The Canon IXUS 120 IS is a luxury ultra-compact with image stabilisation, but how does it perform? The WDC review of the Canon IXUS 120 finds out
The Canon Digital IXUS 120 IS is the latest in a long line of expensive status-symbol ultra-compacts that are as much about fashion as they are about photography. It’s a nice little camera though, with a very similar specification to the excellent IXUS 110 IS and sharing other features with the IXUS 100 IS. However with a current high street retail price of around £260 it’s a lot more expensive than either of those cameras. That’s a lot of money for a 4x zoom, 12-megapixel snapshot camera, no matter how good.
As you’d hope, for that sort of price, the build quality is superb. The body is all metal and is just 20mm thick, with rounded corners and flush-mounted controls. Handling is surprisingly good for such a small camera. The matt finish makes it easy to hold securely, and despite the tiny body the buttons are larger than average and clearly labelled. The LCD monitor is sharp, bright and works well outdoors, with an anti-reflective surface and an exceptionally wide viewing angle of almost 180 degrees in all directions.
Canon’s recently revised menu system, comprising a quick function menu and a comprehensive main menu, is superb. It is fast, responsive and easy to understand, with explanatory notes for every function. It even looks good, with gradient shading and a clear readable font. Manual creative input is limited to colour adjustment, but the camera does have a wide range of useful automatic features including optical image stabilisation, a rare feature on a camera this small. The IXUS 120 also has i-Contrast, which is supposed to boost shadow detail in high-contrast situations, but in fact all it seems to do is increase overall brightness, improving shadow detail but burning out highlights.
In video recording mode maximum resolution is 1280 x 720 pixels at 30fps. Audio recoding is mono via an internal microphone, and as usual the optical zoom cannot be adjusted while recording. Clip length is limited to 10 minutes at maximum quality and resolution. Still shooting performance is also good, with a shot-to-shot time of approximately 2.1 seconds, while in continuous mode it can maintain one frame a second, which is quite fast for a 12MP ultra-compact.
The autofocus system is excellent, locking on quickly and accurately in virtually any lighting conditions. The camera has a bright AF assist lamp with a range 2.5 metres. The flash is also surprisingly bright for its size, living up to its claimed four metre maximum range.
Unusually for a Canon camera there are a couple of minor image quality issues. The lens does produce noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle, and there is some chromatic aberration at the far corners of the frame. Edge-to-edge sharpness is very good though.
Image noise control is superb, with usable images at 800 ISO, and even at the maximum of 1600 ISO there is little visible noise. Exposure and white balance remain consistent in all shooting conditions. Pictures are crisp and well detailed, but as usual with 12MP the dynamic range is somewhat limited, with a tendency to preserve shadow detail at the cost of burned-out highlights, even when using the i-Contrast feature.
The Canon IXUS 120 IS is a lovely little camera. It's well made, looks great, is easy to use, performs well in all lighting conditions, and it even takes a decent picture. The only real problem is its extremely high price. If it was £100 cheaper it would almost be a bargain.