Canon's compact cameras usually have great overall performance, and the IXUS 120 IS is a lot quicker to operate than most of its immediate rivals. It starts up in approximately 1.3 seconds, which is very fast, and shuts down again in just less than two seconds. In single-shot mode at maximum image quality it has a shot-to-shot time of approximately 2.1 seconds, which is certainly above average, while in continuous shooting mode it can maintain one frame a second, which is quite fast for a 12MP ultra-compact.
As usual Canon's autofocus system is excellent, locking on quickly and accurately in virtually any lighting conditions. Even the usually annoying AiAF multi-zone focusing system seems to be more predictable than usual. The camera has a good bright AF assist lamp with a range of at least a couple of metres, just what you need for low-light snapshots on a night out. The flash is also surprisingly bright for its size, living up to its claimed four metre maximum range.
It's unusual for image quality to be a weak point for a Canon camera, but this is the case for the IXUS 120 IS. It's not that the image quality is particularly bad, more that the rest of the camera is so good. There are a couple of minor issues though. The lens does produce quite noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle, and there is some chromatic aberration at the far corners of the frame. Edge-to-edge sharpness is very good though.
Image noise control is superb, with usable images at 800 ISO, and even at the pixel-binned maximum of 1600 ISO there is little visible noise, although some detail is lost. Exposure and white balance remain consistent in all shooting conditions. The overall level of recorded detail is extremely high, but as usual with 12MP compacts there is a slight hint of over-processing. Dynamic range is also somewhat limited, with a tendency to preserve shadow detail at the cost of burned-out highlights, even when using the i-Contrast feature.
There's no question that the Canon IXUS 120 IS is a lovely little camera. It is extremely well made, looks great, is easy to use and performs well in all lighting conditions, and it takes a decent picture. The only real downside is its extremely high price. If it drops by £70 it can have an extra point.