The IXUS sells itself on more than merely its size these days. With a 10x zoom and a 12.1-megapixel sensor producing 4,000x3,000 pixel shots, the IXUS 255 HS already offers the perfect blend of pocketability and performance.
It's no slouch when it comes to producing decent shots, either. You can pick it up online for around £225.
Specs and build
At the widest end of its range the lens produces a field of view equivalent to a 24mm lens on a regular 35mm camera. That's a broad sweep, and perfect for landscapes. When fully zoomed, it acts like a 240mm unit, which is more suited to distant subjects, such as wildlife and pitch-based sports. Its maximum aperture varies between f/3 and f/6.9 from one end of the zoom to the other.
Around the back, the screen is pretty standard fare, measuring 3 inches from corner to corner without articulation or touch sensitivity. You'll have to navigate the menus using the regular button arrangement, but this is clear and well marked, so doesn't take long to become familiar with. The menus themselves are also clearly set out and easy to find your way around.
Among the hardware buttons you'll find one that turns on the camera's built-in Wi-Fi, so it can connect to wireless networks, printers and PCs, smart phones and tablets. This lets you view and manage your photos on the remote device and, if you're using a phone, pass back GPS data to location-stamp your images so you can position them on a map on sites like Flickr, and in applications such as Lightroom, Aperture and iPhoto.
Sensitivity tops out at ISO 6,400, which should be plenty for the kind of point-and-shoot photography to which a compact of this kind is best suited, and you can tweak it by two stops in either direction in 1/3 EV steps.
Slightly less impressive is the range of shutter speeds on offer, which in the default auto setting stretches from just one second to 1/2,000 second. That might mean you end up relying on sensitivity for low-light shots more than you would have liked. Fortunately, some of the dedicated low-light scene modes do extend the longest exposure time to a more generous 15 seconds, which will allow for more creative long-exposure shots in low-light conditions.
Maximum shooting speed is 2.4 frames per second if you want full-size images. To go any faster than that you'll have to switch to the dedicated high-speed burst mode, which ups it to 6.2fps, but not without reducing the resolution to just 3 megapixels.
The minimum focusing distance puts your subject 1cm from the end of the lens, which is impressive indeed. If you've got the IXUS set to auto mode it'll switch to its macro setting automatically, and the fall-off is particularly attractive. The area surrounding your subject is very quickly defocused, so your eye is very effectively pulled towards the subject itself.
I performed my tests on an overcast day and despite the muted palette and poor lighting the 255 HS put in a good performance, making best use of the available illumination to retain realistic, accurate colours throughout.
Even the skies, which could easily have been flat and featureless on account of the heavy cloud cover, benefited from a high degree of texture and dappling, which added interest to the shots.
In the image below, for example, where the focus is entirely on the darker hull of the boat, the IXUS 255 HS avoids bleaching out the sky and maintains balanced tones right across the frame.
There was no evidence of chromatic aberration, which is an undesirable focusing issue where the lens might sometimes not quite focus each wavelength of incoming light in sync with the others, and thus introduce coloured fringing along the edges of fine details.
As can be seen in the rigging below, the 255 HS had no trouble maintaining fine detail when backlit, and so contrasts and edges remained sharp throughout my tests.
The lens was very consistent when it came to focusing fine detail too, as demonstrated when comparing the centre of a shot to the corners and edges. It's not unusual for a camera to perform more poorly in the corners where it has to bend the incoming light to a more extreme degree to hit the sensor, but the fall off in the shot below is minimal, allowing for well-rendered brickwork on the right of the frame and a decent level of detail in the grass in the lower left corner.
Low-light performance was good and stepping inside to take pictures in a dimly lit church didn't pose too many problems. Naturally, as the IXUS increased its sensitivity to ISO 800 it introduced a degree of noise into the image, but this really only impacted mid-tones, largely leaving highlights and deep shadow unscathed. The overall balance of the image was maintained, so unless you zoomed too tight or cropped too close, you would be unlikely to notice any detrimental impact.
When shooting under studio lights, the IXUS held its sensitivity at a respectable ISO 100 for a crisp result with well observed detail and plenty of natural texture. Wood grain was clear and realistic, the fur on a child's toy was fine and easily distinguished, and there was neither bleaching on bright objects, nor details lost in the shadows at the darker end of the scale.
Switching off the studio lights saw it increase its sensitivity to ISO 800. Although there was an expected increase in the amount of grain in the resulting image -- as was the case with my general low-light shot above -- it again wasn't possible to see unless zoomed in to 100 per cent. It was light enough to have very little impact on the clarity of smaller details in the image, such as the writing on the miniature spirit bottle at the centre of the setup.
Colours were particularly punchy when using the on-board flash, and the level of grain was reduced as it was able to dial back its sensitivity to ISO 400, but at the same time it cast dark shadows behind the objects in the scene, which in turn gave the frame a fairly dark appearance overall.
The camera shoots HD video at 1,920x1,080 pixels, 24fps, or 1,280x720 at 30fps. You can downsize it to 640x480 if you want to shoot for direct Web use, and at that size up the frame rate to 120fps, or halve it again to 320x240 for a frame rate of 240fps, which when played back will produce super-smooth slow-motion shots.
Beyond the choice of resolution and video format, the only other setting of note enables the wind filter to cut out the sound of a passing breeze on your captured footage. This was active throughout my tests, but the resulting video still had a fair amount of disturbance on the soundtrack when I shot in windy areas.
The optical zoom remains enabled while you're filming, so you don't need to rely on the digital alternative.
Overall, footage is sharp and colours are good. The soundtrack is also very accurately recorded when you're out of the wind, allowing for a fair performance overall.
The various IXUS models are becoming ever more powerful, and the 255 HS -- in both specs and performance -- can rival some of the best cameras of just a couple of years ago.
The integrated Wi-Fi connectivity is both attractive and useful, and image quality held up throughout my tests.
It doesn't offer a great deal of manual control, but then that's never really been what IXUS is about. If you want more say over the settings used, look to the PowerShot range. Otherwise, if you're happy to cede control to the camera, then the reliable, predictable output seen from the 255 HS makes it a great choice for everyday enthusiast photography.