-stablised lens, a large and high-resolution 3 inch LCD screen with 461,000 dots, DIGIC 4 image processor, Smart AUTO mode for beginners, plus Blink Detection and Face Detection technologies. In addition, the IXUS 990 IS can record 720p HD movies and has a built-in HDMI connector so that you can view photos and videos on an HDTV. The Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS / PowerShot SD970 IS Digital Elph is available in Classic Metallic for a recommended price of $379.99 / £379.00 / €449.00. Mark Goldstein took the Canon 990 IS all the way across the Pond to the USA to find out if this is the best IXUS / ELPH camera that money can buy.
Ease of Use
The Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS is a well-made, compact digital camera, with a stylish metal body and excellent overall finish. It's easily small enough to fit into the palm of your hand, despite featuring a 5x optical zoom lens that's equivalent to a focal length of 37-185mm. The maximum aperture is a fast f/3.2 at the wide end but a slow f/5.7 at the other extreme of the zoom range. The IXUS 990 IS is quite slim, measuring 2.6cms thick when turned off, making it suited to either a trouser pocket or small camera bag, and it weighs 160g without the battery or memory card fitted.
As with most Canon cameras that we've reviewed before, the IXUS 990 IS is one of the better models around in terms of build quality. Even the tripod mount is metal instead of plastic and positioned centrally in-line with the lens. The only minor criticism is the lack of any handgrip on the front, with just a smooth, flat finish embossed with the Canon logo, making it more difficult to hold than it really should be. Also, changing cards or batteries is not possible while the camera is mounted on a tripod, because the compartment door hinge is too close to the tripod socket.
The Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS has relatively few external controls, just 11 in total, which reflects the fact that this is quite a simple camera in functionality terms, with only limited photographic control on offer. All the controls are clearly labeled using industry-standard symbols and terminology. Compared to the previous IXUS 980 IS model, which offered a fully manual shooting mode, this represents a big change for the IXUS 990 IS, reverting to the more simplistic approach of most other IXUS cameras. It won't be a big deal for the less-experienced snapper, who will get more use out of the point-and-shoot Easy and new Smart Auto modes, but for many keen photographers looking for a second, pocket camera, this news will come as a bitter pill to swallow.
Located on top of the IXUS 990 IS are the Movie / Camera / Auto mode switch, On / Off button,, Zoom Lever and Shutter button, and on the bottom are the tripod mount and battery compartment, which also houses the SD memory card slot. On the rear of the IXUS 990 IS is the large 3 inch LCD screen, with a number of controls to the right. You can directly access the various focus and flash options by clicking left and right on the navigation pad, whilst up and down are respectively used to set the exposure compensation and timer options. There is sadly no dedicated button for ISO speed, which is a commonly used feature, although you can work around this by optionally setting the Print Transfer button to one of 7 available options (which include ISO speed).
Virtually all of Canon's compact digicams offer a few little known but advanced functions, and the flagship Digital IXUS / ELPH is no exception. These well-kept secrets, which you usually only learn about if you read the user guide attentively, include auto-focus lock (AFL), autoexposure lock (AEL) and flash exposure lock (FEL). To lock the focus on a subject for a series of consecutive shots, press the Left button on the four-way pad once while holding the shutter release depressed halfway. To lock the ambient exposure, do the same with the Up button. Flash exposure lock is achieved the same way when the flash is set to Forced On. AEL is available in Program, Quick Shot and Movie modes (you needn't hold down the shutter release for AEL when you are in Movie mode though). Sadly the manual focus (MF) mode and direct regulation of the flash's output which the IXUS 980 IS offered have not been retained for this camera.
The Function/Set button in the middle of the navigation pad opens a sub-menu, which allows you to set metering, colours, white balance, ISO speed, shooting mode, continuous shooting and image size/quality settings. This system is a good compromise given the size of the camera's LCD screen and therefore the limited space for external controls. Note that some of these options may be unavailable depending on which shooting mode you are in. A new addition is the clever little control wheel that encircles the four-way navigation pad, which allows you to quickly browse through your pictures and select the camera settings.
There are two ports on the right side of the Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS (when viewed from the back). The upper one is the new HDMI port, which allows you to connect the camera IS to a high-def TV set, but only if you purchase the optional HDMI mini-cable. The lower one accepts both the USB interface cable required to connect the IXUS 990 to a printer or computer, and the AV cable. There are no controls on the left side of the IXUS 990 IS.
Overall the camera body feels very well-designed and not at all cluttered, despite the presence of the large 3 inch LCD, which has a wide viewing angle from left to right, very welcome high resolution of 460,000 dots, and is visible in all but the brightest of sunlit conditions. There is no optical viewfinder on this model. If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the comprehensive and fairly easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Unfortunately Canon have chosen to cut costs and only supply the full manual as a PDF on a CD, rather than in printed format (there's just a short printed guide to the camera's basic features). Not much use if you're taking pictures and need to find out what a particular option does.
The menu system on the Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS is extremely straight-forward to use and is accessed by a dedicated button underneath the navigation pad. Quite a lot of the camera's main settings, such as white balance, exposure compensation and ISO speed, are accessed elsewhere, so the main menu system isn't actually that complicated. A row of 2 icons along the top of the LCD screen represents the Camera and Setup sub-menus, with most of the options being the kind that you set once and then forget about. Due to the very large and bright LCD screen, the various options are easy to access and use, especially as only 6 are shown onscreen at one time. In the Shooting menu, you may do things like specifying the AF Frame (AiAF, Centre or Face Detect, the latter of which can now recognise faces at sharper angles), enabling or disabling Servo AF (useful for tracking subjects in motion), adjusting various flash settings, turning the live histogram on and off and setting the new i-Contrast function (which is Canon's answer to Sony's DRO, Nikon's D-lighting and Olympus' SAT, and works by lifting the shadows while leaving the midtones and the highlights alone in a high-contrast scene).
The Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS offers Program and a comprehensive range of different scene modes aimed at the user who just wants to point and shoot, making this camera particularly well-suited to the beginner. Zoom Blur is a useful new shooting mode that physically zooms the lens while the picture is taken, from the 37mm wide-angle setting to the 185mm telephoto focal length. The central part of the image remains sharp, whilst most of the outside is blurred giving a feeling of movement. The IXUS 990 IS also offers Smart Auto Mode. Similar to Panasonic's Intelligent Auto, Smart Auto Mode automatically determines the subject's brightness, contrast, distance and overall hue, then selects the best scene setting from 18 possible modes, which is more than most competitors. The IXUS 990 IS uncannily selected the right kind of scene mode for almost every environment that I tried it in. Strangely, Canon have dropped Easy Mode from the IXUS 990 IS, a useful mode for beginners which automatically sets every shooting option apart from turning the flash on and off.
The HD video capability of the IXUS 990 IS is one of the major features of this camera. It can record 720p video at 1280x720 pixels at 30fps in the Quicktime .MOV format. Unfortunately this format choice results in some massive file sizes that quickly fill up your memory cards. Sound quality is also not that great, with the usual background noise that accompanies movies shot with cameras that only have mono sound. Even worse, you can't use the optical zoom at all during movie recording, and there's no digital zoom setting either. Although the high-res footage is a nice addition, the IXUS 990 IS is certainly no replacement for a dedicated camcorder.
The IXUS 990 IS has a comprehensive Face Detection system that makes it easier to take great portraits. It detects up to 35 faces in a shot and adjusts the focus, exposure, flash settings and white balance automatically. The new Face Self Timer function is very useful for including yourself in group- or self-portraits. When you press the shutter release, walk into the scene, and two seconds after the camera detects that a new face appeared in the frame, the camera will automatically take the picture. Finally, Blink Detection can detect if a person in the picture has blinked and will automatically prompt you to retake the photo.
Memory Card Slot
The Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS features an anti-shake system, called IS Mode - turn it on in the menu system and the IXUS 990 IS automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds. There are three different modes. Continuous is on all the time including image composition, Shooting is only on when you press the shutter button, and Panning as the name suggests is best when using the camera to track a moving subject. In practice I found that it does make a noticeable difference, as shown in the examples on the Image Quality page. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos.
Leaving the anti-shake system on all the time didn't affect the battery-life too much, with the camera managing just over 250 shots before the rechargeable Lithium-ion battery ran out of power. As part of a belt and braces approach, the anti-shake system is also backed up by motion detection technology that assesses camera or subject movement. The latter is effectively what rivals would refer to as digital anti-shake, as, activated in Smart Auto mode, it boosts ISO to a level (between ISO 80-800) it considers will compensate without hopefully introducing too much noise.
The start-up time from turning the Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS on to being ready to take a photo is quite quick at around 1.5 seconds, and it takes about 3 seconds to zoom from the widest focal length to the longest. Focusing is very quick in good light and the camera happily achieves focus indoors or in low-light situations, helped by a powerful focus-assist lamp. It takes about 0.5 second to store an image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card - there is a very quick LCD blackout between each image. In Continuous mode the camera takes just 1.0 frame per second at the highest image quality, which is slow for this class of camera, although the shooting rate is at least maintained until your memory card is full.
Once you have captured a photo, the Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS has a good range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view up to 36 thumbnails, zoom in and out up to 10x magnification, and filter images by date, category, folder and file type. You can also view slideshows, delete, protect, resize, trim and rotate an image, and set the print order and the transfer order. The Red-eye Correction options fixes red eye after you have taken a photo (useful if you forgot to activate it before) and i-Contrast improves the shadow/brightness areas, with Auto and Low, Medium and High settings (if you select i-Contrast before taking a photo, only Auto and Off settings are available). MyColors allows you to apply any of the 10 different effects on offer to a photo. The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and white balance, and there is a small histogram available during playback which is helpful in evaluating the exposure. A third press of the Display button shows the image alongside a small, magnified section, useful for quickly checking the sharpness.
In summary the Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS is a stylish, compact and well-built point-and-shoot digital camera that is particularly well-suited to the beginner photographer.
All of the sample images in this Review were taken using the 12 megapixel Fine JPEG setting, which gives an average image size of around 3Mb.
The Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS produces images of good quality. The biggest issue is noise and loss of detail at relatively slow ISO speeds. The 1/2.33 inch, 12 megapixel sensor recorded noise-free images at ISO 80 and 100, but there's already some noise and slight colour desaturation at ISO 200. ISO 400 shows a little more noise and loss of colour, and ISO 800 and 1600 are even worse, with obvious loss of fine detail and a distinct colour shift. The Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS handled chromatic aberrations well, with limited purple fringing effects appearing only in high contrast situations and generally at the edges of the frame. The built-in flash worked well indoors, with a little red-eye and good overall exposure. The night photograph was excellent, with the maximum shutter speed of 15 seconds being long enough for most after-dark shots. Anti-shake is a feature that sets this camera apart from its competitors and one that works very well when hand-holding the camera in low-light conditions or when using the telephoto end of the zoom range. Macro performance is excellent, allowing you to focus as close as 2 cms away from the subject. The images were a little soft straight out of the Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS at the default sharpening setting and ideally require some further sharpening in an application like Adobe Photoshop, or you can change the in-camera setting. The lens exhibits quite obvious barrel distortion at the 37mm wide-angle setting.
There are 6 ISO settings available on the Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS. Here are some 100% crops which show the noise levels for each ISO setting.
ISO 80 (100% Crop)
ISO 100 (100% Crop)
ISO 200 (100% Crop)
ISO 400 (100% Crop)
ISO 800 (100% Crop)
ISO 1600 (100% Crop)
Here are two 100% Crops which have been Saved as Web - Quality 50 in Photoshop. The right-hand image has had some sharpening applied in Photoshop. The out-of-the camera images are a little soft at the default sharpening setting and benefit from some further sharpening in a program like Adobe Photoshop. You can also change the in-camera sharpening level to suit your tastes via the My Colors menu option.
Original (100% Crop)
Sharpened (100% Crop)
The Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS has 2 different image quality settings available, with Fine being the highest quality option. Here are some 100% crops which show the quality of the various options, with the file size shown in brackets.
12M Fine (2.93Mb) (100% Crop)
12M Normal (1.28Mb) (100% Crop)
The Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS handled chromatic aberrations very well during the review, with limited purple fringing present around the edges of objects in certain high-contrast situations, as shown in the examples below.
Example 1 (100% Crop)
Example 2 (100% Crop)
The Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS offers a Macro setting that allows you to focus on a subject that is 2cms away from the camera when the lens is set to wide-angle. The first image shows how close you can get to the subject (in this case a compact flash card). The second image is a 100% crop.
The flash settings on the Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS are Auto, Flash On, Slow Synchro, and Flash Off, with Red-eye Correction and Red-Eye Lamp settings available via the Flash Settings main menu option. These shots of a white coloured wall were taken at a distance of 1.5m.
Flash Off - Wide Angle (37mm)
Flash On - Wide Angle (37mm)
Flash Off - Telephoto (185mm)
Flash On - Telephoto (185mm)
And here are some portrait shots. As you can see, both the Flash On or the Red-eye Correction settings caused a small amount of red-eye.
Flash On (100% Crop)
Red-eye Correction (100% Crop)
The Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS's maximum shutter speed is 15 seconds in the Long Shutter mode, which is good news if you're seriously interested in night photography. The shot below was taken using a shutter speed of 5 seconds at ISO 80. I've included a 100% crop of the image to show what the quality is like. The camera takes the same amount of time again to apply noise reduction, so for example at the 5 second setting the actual exposure takes 10 seconds.
Night Shot (100% Crop)
The Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS has an anti-shake mechanism, which allows you to take sharp photos at slower shutter speeds than other digital cameras. To test this, I took 2 handheld shots of the same subject with the same settings. The first shot was taken with anti shake turned off, the second with it turned on. Here are some 100% crops of the images to show the results. As you can see, with anti shake turned on, the images are much sharper than with anti shake turned off. This feature really does seem to make a difference and could mean capturing a successful, sharp shot or missing the opportunity altogether.
Shutter Speed / Focal Length
Anti Shake Off (100% Crop)
Anti Shake On (100% Crop)
1/5th / 37mm
0.5sec / 185mm
This is a selection of sample images from the Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS camera, which were all taken using the 12 megapixel Fine JPEG setting. The thumbnails below link to the full-sized versions, which have not been altered in any way.
The Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS camera is a sound addition to the now extensive IXUS / Elph range, but it doesn't quite offer enough to justify its rather high price tag. $379.99 / £379.00 is a lot of money to pay for what is essentially a point-and-shoot compact, albeit one that's stylish, full-featured, yet still easy to use for the beginner. It also suffers in direct comparison with its predecessor, the IXUS 980 IS, which is still available and offers a lot more to the more experienced photographer, including full manual shooting mode, a live histogram, manual focusing and even more megapixels. If you're looking for a pocket camera to supplement your DSLR, then the 980 IS is clearly the IXUS model to go for. Indeed, in the US, the IXUS 990 IS is called the SD970 IS Digital Elph and is positioned below the older SD980 model, a reflection of its rather different feature set.
In its favour, the Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS does offer a longer 5x, 37-185mm lens and excellent higher-resolution 460,000 dot, 3 inch screen. As with the 980 IS camera, though, the 37mm equivalent wide-angle doesn't seem enough these days when competitors are releasing cameras with 25mm lenses. Also the extensive corner softness and barrel distortion at the 37mm setting effectively mean that you are best off using this camera in the telephoto range. The IXUS 990 IS also suffers from less than stellar images in low-light due to obvious noise appearing at ISO 200 and faster, and the slow continuous shooting speed of 1.0fps is also disappointing. The 1280x720 pixel HD Movie mode promises to tip the balance in the 990's favour, but it quickly fills up your memory card thanks to the space-hungry Quicktime format, suffers from the usual muffled mono sound, and worst of all doesn't allow the zoom to be used during recording.
So overall, the new Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS falls between two camps - it's too expensive for the casual snapper, and doesn't offer enough advanced features for the pros looking for a second pocket camera. It's undoubtedly a really nice camera to use, and therefore still easy to recommend, but there are better and cheaper alternatives, including from Canon themselves.
Ratings (out of 5)
Value for money
Reviews of the Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS from around the web.
Leading the way for Canon's PowerShot SD line is the new SD970. This compact digicam sports a 5x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilization, Digic 4 image processor, 3-inch PureColor II LCD screen, 720p HD movie mode with HDMI output, i-Contrast technology, Face detection software with a face detection self timer and a whole slew of other built-in features to assist you while shooting. Canon has also given this camera a new menu style, which works the same as the old one, but is more informative when the "hints and tips" option is turned on in the setup menu.
Read the full review »
Colour Filter Type
DIGIC 4 with iSAPS technology
6.6 - 33.0 mm (35mm equivalent: 37 – 185mm)
Optical 5x. Digital approx. 4x (with Digital Tele-Converter approx.1.5x or 2.0x and Safety Zoom ¹) ². Combined approx. 20x
f/3.2 – f/5.7
8 elements in 6 groups (1 double sided UA element, 1 single sided UA element)
AF System/ Points
AiAF (Face Detection / 9-point), 1-point AF (fixed to centre or Face Select and Track)
Single, Continuous¹, Servo AF¹
AF Point Selection
Size (Normal, Small)
AF Assist Beam
Closest Focusing Distance
2cm (W) from front of lens in macro
Evaluative (linked to Face Detection AF frame), Centre-weighted average, Spot (centre)
+/- 2 EV in 1/3 stop increments.
i-Contrast for automatic dynamic range correction
AUTO, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
1 - 1/1600 sec (factory default)
15 - 1/1600 sec (total range - varies by shooting mode)
Auto (including Face Detection WB), Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Custom
3.0” PureColor LCD II (TFT), approx. 461,000 dots
Adjustable to one of five levels
Auto, Manual Flash On / Off
Slow Sync Speed
Flash Exposure Compensation
Face Detection FE
Flash Exposure Lock
Built-in Flash Range
30cm - 3.5m (W) / 2.0m (T)
Canon High Power Flash HF-DC1
Auto*, P, Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Sunset, Creative Light Effect, Fireworks, Long Shutter, Beach, Aquarium, Foliage, Snow, ISO 3200¹, Digital Macro, Zoom Blur, Color Accent, Color Swap, Stitch Assist, Movie.
*with Scene Detection Technology and Motion Detection Technology
Hi-Speed USB (MTP, PTP) dedicated connector (Mini-B compatible)
HDMI Mini Connector. A/V output (PAL/NTSC)
SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, HC MMCplus
SUPPORTED OPERATING SYSTEM
PC & Macintosh
Windows XP SP2-3 / Vista (including SP1)
Mac OS X v10.4 - 10.5
Browsing & Printing
ZoomBrowser EX / ImageBrowser
Rechargeable Li-ion Battery NB-5L (battery and charger supplied)
Approx. 270 shots ¹
Approx. 360 min. playback
A/C Power Supply
Optional, AC adapter kit ACK-DC30
Cases / Straps
Soft Leather Case DCC-70, Digital IXUS Metal or Leather Strap
High Power Flash HF-DC1
Power Supply & Battery Chargers
AC Adapter Kit ACK-DC30
Canon HDMI Cable HTC-100
0 – 40 °C, 10 – 90% humidity
Dimensions (WxHxD, excl. protrusions)
94.8 x 56.8 x 26.3 mm
Weight (body only)
¹ Depending on the image size selected.
² Digital zoom available for still image and standard movie modes only. Optical zoom may not be available during movie recording.
¹ Some settings limit availability
¹ Recording pixels fixed at 1600 x 1200.
¹ Under conditions where the flash does not fire.
² Depending on memory card speed / capacity / compression setting.
¹ Depending on memory card speed / capacity / compression setting.
² The following Speed Class memory cards are required for maximum record time: 1280 x 720, 30fps Speed Class 4 or above. 1920 x 1080, 30fps Speed Class 6
¹ Using the batteries and memory card format supplied with the camera (where included), except where indicated.
* Standard Output Sensitivity / Recommended Exposure Index.
According to ISO 12232:2006 (20th April 2006) which specifies the method for assigning and reporting ISO speed ratings for digital still cameras.
All data is based on Canon standard testing methods (according to CIPA Standards) except where indicated.