One of the most popular cameras of last year wasn't a big fancy digital SLR or a pimped-out superzoom -- it was Canon's somewhat understated . Its combination of a nice -- though not extravagant -- feature set, small size and relatively low price proved quite appealing to camera buyers.
This year, with the £170 Digital IXUS 80 IS, Canon has updated the aesthetic design, switched to a slightly different zoom range and most importantly, added optical image stabilisation. Of course, the company has also raised the resolution to 8 megapixels from last year's 7.1 megapixels and refined some of the camera's other features.
Last year's model evoked the design of the original film version of the IXUS, with its black circle around the camera's lens and squared-off edges. This year, Canon brings this model back in line with more recent designs without abandoning its tiny stature and is offering it in silver, caramel, chocolate and pink. The tweaked design is just slightly thicker than last year's and sports rounded edges and a slightly curved indent on the right-hand side that provides a perfect nook for a middle finger when gripping the camera.
As with last year's model, Canon places all buttons on the right half of the body. A slider lets you switch among still image capture, video recording and playback. Other than three dedicated buttons for Menu, Display and Direct Printing, the only other control is the circular four-way rocker with a Function/Set button in the middle.
Canon doesn't include manual exposure controls in its Digital IXUS line, but you will find an ample array of preset scene modes and some features that make automatic shooting simpler. As with a lot of compact cameras, the IXUS 80 IS includes face detection.
This year, Canon has extended this function to let it set not only focus and exposure, but also flash output and white balance, so the camera should be less likely to blow out the details on your friend's face with the flash and should be better able to keep skin tones neutral in varied light sources.
To help combat confusion when setting ISO, the IXUS 80 IS includes Motion Detection Technology, which raises the ISO setting if there is a moving subject when you have the camera set to High ISO Auto mode. By raising the ISO, the camera can shoot at a faster shutter speed to freeze the action.
While some cameras have been switching to wider-angle lenses, Canon includes a 38-114mm equivalent f/2.8-4.9 3x optical zoom lens in the IXUS 80 IS in contrast to last year's 35-105mm lens. The change in focal lengths doesn't make for much of an effective difference, though we did notice more distortion at the IXUS 80 IS's 38mm setting than we did at the IXUS 70's 35mm setting.
Canon did add optical image stabilisation, however, which should help if you often shoot stationary objects in low light. Since the lens isn't all that wide, you might find the optical viewfinder helpful to bring the camera further back when trying to frame a shot, or in situations where you don't want to have the bright LCD turned on.