The camera has three basic still shooting modes; a full-auto setting in which only a basic set of options are available, a manual mode in which the full range of settings are open, and a scene mode which offers a limited but useful variety of programs for different shooting conditions.
In manual mode the main functions such as image size and quality, exposure compensation, white balance, metering mode and a wide selection of colour options are accessed via a simple on-screen function menu. It’s worth noting however that despite it being called “manual” mode, there are no manual exposure settings.
Other common options such as macro/landscape focusing, ISO setting, flash mode and continuous shooting mode are adjusted via secondary functions on the D-pad. The main menu is only used for changing infrequently used settings such as AiAF mode, self timer delay, digital zoom (off please!), display overlay and setup settings such as time and date.
Like the A710, the IXUS 850 has a very good video mode. It offers the standard 640x480 resolution at 30fps, but also 320x240 at 60fps for recording fast action. Movie clips shot in portrait mode (with the camera held on end) are auto-rotated so that they play back in the correct orientation.
General performance is outstanding. It starts up in under a second, which is very fast even for a pocket compact. Canon’s AiAF multi-zone autofocus system is arguably the fastest and most accurate on the market, and here it shows its stripes. In good light focus is almost instantaneous, and has an uncanny ability to focus where you intended rather than on foreground details. Even in complete darkness it can still focus in well under a second thanks to a powerful AF illuminator with a range of around 4-5m.
Shot-to-shot time is also extraordinarily good, thanks mainly to the new Digic III image processor. In normal daylight, shooting at full resolution and maximum quality in continuous mode, it can shoot at a constant 0.6 frames per second (10 shots in 6 sec.) and keep it up until the memory card is full. In low light this slows down a little due to the slightly longer processing time, but is still very quick.
I must also mention the LCD monitor screen. It has a resolution of 207k pixels, which is nice and sharp, but it also has a superb anti-glare coating, so it is viewable even in bright sunlight. It has an exceptionally wide viewing angle, making it possible to frame shots while holding the camera above your head.