This 5-megapixel addition to the Canon Digital IXUS line has more in common with its 4-megapixel IXUS 40 sibling than it does with the top-of-the-line 7-megapixel IXUS 700. Instead of the slightly larger, curvier body found in its higher-resolution stablemate, this IXUS has the same boxy ultracompact frame as the IXUS 40 and shares virtually every other spec except resolution. What you get for your £30 extra is improved image quality -- and that might be enough.
While we faulted the IXUS 40 for its average image quality, we were impressed by the performance, unrelenting burst capabilities and great battery life that are equally evident in this upgrade. If you're looking for an ultracompact snapshot camera and don't need manual controls, lots of scene modes or a powerful electronic flash, the marginally better image quality of this unit may lure you into the Canon fold.
The Canon Digital IXUS 50 looks good and feels good in your hands. At a lightweight 130g and with dimensions of 86 by 53 by 20mm, it won't create an unsightly saggy pocket. Although large hands may have trouble curling around this tiny package, a two-handed grip is your best bet for getting a steady shot, since your index finger operates both the shutter-release button mounted on the top surface and the concentric zoom lever.
Canon manages to pack a lot of components into a limited amount of space. For example, the front surface hosts the 3x zoom lens -- which retracts flush behind a protective cover when powered down -- a tiny microphone, a focus-assist lamp, an electronic flash and an optical viewfinder window. The bottom edge includes an honest-to-gosh metal (not plastic) tripod socket and a cover for the battery and the SD/MMC memory card. One side edge has a flip-up access door for the I/O connectors.
Other than a recessed power button and a green LED power light on top, all the key controls are bunched on the right side of the back panel, next to the 51mm (2-inch) LCD. The most common settings can be adjusted with the four-way cursor pad. You press up to switch between spot, centre-weighted and evaluative metering, while down cycles between single-shot, burst and 2-second to 10-second self-timer modes. Left selects normal, landscape or macro focus and right activates automatic, forced-on, red-eye, slow-sync, forced-off and speedlight flash modes.
There's no mode dial on the IXUS 50. Jumping from picture review to movie to photo mode is accomplished with a three-way sliding switch, while scene options are invoked from a menu that pops up when you press the Set/Function button in the centre of the four-way cursor pad. The function menu also provides access to important controls such as exposure compensation (±2EV in 1/3EV steps), ISO (50 to 400), compression ratio and resolution.
A separate menu key pops up three pages of choices for shooting, setup and customisation. There's also a display button to cycle through the LCD status and preview options. A small button marked with a dot activates printing and sharing features.