For all the achingly hip advertising froth surrounding the IXUS range of stylish compacts, the Canon Digital IXUS 85 IS has a curiously old-fashioned feel to it, emphasising build and image quality and ease of use. The spec is bang up to date, though, with a 10-megapixel sensor, face detection and even image stabilisation. It's out now for around £180.
Here's a camera you wouldn't be afraid to take home to your parents. For a start, it looks and feels like a camera, from the tips of its cosily rounded metal edges to the charmingly retro viewfinder plonked above the 64mm (2.5-inch) display.
Canon is the only maker to routinely still put optical viewfinders on its cameras and this one is a beaut: small but perfectly sharp and a real benefit if you're shooting in very dark conditions or a burst of continuous shots -- when screens are virtually useless. The screen itself, while verging on the small side, is bright and incredibly crisp in all but the dimmest indoor conditions.
The IXUS 85 feels very civilised in use. The zoom is whisper-quiet, the buttons respond almost instantly and menus are laid out logically. There are literally dozens of scene modes, some hidden away in the Func menu. The 3x lens is fine for a compact with no obvious distortion or other optical problems. Image stabilisation works well or at least as well as you need with such a modest telephoto setting.
Image quality has that typical Canon magic, wringing a good amount of detail from the 10-megapixel sensor while keeping a nice natural feel to colours and exposure. Movies are lovely too, topping out at VGA resolution. Despite having a short quoted flash range -- only 2m at telephoto -- we found the built-in unit to push out a good quantity of light -- evenly, too. Battery life is more than fine, at 300 shots per charge.
Traditional might be good, but outdated is another thing entirely. A 64mm screen and 3x zoom for over £200 looks very much on the pricey side these days, regardless of how lovingly they are put together. While it's not entirely disappointing, the lackadaisical 1.4 frames per second burst mode is unlikely to set many hearts afire.
The same could be said about the face detection mode: it's perfectly serviceable for head-on mugshots, but turns its nose up when your subjects turn their heads to the side. Also, while colours are generally very natural, skin tones can look rather washed out. A side effect of Canon extracting the maximum amount of detail from the 85's images is that noise can find its way in, quite noticeably at ISO 800. These are all small issues and Canon can be justifiably proud of this IXUS.
On second thought, maybe you should be afraid of showing this Canon to your parents. It epitomises just the kind of affordable, easy-to-use luxury that tempts customers into spending a little more to get a quality product. The IXUS 85 says just what it says on the tin with the assurance of good build and longevity.
Edited by Shannon Doubleday