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Canon Ixus 850IS Camera Review
Stylish compact offers a wide-angle zoom and image stabilisation.
(by Mike Slocombe for Digital Lifestyles, 30th April 07)
Hovering near the top of Canon's popular Ixus range is the IXUS 850 IS, a 7.1 megapixel ultra-compact sporting a 3.8x optical zoom lens and a 2.5in monitor.
The lens offers a usefully wide 28-105 mm zoom range - great for group shots and landscapes - with Canon's Optical Image Stabilisation system helping keep images sharp in low light.
With its rounded edges and compact dimensions (89.5 x 58.0 x 25.1mm) the Ixus is designed to be a carry-everywhere pocket snap shooter. It looks pretty to the eye too, with a stylish two-tone, semi-matt metallic colour scheme contrasting against the chrome details.
The all metal case looks pretty tough, with the smoothed and recessed controls ensuring that the camera doesn't get snagged in your pockets.
All that metal means that it's not the lightest camera around, and with its lardy 150g weight (without battery) you're unlikely to forget it's in your pocket.
The camera's basic controls are pretty easy to get to grips with. The illuminated power on/off switch lies recessed on the top plate, which means it's very hard to turn on accidentally, but, conversely, those with larger fingers may find it quite hard to operate.
Next to the power switch is the shutter control surrounded by a little lever for zooming in/out. Again, folk with sausage sized fingers (or simply wearing gloves) may have trouble getting to grips with it.
On the back, a circular shooting mode switch - orientated vertically - has a handy lip that conveniently doubles up as a thumb rest, making for a fairly sure camera grip.
A large and crisp 2.5" 207k colour LCD screen dominates the back of the camera, with all the camera controls positioned to the right.
Most of the camera's functionality is accessed through a circular 4-way control with a central OK/Function Set button, while two buttons below are used to set display preferences and call up the menu interface, with a third button accessing Print/Share controls.
Using the camera
Firing up the camera in automatic, the Ixus proved to be a nippy performer, starting up promptly and taking no time at all to lock onto focus. Low light focussing was slower but still impressive.
The screen was clear and bright with usefully wide viewing angles, although we found the zoom a little unpredictable in operation, often racing past the desired position. We didn't like the fact that there was no onscreen indicator of the zoom's setting either.
Shot-to-shot time was pretty good, with continuous mode managing around 10 shots in 6 sec.
We weren't too impressed with the facial recognition software on the Ricoh R5, but Canon seemed to have made a better job of it, with the Ixus quickly locating phizogs in the frame and identifying them with an overlaid green square.
The Ixus offers a wide range of ISO ratings, from Auto, Hi Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 up to 1600. As might be expected, anything over 400 ISO puts you deep into a digital noise storm.
Although we found the battery life to be pretty good, the lack of an onscreen indicator of remaining battery life was an unforgivable omission. What were they thinking?
Also worth noting was how easily the camera scratched - despite its tough-looking exterior, the Ixus soon suffered marks on during normal usage.
The Ixus offers a host of 'scene' mode presets for portrait, night snapshot, kids & pets, indoor, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, aquarium, and underwater, with the choices accessed through an onscreen menu.
We would have preferred to have been able to select at least a few of these scenes directly from the dial rather than having to rummage around in onscreen menus.
A macro option lets you zoom in as close as 3cm from your subject, or you can use the digital zoom to zoom in further while sacrificing image quality.
We couldn't see much point in the 'Colour Accent' and 'Colour Swap' options (these let you select a single colour to highlight over a black & white image or swap one colour for another.)
More useful is the 'stitch assist' function for creating a single panoramic image.
Although we're always moaning about the lack of optical viewfinders on digital compacts, the one on the Ixus is almost too small to be usable.
Like most digital compacts, there's no shooting information provided in the optical viewer (we wish!), but we guess it could come in handy in really bright conditions, although people wearing glasses may just give up trying to squint through the little porthole-like finder.
In line with its point'n'shoot aspirations, there's precious little in the way of manual controls available on the camera.
In fact, the 'manual' mode only only offers tweaks for white balance, exposure compensation, image size and quality, metering mode and some colour options, so enthusiasts are likely to get frustrated by its limitations very quickly.
Although none too powerful, the flash (situated to the top right of the camera) managed a working range of 0.5 - 4.0m at wide-angle and 0.5 - 2.0m at telephoto. Red eye was a bit of a problem, so users might want to consider investing in an external slave flash like the Metz Mecablitz 28 CS-2.
The Canon excels when it comes to video, with the DIGIC III processor supporting AVI format files up to 4GB - that works out at over 30 minutes of 640 x 480 resolution, 30fps video with sound.
If you want to keep file sizes down, movies can also be recorded at 320 x 240 and 160 x 120 resolution, at 30 or 15 frames/second.
As with most digital compacts, optical zooming during filming is a no-no, although you can use the digital zoom (but this is, frankly, rubbish).
An interesting 'Fast Frame Rate' mode lets users grab up to one minute of 320 x 240 footage at a super fast 60 frames/second, which should prove handy for recording sports and fast moving subjects.
In-camera video editing is also supported, so budding Spielbergs on a budget can trim down their creations without consulting a PC.
We were pretty impressed with the image quality at lower ISOs, although the overall performance was nothing spectacular. Image noise was controlled around the 100-200 ISO mark and just about acceptable for smallish prints at 400 ISO.
Exposure was spot on for most shots, although images suffered from some softness in the corners and a little purple fringing. It was nothing too severe though, so it shouldn't be a problem unless you intend to blow pictures up into large prints.
There's no denying that the Ixus 850 manages to pack an awful lot into its stylish, ultra-compact case, and the combination of optical image stabilisation, a 7.1 megapixel sensor and a wide 28-105 mm lens makes for a very attractive take-anywhere package.
The image quality may fall slightly behind the class leaders and the lack of manual controls will frustrate advanced users, but for point'n'shooters looking for an everyday camera, the Ixus 850 could be a camera to consider.
It's a bit of a pricey number though at around £250, and the lack of durability might be of concern to those who don't like to mollycoddle their cameras in cases all the time, but the spec sheet does make a compelling read.
Ease of use: 78%
Image quality: 70%
Value for money: 77%
Resolution: 7.1 Megapixels (3072 x 2304)
Viewfinder: 2.5? LCD screen and Real Image coupled (zooming) optical viewfinder
Zoom: f2.8-f5.8/4.6mm-17.3mm (28mm to105mm - 35mm equivalent)
Auto Focus: Contrast Detection 9 AF point AiAF
Manual Focus: no
Flash: Built-in Multi-mode
Exposure: Auto and Program AE
Metering: Evaluative, Center-weighted, & Spot
Exposure compensation: Yes +/- 2 EV in 1/3 EV increments
White balance: TTL Auto, and 6 user selected pre-sets
Sensitivity: Auto, High ISO Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600 ISO
Image Storage Media: SD, SDHC, & MMC cards
Connectivity: USB 2.0HS, AV/out, & DC in
Power: NB-5L 3.7V 1120mAh Li-ion rechargeable battery pack