For many people, compact cameras start and end with IXUS. An occupational hazard of our obsessive quest to bring you the latest gadgets is that people are always grabbing us in the office, stopping us on public transport and rousting us out of whatever hedge we slept in to ask us for advice. On the camera-buying front, the IXUS name always crops up, and with good reason: Canon leads the market and is a byword for image quality, with the 14.7-megapixel Canon IXUS 980 IS sitting proudly at the top of the range.

This Craver happily acknowledges the quality of every IXUS. They're certainly popular: recently, the BBC's top geek Rory Cellan-Jones asked for opinions on Twitter and Canon edged out Panasonic's Lumix brand. But just how good is IXUS in the context of the whole compact market? We took a look at the 980 to see how it holds up against the traditional brands such as Nikon and Kodak, and the johnny-come-lately all-rounders such as Samsung, Casio and Panasonic.

We're particularly keen to see whether the 980 stands up to this Craver's current favourite compact, the Panasonic Lumix FX500. Click through the images in our flashy new photo gallery to see the 980's bits and bumps.

On the subject of the lens, our satisfaction with the longer zoom is tempered by the fact that when zoomed out, the 980 has a wide angle of 36mm, equivalent to a 35mm camera. This means that you won't get as much into your pictures. Compare that with the Lumix FX500's 25mm wide angle, the smaller number meaning appreciably wider images.
The 980's 3.7x optical zoom is above the 3x zoom that's been standard for a while now, but the FX500 boasts a 4x zoom while the Ricoh R10, for example, goes up to 7x. The 980 also includes optical image stabilisation, which is becoming ubiquitous now in all but the smallest models.
A 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD screen looks decidedly puny these days -- even other cameras in the IXUS range sport up to 76mm monitors. But the 980's screen has to make way for an optical viewfinder, very rare on compacts, so we'll grudgingly let it off.
With the 980, the IXUS range gets manual control, which is very welcome. The late arrival at the manual party is made up for with a very slick sliding-scale interface, but we're disappointed at the aperture option: you can only choose from a minimum or maximum setting.
Face detection has become ubiquitous in the last 18 months or so, and the 980 adjusts focus, exposure, metering and white balance for faces in the frame. We're starting to see the technology develop in new and interesting ways, and the 980 boasts a face-tracking option to follow a particular subject when they move around, and ensure the optimum settings for that person. Another option is a face self-timer that waits for you to enter the frame before snapping group shots.
The 980 shoots VGA movies, which is pretty much par for the course. But the FX500 isn't the only other compact out there with the capacity to shoot high-definition video. Canon, which also makes HD camcorders, should really think about catching up.
Camcorders often have large hard drives to hold the larger files generated by video. But apart from the Sony T2 range, the trend in the camera market is to give us desultory built-in memory, only good for a couple of shots. Canon has obviously recognised how pointless this is, doing away with internal memory entirely, but continues to bundle an equally pointless 32MB SD card. Oh well.
The IXUS 980 IS, known as the Canon PowerShot SD990 IS in the States, is available now for around £230. That's the biggest problem: the 980 is another quality compact from Canon, but whether it's £30-£40 better than the Panasonic FX500 or any other compact with a bigger screen, wider lens, or longer zoom is something you'll have to decide for yourself.
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