Canon's Digital IXUS 990 IS boasts all the usual IXUS virtues: elegant design and straightforward controls combined with hi-tech automation. That's an appealing mix for those who want an idiot-proof camera with a touch of class. The 12.1-megapixel 990 also gives you a 5x image-stabilised zoom and a high-definition movie mode. It sounds good, but, at around £280, so it should.
Canon's IXUS models offer no wild gimmicks or experimental technology. But they're not cheap, either. They are, however, pretty safe bets when you're not so worried about the price but you do want a solid, dependable and respectable camera that's not going to embarrass you at posh parties and will turn out good-quality pictures in anyone's hands.
There's plenty to like. The semi-matte metal finish looks good and the external controls have been kept to a minimum. On the top is a three-position slider for selecting the movie, standard stills and full auto modes, while, on the back, are Canon's usual directional/rotary controller and just four triangular buttons for direct printing, playback mode, the main menus and the display options. Most routine adjustments are made using the 'func' button in the middle of the controller. The great thing about Canon compacts is that this basic control system hasn't changed in years.
The 76mm (3-inch) LCD is especially good, and a check of the specs reveals why -- it has twice the resolution of most rivals' screens, with 461,000 pixels. And the 990 is smart on the inside as well as the outside. Like most compacts now, it offers automatic scene recognition, but it picks the right scene from all 18 available-- not just a handful of the most common ones.
It's hard to tell whether the 990 is the top model in the IXUS range or not. It's the one with the highest model number (for what that's worth), but the older Digital IXUS 980 IS has a higher resolution (14.7 as opposed to 12.1 megapixels) and costs another £10 or £20. But the 980 only has a 4x zoom and no HD movies, so maybe the 990 is better after all? But what about the Digital IXUS 110 IS? It's cheaper than both, has the same resolution and HD movie mode as the 990, and offers a 4x wideangle zoom too.
Canon's IXUS range is all over the place. You might as well shut your eyes and stick a pin in a printout of the range to try to work out which one is the best. It probably isn't, however, the 990. It's very appealing, but it's pricy, you don't get a wideangle zoom, the movie mode only has mono sound and you can't zoom while filming (it's the same with the other IXUS models).
The 990 certainly looks good and handles well, but, although the lens offers decent definition, there's plenty of distortion at the shorter end of the zoom range and a fair amount of chromatic aberration and corner softness. It's not bad, but if you're expecting a sizeable jump in optical quality just because of the price, you're going to be disappointed.
The model number and the price put the Canon Digital IXUS 990 IS near the top of the range, but that doesn't automatically mean it's the best camera in the line. You can get pretty much the same specs in the smaller and cheaper 110 IS, as well as a more practical 4x wideangle zoom.
Edited by Charles Kloet