This year's crop of IXUSes (IXi? we've never decided) is here at last and we've been spending some time cosying up with Canon's next top model, the IXUS 310 HS.
One part fashion item to two parts digital camera, the 310 HS certainly looks like the sort of device you'd be happy to be seen out on the town with. But would you really want to spend £260 for the privilege?
So last season
Outwardly, there's not an enormous amount to differentiate the Canon IXUS 310 HS from its immediate predecessor, the 300 HS. The metallic body is still a solidly built blend of sharp angles and elegant curves.
It's very attractive, but there are only a few small tweaks, including a larger (3.2-inch), higher-resolution (461,000-pixel) LCD monitor on the rear and an inner lens housing that matches the colour of the main body, as opposed to the 300 HS's slightly cheap-looking black equivalent.
Curiously, the choice of colours is fairly limited. The 310 HS can be purchased in standard silver or three other shades: a chocolatey brown, a pretty pink or a glamorous gold. The lack of anything at the 'butch' end of the colour spectrum -- a dreary black, perhaps -- is a possible indication of Canon's conclusions regarding the feminine appeal of the IXUS product line. Fair enough, we suppose, but overlooking colour-shy purchasers altogether does suggest a certain level of face-spiting nose removal on Canon's behalf.
Beauty's on the inside
Compared to its forerunner, the 310 HS receives marginal boosts in a number of crucial areas. For instance, the image sensor increases from 10 to 12.1 megapixels. It's not a huge leap, but it brings the camera in line with some of its rivals. Similarly, optical zoom magnification is bumped up from 3.8x to 4.4x, while things like focal length and shutter speed make minor gains compared to those of the 300 HS.
Home filmmakers will be interested to learn that it's now possible to shoot video at up to 1080p high-definition quality with added stereo sound and full use of the optical zoom while filming. An HDMI-out socket lets you view your work directly on an HD TV screen.
Many of the more notable features of the 300 HS are retained here too, including a very effective optical image stabiliser and an interesting high-speed video recording mode. The latter lowers resolution right down to 320x240 pixels, but captures at an astonishing 240 frames per second. Visual detail may be lacking, but it provides you with a very cool slow-motion effect.
The 310 HS has a grand total of four buttons over its entire surface -- most of the camera's functions are controlled via its touch-sensitive display. The screen is widescreen-shaped, which leaves black pillarbox bars at either side of a standard (4:3) photo image. Canon makes use of this dead space by filling it with a changing selection of controls.
What you see, button-wise, depends on whether you're in auto or program mode. For basic pointing and shooting, auto is more than adequate, though Canon manages to make convincing manual controls possible in program, via an on-screen scroll dial. It's not 100 per cent perfect and it's still somewhat Marmitey in its appeal, but Canon's touchscreen interface is gradually becoming easier to wrangle with every new wave of products.
Image is everything
Whether or not you appreciate the 310 HS's performance will depend on how soft or sharp you like your pictures. We found certainly found this IXUS tended to err on the softer side, but this is not necessarily a bad thing -- often a little softness can make an image feel slightly more natural. Colours feel very realistic too, neither too over-stimulated nor too washed out.
The camera reproduces its subjects in high detail and, thanks to an f/2 lens and maximum ISO of 3,200, it's remarkably good at taking supressed-flash photos in low-light situations. Test shots taken in a room lit with a single 60W bulb stood up pretty well to scrutiny, for example, with relatively low noise even at high ISO settings of up to 1,600.
High-definition videos (which are saved as MOV files) aren't overwhelmingly great compared with, say, a dedicated AVCHD camcorder, but are fine for casual use.
The Canon IXUS 310 HS is a great compact camera with some powerful technology and high-quality optics to back up its handsome appearance. It's not a massive upgrade from Canon's 2010 equivalent model, but it's a worthwhile consideration in its own right.
The one major stumbling block you might have to contend with is the cost aspect. For the same sort of price there are plenty of other cameras available, many of which offer longer zooms, higher pixel counts and more features besides. They may not be quite as pretty to look at, so whether the 310 HS justifies £260 of your hard-earned cash depends on sense of style as much as anything.
Cards on the table: if we had the money, we'd snap up one of these little beauties in a flash.
Edited by Nick Hide