Cons: Built-in Image Stabilisation, while useful, doesn’t seem as effective as that employed by Canon’s rivals, such as Panasonic; Noise levels at higher ISO settings disappoint; Hieroglyphic-like design of rear flat panel controls initially confuses
Bottomline: An impressive exterior that looks as though it was designed with the precision of a German car manufacturer masks a relatively run-of-the-mill snapshot camera beneath. Still, for those who just want to point and shoot, all the essentials are here – plus a few nice extras, such as in-camera colour effects and automatic red-eye correction
Canon’s Digital Ixus range has always been stylish with no sacrifice of build quality, and the 10megapixel, all-metal Ixus 90 IS, complete with chiselled faceplate, is no exception.
The IS suffix indicates that it has image stabilisation – here it's of the optical variety, which means that the lens itself physically adjusts to counter camera shake. The result is – theoretically – blur-free photography in lower light conditions than ever before, and at maximum (3x) optical zoom.
That’s the theory, and it’s backed up by motion-detection technology that ups the camera’s light sensitivity just as much as is necessary, to a maximum of ISO800. This ensures that images aren't spoiled by too much noise (grain-like speckles sometimes visible in shadow areas of a digital picture that usually increase with sensitivity).
Most cameras use noise-reduction software but this can also strip away detail you’d rather keep. Thus, though the Ixus 90 IS features an ISO3200 high sensitivity setting in addition to its main ISO80-800 range, this results in photos that are so soft that they resemble watercolours.
Most users will be photographing friends and family in plenty of light, though, and here the face-detection technology not only locks focus on faces and maintains it even if your subject moves, but it adjusts overall white balance to flattering effect, while automatically removing red eyes into the bargain.
You also get the ability to shoot TV-quality video clips with sound and 19 pre-optimised scene modes for common subjects, with a 32MB SD card provided in the box for image storage. With the camera lightning fast to power up, at about a second from cold, images can be composed and reviewed on the large 3in screen at the rear, and options are accessed using the flat panel controls to its right.
Though these initially resemble hieroglyphics, with use their actions become clearer, and rotating the control dial brings up more information on screen, which is a nice touch that maintains the camera's minimalism while making it easier to use.
Pictures produced by the Ixus 90 IS are colour rich while remaining on the right side of natural, showing plenty of detail under ideal conditions.
There is some fringing – a thin strip of differently coloured pixels – noticeable between areas of high contrast but only if you’re looking particularly closely and, though we got the odd blurred shot despite the IS, the large review screen means this is obvious at the time of capture, so you can adjust and reshoot. Overall the Ixus 90 IS proves itself a solid camera in most senses of the word.