A follow-up of sorts to the Digital IXUS 100 IS, the £250 Canon Digital IXUS 120 IS is another very small, very lightweight, 12-megapixel camera. It drops the 100's optical viewfinder, and in its place gets a larger 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD, and a wideangle 28mm-equivalent lens with a 4x zoom. Aside from a couple of minor interface tweaks, everything else is basically the same, including the earlier model's mixed performance and tendency to produce purple fringing. Nevertheless, the 120 is one of the best ultra-compacts available, all things considered.
Small and straightforward
Despite the 120's slight build, it feels very sturdy. If you plan to keep it loose in a bag, invest in some manner of protection, or risk scratching up its beautiful body and screen. The model is available in silver, blue, black and brown. The lens barrel colour closely matches the body, too, giving it a peculiar uniform look.
The camera is remarkably comfortable to use, even for those with large hands. All of the controls are flat and flush with the body, giving the camera a very smooth appearance. Using the four-way directional pad and centre 'func/set' button can be slightly difficult, and may lead to frequent accidental presses of the centre button when trying to adjust the exposure, change focus and flash modes, or pick timer settings from the outer ring.
The 120 has a revamped menu and help system, with hints and tips for choosing the appropriate settings, and telling you what the shooting mode you're in will do. For example, if you don't know what the camera's 'servo AF' does, just select it in the settings menu and, at the bottom of the screen, it'll tell you that this setting continues to adjust focus while you're pressing the shutter button halfway down. Help systems certainly aren't uncommon, but Canon has executed this one well, considering the limited screen space.
Not that more is expected, but the 120 is limited to three shooting modes. A small switch on back moves you between Canon's improved automatic scene recognition ('smart auto'), 'program/scene' and 'movie'.
The smart auto mode is very reliable and, since it's now picking from 22 different scenes (up from 18 on the 100), the bases are well-covered. In program mode, you can control things such as ISO, white balance, light metering and autofocus type, or you can switch to one of 17 scene shooting options, including common ones, like 'portrait' and 'indoors', or specialty choices, such as 'long shutter' and 'colour accent'.