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Photos: Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS and 870 IS hands on

The new Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS and 870 IS compact cameras represent some big steps forward for the IXUS range, with wide angle lenses and long zooms -- plus something called colour

Today your intrepid Craver left the gilded environs of CNET Towers and -- gasp! -- boarded public transport to enter -- wince! -- the countryside. Because that's where Canon lives, and we had been invited to meet the new Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS and 870 IS compact cameras, among other new arrivals. And so, clutching a cheap day return and checking our mobile phone signal every two minutes, off we went into England's green and pleasant land.

The flagship 14.7-megapixel 980 replaces the IXUS 960 IS, and the 870 succeeds the IXUS 860 IS. Both new cameras feature the new DIGIC 4 image processor, which Canon claims is faster and less noisy than predecessors. It also powers face detection, which has improved its ability to spot faces turned at an angle to the camera, or in profile. Face selection and tracking stalks a subject around the frame, while a new servo autofocus continuously adjusts focus on subjects moving towards or away from the camera. Finally, there's the group-shot-rescuing face self-timer function, which waits until after the photographer has entered the frame before snapping.

DIGIC 4 also powers Canon’s new i-Contrast feature, which is intended to bring out detail in dark areas of higher-contrast pictures without blowing out lighter areas. Both cameras also feature Canon’s optical image stabilization, and 30 frames per second VGA video shooting.

Now we've occasionally said that the IXUS range is coasting on its good name, rather than attempting to break new ground. Fortunately these new cameras seem to be catching up with the innovators in the compact sphere: the 980 boasts full manual control, a somewhat belated first in the IXUS range. Another slightly less groundbreaking first is the fact that the 980 comes in black as well as the traditional silver. And we may gently mock, but actually it does look sweet.

Let's face it, looking good is what the IXUS range does best -- so click through the links for some more eye candy, and to see how the new cameras are catching up to their competitors. -Rich Trenholm

The IXUS 980 sports a fairly average 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD screen, but to be fair that is to make room for an optical viewfinder -- which is nice.

The Canon IXUS 980 IS packs a 3.7x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilisation. It's available from late September with a pretty hefty recommended retail price of £350 -- but don't worry, the price is bound to drop when it hits shelves.

Here's the 10-megapixel Canon Digital IXUS 870 IS, which comes finished in gold or silver.

The Canon Digital IXUS 870 IS shows off a 76mm (3-inch) LCD screen.

The 870 features a 4x optical zoom, with a 28mm wide-angle equivalent to a 35mm film camera. That's a much wider angle for a compact than many previous IXUS cameras and is more in line with recent advances in wide angles from the likes of Panasonic. It's available from late September priced at £270.