We really enjoyed shooting with the Canon Digital IXUS 700. It has an exterior design that combines form and function more elegantly than any point-and-shoot we've ever tested. A Digic II-powered image-processing system enables the IXUS 700 to snap a limitless stream of 7-megapixel photos at a respectable clip, its start-up time is at the top of its class, and it delivers decent photos when compared to its competition.
As far as we're concerned, this should be the way point-and-shoot cameras look and feel for the foreseeable future. In other words, forget about Sony's form-over-function DSC-T1 and its many stylistic imitators. We love the Canon Digital IXUS 700's external design; it's small without being unwieldy, feels solid without being heavy (the camera weighs 190g with battery and media installed), and is, overall, a joy to hold and shoot. Though prone to the occasional scratch, its silver-metallic exterior is a marked aesthetic improvement over the more plastic-looking IXUS 40 and IXUS 50.
In practice, the IXUS 700 is small enough to fit in your trouser pocket without looking like you've sprouted a renegade thigh, but substantial enough that you can shoot without worrying that your fingers will block the lens, the flash or the optical viewfinder. Its optical viewfinder gives you decent coverage, amazingly, allowing you to see close to 90 percent of your shot. In a camera this size, that's an achievement -- not to take anything away from the IXUS 700's 51mm (2-inch) LCD screen, which is bright and clearly visible both indoors and out. In some cases, you'll have to zoom in to ensure your picture doesn't blur, but otherwise, we didn't miss the larger screens found on some competing cameras.
All of the IXUS 700's rear controls are located to the right of the LCD screen, well within the reach of your thumb. Canon made an intelligent decision in placing the camera's four-way selector and function button at the centre of its rear control area. The function menu itself remains largely unchanged, granting easy access to such settings as white balance, ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation, image size and compression level.
There are also three separate rear buttons: one to toggle the LCD on and off, another to bring up the camera's setup menu and a third to enable direct printer connectivity. The rear dial lets you choose from Review, Automatic Exposure, Manual Exposure, Scene and Movie modes. The dial itself is responsive and once we got used to the camera, it was easy to switch from mode to mode simply by remembering how many clicks it took to get from one to the other.
Here's an important question to ask yourself before you read any further: do you want your next digital camera to have manual features, such as shutter- and aperture-priority modes? If your answer is yes, then the Canon Digital IXUS 700 is not the camera for you. The IXUS 700's Digic II image-processing system is capable of some impressive things, but in this camera, control over your exposure settings is not one of them.
Now, you might not want or need to bother with manual photography, or you might already have a digital SLR in your photographic arsenal and are looking for a pocket snapshot camera for more discreet shooting. To the camera's credit, although we're used to tweaking the exposure settings, after a while we didn't even notice that the IXUS 700 lacked them. Admittedly, these weren't high-pressure artistic situations, and the camera is somewhat prone to blurring shots when your arms aren't perfectly still, but it's worth noting that, by and large, the IXUS 700 managed to overcome our initial, manual-born skepticism.
The IXUS 700 sports a 3x optical zoom lens with a 37mm-to-111mm (35mm equivalent) focal-length range. The 37mm widest-angle focal length is still somewhat narrow, though not uncommonly so for a pocket camera. The lens aperture can range from f/2.8 to f/4.9, but due to the camera's lack of manual controls, the aperture setting you get from shot to shot will be determined by the camera. There's no manual focus, which can be a problem if you're having trouble with blurred shots or want to have tighter control over your focus in the IXUS 700's otherwise effective macro mode.
Movie clips are available in VGA (640x480) resolutions at 30fps, with durations limited only by the capacity of your media. One novel feature offered by Digic II is the 320x240 video setting that captures clips at a brisk 60fps, useful for anyone who wants to take a frame-by-frame look at their golf swing.
A few largely superfluous shooting functions lie buried in the IXUS 700's function menu. There's a Digital Macro mode -- a digital zoom, really -- for more closely composing your close-ups in-camera, as well as a My Colors mode that simulates a variety of colour filters. There are also nine preset scene modes available on the Scene dial setting, ranging from such standards as Portrait and Indoor to more specialised choices like Underwater and Fireworks. The camera's maximum photo resolution comes in at 3,072x2,304, stepping all the way down to a Web-friendly 640x480; if you're looking for wider in-camera composition, it also offers a 1,600x1,200 Postcard setting.