Compared to its siblings in Canon's IXUS line of compact point-and-shoot cameras, the top-end 800 IS packs more features into its small frame, rather than higher resolution. It shares the same 6-megapixel sensor as its peers, the IXUS 60 and IXUS 65 but has a longer zoom lens and image stabilisation to curb blurry photos.
The Canon Digital IXUS 800 IS is compact, though slightly larger than the other two models. Still, it's the right size to slip into a jacket or a loose trouser pocket. At 192g, it's a bit heavy for its small size, but it gives it a solid feel.
The camera's intelligently laid-out controls are comfortable to operate, though with a few minor annoyances. Most of the controls are located on the back panel, leaving only the shutter release and zoom rocker on the top edge of the camera. We're not crazy about the zoom rocker, which encircles the shutter release. Though its small nub makes it easy to find and responsive to use, we'd have preferred it to be slightly larger. You select among the shooting and playback modes via a half-covered, View-Master-like wheel on the right side of the camera.
The main camera controls rest in a four-way-plus-OK pad, while menu, print and display buttons sit next to the LCD screen. You change the flash, timer, macro and ISO sensitivity settings directly through the control pad, while more technical settings such as exposure compensation, white balance and colour adjustment are accessed via the function menu. The buttons are round and responsive, and they feel comfortable even under large thumbs. Our only real quibble with the 800 IS's control layout is the tiny, finicky power button, which is wedged in an uncomfortable position just above the LCD screen and to the right of the viewfinder.
The Canon Digital IXUS 800 IS is packed with handy features. Its 6-megapixel sensor works with its image-stabilised f/2.8-to-f/5.5 35mm-to-140mm lens (35mm equivalent) and can hit sensitivity settings as high as ISO 800. Its 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD screen is nice and bright, and it leaves just enough room for an optical viewfinder. Unfortunately, the viewfinder is just above the centre of the LCD screen, forcing you to turn your head uncomfortably or polish the LCD with your nose.
Beyond the standard automatic and manual-ish settings (it lacks shutter- and aperture-priority exposure modes) the camera offers a nice handful of scene presets. Included are standard shooting modes such as night-time, portrait and kids and pets. It also includes Canon's Color Accent and Color Swap modes, gimmicky but fun options that let you switch colors in photos or take artsy, everything-is-black-and-white-except-for-a-toy shots. The IXUS 800 IS can also shoot video at a standard 30fps in VGA resolution or at 60fps in QVGA (320x240) for effects such as slow motion. The camera offers Canon's thorough colour-adjustment settings. If manual and preset white-balance options aren't enough, you can tweak individual colours until they look just right.