The manual control doesn’t just stretch to shutter speed though, you can also set exposure compensation between -2 and +2 in 1/3 stops. There is a histogram function to help you get the exposure compensation spot-on. However this feature isn’t live and the histogram data is only displayed when you’re viewing images you’ve already taken. That said, it does give you the chance to view your image straight after taking it, and see if your exposure settings were correct.
You also get a plethora of white balance pre-sets for use in various lighting conditions, in case the auto white balance setting can’t quite work things out right. If none of the pre-sets seems to work, you can manually set the white balance using a piece of white paper or cloth as the point of reference. The ISO speed can also be adjusted between 50 and 400. If you want to shoot without a flash in low light, the faster ISO settings are useful, although you will introduce more CCD noise in the process. However, I tended to keep the camera set to ISO 50 for best quality, although it does mean that you have to take precautions to avoid camera shake when shooting without a flash.
On the top of the camera body you’ll find the power button and the shutter release button that’s circled by the zoom control. Both the shutter release and zoom control fall under your index finger perfectly. A press of the power button has the camera ready to shoot in around a second, making it seem like an eternity every time I switch on my old Canon G1.
On the back of the body you’ll find the rest of the controls. Just behind the shutter release is a small sliding switch that flips the IXUS 500 between record and viewing modes. Talking of viewing, the 1.5in LCD colour display is excellent. The image is bright and well resolved, while the refresh, even when moving the camera around quickly in record mode, is stunning. Framing your shots with the LCD screen is a breeze and the auto focus will indicate exactly what part of the frame is the focal point. Anyone who’s used a Canon camera before will know that pressing the shutter halfway down will initiate the auto focus. If you keep the button half pressed and then move the camera, you have the option of spot focusing on an area that isn’t at the centre of the frame.
Below the LCD screen are four buttons, set, menu, disp and func. The set button is for confirming selections within the menus. The menu button, unsurprisingly, takes you into the configuration menus for the camera. The disp button will toggle the LCD screen on and off, in case you want to use the optical viewfinder and conserve battery life. The func button gives you access to all of the photo controls such as white balance adjustment, exposure compensation, shutter speed etc.
Next to the screen are four more buttons arranged in compass configuration. These buttons are used to navigate through the various menus, but they also have direct functions of their own. The top button sets the light metering, while the right button selects the flash mode. The left button toggles between macro and infinity modes, while the bottom button selects either continuous shooting or the self timer. The final button at the back is for the Direct Print function which allows you to print directly from the camera to a similarly equipped Canon printer.