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'.
The movie mode is capable of recording at a hi-def resolution of 720p. But, sadly, the 4x optical zoom doesn't function while recording.
For quickly connecting to an HD television, there's a mini-HDMI output behind a small door where your thumb naturally rests while shooting.
The 120's performance is a mixed bag. For a camera of this size, a fast start-up time is expected, and that's what we got, at 1.4 seconds. Its shutter lag is on the long side, at 0.6 seconds in good lighting and 0.9 seconds in dimmer conditions. Regrettably, its shot-to-shot times aren't good either, taking 2.9 seconds without flash and more than 6 seconds with it on. In addition, its continuous shooting mode comes in well under that of some rivals, at 0.6 frames per second.
Very good photos
The 120's photo quality is very good, but still subject to problems characteristic of point-and-shoot cameras of this size and price. Some smudginess from noise reduction starts appearing at ISO 200, but, for the most part, photos are sharp with good fine detail. Subjects get noticeably softer and smoother as the ISO gets higher, but detail remains reasonably good up to and including ISO 800.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Typical shot-to-shot time (flash)||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
While large prints may be out of the question, the noise is suppressed just enough to make prints of 4 by 6 inches or smaller and Web use possible. Much of the credit for this goes to the 120's ability to produce photos with very good exposure, white balance, contrast and colour, especially if you like your colours vibrant, but not unnatural.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
There's some mild barrel distortion on the left side, which is typical of compact wideangle lenses. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is in good supply in high-contrast areas and, depending on the picture, is visible in prints of 8 by 10 inches or larger.
Just like the Digital IXUS 100 IS, the Canon Digital IXUS 120 IS is a fun camera to use. The combination of its incredibly small and attractive design, ease of use, and generally very good photos makes it a fairly irresistible ultra-compact. Its performance could be better and the amount of purple fringing in our test shots bugs us, but neither are real deal breakers in this class of camera.
Additional editing by Charles Kloet