The IXUS brand has long been a benchmark in pocket-sized photography, but some recent parts of the range have come close to rivalling Canon's PowerShot line for bulk and weight. The 230HS marks a return to form. This diminutive, colourful £230 snapper is about as 'compact' as a camera can get, and a great performer, too.
Canon has made great use of all the available space here, keeping this camera small by arranging its controls around three sides. On the top surface are the regular power, shutter and zoom controls. On the rear are movie recording, playback and a four-way rocker for changing common shooting conditions, such as flash, macro and exposure compensation. And on the right-hand side, on either side of the strap attachment, there's a slider for switching between auto and program modes, and a button for accessing the full menu.
In common with other point-and-shoot cameras, we conducted our tests using the full auto mode to emulate most people's experiences.
The menus themselves are simple enough, with the more advanced features missing when you're shooting in auto mode. Movie and stills shooting options are mixed within the same menu, though, which is a little disorganised -- wind noise reduction, for example, is wedged between flash settings and review time for no discernible reason.
Auto mode is particularly smart, detecting the context of your current framing to automatically select the most appropriate settings without any intervention from yourself. And so when we took a close-up picture of a teasel it automatically switched to macro mode for one of the best results in this test that we have ever seen.
Taken shortly after sunrise, the colours were rich, the subject was sharp and the background was thrown out of focus for a luscious creamy blur, really bringing the subject forward in the frame. The subject itself was exceptionally sharp, with each spike of the head perfectly picked out, and the smaller spines on their leading edges also clear to see.
The 'HS' in this camera's name stands for 'high sensitivity', with the internal DIGIC 4 processor tuned to extract the maximum possible detail in darker conditions. To test this we turned our attention to a pile of logs in an area of shade to see how well it would capture shadow areas on the ground.
By exposing clipped shadows and highlights in which detail has been lost, we can see that the IXUS 230HS lived up to its promise, with very few burned-out highlights (which we've indicated by adding red dots in the picture below) and equally well controlled shadows (we've indicated lost detail by adding blue dots). As you can see from this image, the only loss was in the extreme lower right corner.
Generally with clipped highlights and shadows you are looking for fine lines or small dots of loss, as you can often recover what has been lost to some extent in post-production using a tool like Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture. In this instance, applying recovery of just 2 per cent and adjusting the brightness by 19 per cent was suffient to pull back detail in both of these areas.
We were particularly impressed by the way in which it handled bright conditions that might otherwise lead to significant overexposure. We set about shooting this deliberately tricky scene in which the low sun was shining directly on the front of white lettering, while the side of the building on which it was mounted sat in shadow. Despite managing to fully expose the darker brickwork, no clipped highlights were discernable when viewed in full screen, and when zoomed to 100 per cent the evidence of clipping was nothing but slight flecking.
For the most part, chromatic aberration (improperly rendered colours) was very well controlled in regular shooting conditions. It was only when we pushed it to its extremes, by shooting fine detail with the sun behind it, that blooming caused a separation of the red light wavelength. Although the ideal situation would be perfect alignment of each wavelength, this isn't cause for particular concern, as more careful framing would alleviate the problem almost entirely.
As can be seen here, in an image where we had the sun to our back, the flagpole on this cathedral tower is perfectly reproduced with just very slight fringing evident at 100 per cent zoom. When printed or reproduced at Web resolutions, it is unlikely this would be noticed.
Detail is extremely well captured at both the wide angle and telephoto ends of the zoom. We shot this plaque, positioned around 10ft above ground, at 40mm -- the full extent of its zoom, equivalent to 224mm in a 35mm camera -- and after downloading we enlarged it on screen to full size. The level of detail couldn't be faulted, with the edges of each character crisply rendered, and those parts where the raised characters had been weathered precisely reproduced.
At its widest position, the 8x zoom is equivalent to a wide angle 28mm, giving the IXUS 230HS a very respectable range for so small and pocketable a device.