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Canon IXUS 990 IS review: Canon IXUS 990 IS

When you pay a premium for a compact camera, you should expect the very best, and that's almost what the IXUS 990 IS delivers.

Lexy Savvides Principal Video Producer
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
Expertise Wearables | Smartwatches | Mobile phones | Photography | Health tech | Assistive robotics Credentials
  • Webby Award honoree, 2x Gold Telly Award winner
Lexy Savvides
4 min read

If you are paying AU$649 for a 12-megapixel compact camera you would expect that it would be laden to the brim with extra features. After all, a similar amount of money will grab you a waterproof and shockproof compact such as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FT1.

7.7

Canon IXUS 990 IS

The Good

Incredibly attractive casing. Sleek design. Bright, large 3-inch LCD. HD movie recording.

The Bad

No zoom in movie mode. No manual controls. Expensive. Pictures a little soft at full magnification.

The Bottom Line

When you pay a premium for a compact camera, you should expect the very best, and that's almost what the IXUS 990 IS delivers.

While the 990 IS is the top of the IXUS range and has a number of notable features that should justify its asking price, we do have a couple of reservations. Read on for our full review.

Design

A bit of a looker, whichever way you view it. (Credit: Canon)

Sharing a sleek, metallic casing more akin to a streamlined toaster from the heyday of Art Deco, the IXUS 990 IS takes the stylish compact camera title to new heights. The whole camera is surrounded by a glossy metallic finish that is a two-tone splendour in silver and gold. The 990 IS's smooth corners and triangular buttons on the back are similar to the 870 IS from the 2008 IXUS range.

Speaking of the rear, the huge 3-inch LCD takes up most of the space with the rest of the buttons nestled towards the right-hand side edge. The control wheel, which has made an appearance on many of Canon's previous cameras, is featured here again, surrounding the circular control pad.

The shutter and zoom rocker are together at the top, alongside a small power button and a switch to select shooting modes. The microphone is also situated here. All in all, the case is compact enough to lug around with you without it causing too much of a strain on your back pocket, at 160g. Dimensions-wise, it's 9.4x5.6x2.6cm.

Features

We admit it's often easy to get carried away with staring at the camera — but there is a fair amount of substance underneath its cosine-inspired curves. The main drawcard is HD video, at 720p. Zoom lovers need not shy away either, as it also features a 5x optical zoom.

However, the lens itself lacks the wide-angle quality that we loved on the 870 IS, at only 37mm. This is the same problem we had with the 980 IS, too. Also, in movie mode you're lumbered with digital only zoom — Canon locks out the optical which is another disappointment. Output to HDMI is present, but with no cable included it's yet another purchase on top of the already steep list price.

Moving onto brighter pastures though is the 3-inch LCD screen, packed with 461,000 dots. There's also blink detection, a slightly novel inclusion that tells you when your subject has blinked and prompts you to take the photo again. It would probably be more useful if it just took a picture again automatically in this situation. The scroll wheel, which has been a bit hit and miss on previous incarnations of Canon cameras, is a little fiddly but mostly responsive and has enough feedback to prevent us from accidentally scrolling too far through options in playback and menu selections.

Performance and image quality

Like most of the other IXUS cameras, the 990 IS was no slouch in terms of performance. It was quick to start up, at a touch under 1 second. In drive mode (burst mode) it managed to capture just over 1 frame per second, after an initial delay as the camera determined the focus.

Speaking of focus, in practical use it was relatively quick but not lightning fast when we had to depress the button halfway for it to re-focus a scene. As for picture quality, it was relatively similar to what we expected from a Canon compact, though at full magnification we found that sometimes images looked a bit soft. The camera also had difficulty delineating between areas of high and low contrast, blowing out portions of images in tricky lighting situations. When we compensated for this by changing the metering mode worked well, but you are still not going to get the sort of dynamic range that you might want from a camera of this price.

The noise chart for the 990 IS shows some speckling at 400 and above, but the noise reduction technology seems to work well. Click image to enlarge. (Credit: CBSi)

As for noise (observe the chart above), the 990 IS coped well until about ISO 400 when visible grain crept in, and at ISO 1600 you could get a usable shot with a little extra noise reduction in post-processing. That said, there is noise reduction built-in to the camera itself and you can see it at work even at ISO 200.

As for the video mode, it was good for a compact camera, with a similar punchy colour palette afforded to the still pictures, though there was a slight amount of graininess in indoor shots. The sound quality let the camera down a little though, which was slightly muffled — nothing out of the ordinary from such a small microphone.

Conclusion

Setting aside our main gripe with the price, the 990 IS earns its title as the top dog of the IXUS range — just. We would have loved to see a wide-angle lens and some manual controls like on the 980 IS and as such our score is a little lower than you might expect.