These days the IXUS range is synonymous with style, arguably at the expense of features. Still, we can't argue with Canon performance, even if it does come wrapped in such a quirky, old-fashioned package as the Canon Digital IXUS 970 IS. The 970 is available online for £255, which may be a premium for anyone unconvinced by its looks. We decided to check beneath its oddball surface.
Our first impression of the 970 is that it's funny looking. The styling harks back to the friendly curves of earlier digital cameras, with a cheerfully toy-like feel to the round buttons and bulging frame. It's not entirely without IXUS style points, though: the curved zoom collar rocker and the liquid-sheened, flush-folding lens ring sparkle with class.
While we have nothing against the bouncy design, the silver finish looks cheaper than we'd expect from an IXUS, and on our model the battery cover made the frame creak excessively. But our biggest complaint is that the bulbous body tapers too much on the right-hand side, which we found made it hard to hold securely. Some kind of grip detail would have been useful where the Canon logo is.
The screen is the average 64mm (2.5-inch) LCD, unusually joined by viewfinder. It's quite small, but you can turn off the live view screen so as not to distract yourself.
It seems that Canon isn't keen on stuffing the IXUS range with features. Face detection and in-camera red eye correction are really the basics these days. It's nice to have 18 scene modes, an orientation sensor, basic editing tools and image tagging option in playback mode, but not that exciting. Tags are generic, like 'people' and 'scenery', while you can only trim and resize images to preset sizes.
What is most interesting is the 970's enormous ace in the hole: a 5x optical zoom. The 35mm equivalent focal length is a fairly average 37mm at the wide end, but the zoom is the largest in the IXUS range. Fortunately, the longer zoom is paired with optical image stabilisation, as zooming further magnifies the small vibrations of shaky hands.
You can't go wrong with Canon. Colour is rendered accurately, with a pleasing richness to the reds in each image. Detail is crisp and not overly sharpened. As always, the big hurdle is noise performance, with the maximum ISO speed unusable.
High contrast images gave the 970 the most trouble, even when we sifted through the menus to bracket exposure metering, giving the camera a chance to judge light levels from different parts of the image. Some images saw the 970 blow out highlights and lose detail in darker areas at the same time, which is another reason why it pays to investigate and tweak the exposure controls, such as they are.
The 970's continuous perfomance took us by surprise with the sort of endurance usually seen on the day of the London Marathon. Burst mode captured a reasonable -- but not outstanding -- 1.2 frames per second. The impressive part was that it kept this up for a full half hour, snapping more than 2,000 pictures in one go, and all at full 10-megapixel resolution. We only stopped when our finger started to hurt, but could have easily filled the 16GB Kingston SDHC card we were using.
We've seen a few unstoppable burst modes, but we were really dazzled by the flash-enabled burst mode. After the first picture was taken, subsequent images with a slightly reduced flash followed every two seconds. After the tenth flash this dropped to a flash every ten seconds, but still showed no sign of stopping.
In comparison to the IXUS 960 IS, Canon gives with one hand and takes away with the other. The longer zoom is a plus, and most photographers wouldn't be too bothered about losing 2 megapixels when there's 10 in place. Unless you've fallen head-over-heels for its oddball styling you could be better served by a wider-angle camera like the 4x zooming Casio Exilim EX-Z100 or Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS5. Nevertheless, this capable compact will suit the point-and-shoot crowd perfectly.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday