Canon's ‘box & circle’ styling made the original IXUS iconic – but it's easy to forget that it was also the tiniest camera in its class at the time and felt like it was hewn from a slab of solid metal.
Subsequent digital IXUSes (or IXII, IXES, whatever the plural may be) have not always felt as techno-packed as that first APS film model. They've generally been capable of stunning photos, but never been as small or spec-heavy as the competition. That is, before the new IXUS 90 IS.
This new model certainly looks like a fresh approach – gone is the original boxy shape and, indeed, Canon's more recent trend for curvy edges. In is a very tasty and unique bevelled edge and, thankfully, the 90 IS feels like a premium camera. No lightweight plastickyness here.
Onto image quality and it's clear Canon has raced ahead of its competitors once again. The 10MP photos have beautifully crisp detail and vibrant yet realistic colours that knock the spots off rivals such as Panasonic's DMC-FX100. Flash performance is similarly excellent.
As with all compacts, anything over ISO 400 on the sensitivity scale is just nasty. And yet the noise pattern at ISO 800 and above is actually kinda nice. It's not so obviously digital as most, and looks more like grainy film. Convert ISO 1600 shots to black & white and you’ll get a really gritty, and wholly unintentional, atmospheric effect.
The Canon stable
Canon took a little while to get into the swing of image stabilisers on compacts, but that's something else we don't have to worry about any more, as the 90 IS has an excellent stabiliser that we found performed even better than the system found on similarly specced Panasonics (by about one stop, for all you camera geeks).
The zoom is an average 3x optical, but that's hardly a negative and helps keep the size down – it's just a shame it doesn't go particularly wide-angled like some competitors. The screen, on the other hand, is a surprisingly large 3in LCD of exceptional clarity and brightness.
Okay, off the peak and onto a downslope – the control system is a mess. While camera manufacturers like Samsung, Fujifilm and Casio have been trying their damnedest to make it easier for photographers to get creative, Canon seems stuck in the Dark Ages, just bolting new buttons and controls on top of existing ones. The result is a directional pad that also scrolls round and a load of things to press – none of it intuitive.
So, if you're quite willing to fight your way around a fiddly interface until you instinctively know how to access all the functions – and don't mind paying extra for the rock-solid build quality – you'll certainly be rewarded with some excellent photos. But we're just a little disappointed that, once again, a superb product has been hampered by ergonomics.