With a compact body, hefty resolution and touchscreen controls round the back, there's much to like about the IXUS 1100HS. Slim, attractive and capable of producing some of the cleanest, most colourful pictures we have seen in a camera of this size, we had high hopes for what looked like an innovative addition to the long-running IXUS line-up.
Sadly, though, this £350 camera doesn't quite meet the high standard set by its cheaper, smaller sibling, the.
Hardware and handling
We'll start with the touchscreen, which is the most obvious set-apart feature on this particular IXUS. We're seeing an increasing number of compacts adopt the touchscreen as their primary means of control, but not one of them has yet trumped the iPhone for ease of use and smooth control -- and the IXUS 1100HS is no different.
Here, to move between pictures in review mode you can either drag them across the 3.2-inch (8cm) screen or press 'hot zones' on either end of the display. To do the same with the menus, you drag them up and down. The theory is sound, but the implementation could do with some work. Dragging is tricky and sometimes unresponsive, and we found it took much more time to work our way through the menus using the touchscreen. It wasn't long before we were hankering for a traditional four-way rocker.
You can also use the screen to select the autofocus point and fire the shutter, as you can with theand . The former of those two options is genuinely useful -- particularly for anyone who's used to shooting on a smart phone -- but we're not so hot on the latter, as it induced several unintentional shots when our fingers strayed onto the screen.
We weren't fans of the virtual video button either. We appreciate that it helps in cutting down the number of physical buttons and switches -- preserving the 1100HS's clean lines -- but as with the missing four-way rocker, we found ourselves longing for a proper video shutter control.
The body itself is metal and feels like it was built to take more than the odd bump and scrape. There's no grip per se, which might have made it hard to hold were it not for the rubber strip that Canon has laid down the side of the screen, just where your thumb rests. It looks good, feels good, and improves handling greatly, so it's easy to hold and shoot with one hand.
Around the front, we're glad to say things are a whole lot more conventional. There's a generous 12x zoom, behind which lies a 12.1-megapixel sensor. The zoom's focal length is equivalent to 28-336mm on a 35mm camera, which is impressive for so compact a device. Fortunately it also has physical lens-shift stabilisation, as without it hand-held shooting at its fullest length would be close to impossible.
It maintains a respectable f/5.9 maximum aperture at full telephoto, and f/3.9 at wide angle. Neither of these figures is out of the norm for this class of camera, producing bright images at either end of the scale.
This is further helped by the technology behind the 'HS' at the end of the product name. Denoting 'High Sensitivity', it points to a sensor and processor combo attuned to achieving the best possible performance in low light, without the use of a flash or extremely long exposures. This should both reduce unnatural light levels and obviate the need for a tripod in many cases.
Canon makes some bold claims here, including that HS reduces noise (the variation in brightness caused by the camera's sensor or circuits) at all ISO levels by up to 60%, and indeed there was a marked improvement throughout our tests compared to direct competitors. This allowed the 1100HS to render fine detail to a great depth, so that when zoomed in we could make out pixel-perfect subjects without interference, all of which brings us directly to our tests.
At 12 megapixels, the 1100HS's native resolution is 4,000x3,000 pixels. Sadly, this is an uncomfortable fit for its widescreen display, as it leaves black bars down the left and right-hand edges.
Fortunately (and unfortunately) Canon also gives you the option of shooting widescreen images. This is good as it neatly fills the display, and bad as it achieves that by slicing 752 pixels -- split evenly -- off the top and bottom of the pictures. This reduces the resolution of the finished product by over three megapixels while paying back nothing in terms of width.
Nonetheless, we split our tests between these two modes, and shot largely using the fully automatic settings to emulate most users' real-world experiences.
We were consistently impressed by the tone and vibrancy of the colours achieved in this mode. Skies, and their reflections, were a vivid blue, and trees in full leaf a very healthy green. In those parts of our images where there was significant detail across an area of similar tone, such as the grey tarpaulin covering the back of the boat in the image below, or the concrete wall of the flour mill in the background, it made best use of a very limited palette to produce impressively detailed results.
Less appealing were the occasional instances where the 1100HS failed to perfectly align each wavelength within the spectrum. What we are looking for is consistently sharp edges across each frame -- as much in the tricky corners and edges as the dead centre. Even a small deviation from absolute precision will split off parts of the visible spectrum in a similar way to a prism splitting incoming light into a rainbow. This is known as chromatic aberration and it's most often seen in areas of sharp contrast.
Although not common in our tests of this camera, there were some specific instances where it was very clearly visible, such as along the right-hand edge of the white mast in the image above, the relevant portion of which we have enlarged below.