So far so good, but what really sets the IXUS 850 apart from the other cameras on the shelf is the sheer amount of advanced technology that Canon has been able to cram into it. There’s nothing that is really ground-breaking, and all of the systems and ideas have been seen before, but not combined in such a small package.
It features Canon’s acclaimed optical image stabilisation system, which provides around 2-3 stops of extra low-speed hand-held shooting, useful in low-light situations. It also has an advanced face-recognition system which allows it to automatically find any human face in the frame, focus on it and set the exposure accordingly.
Another stand-out feature is the lens. Most 3x zoom compacts have a wide-angle setting equivalent to around 35-38mm, but the IXUS 850 has a 3.8x zoom with a range equivalent to 28-105mm, ideal for landscapes or big group shots at close range. As usual with Canon optics, the lens is of very high quality, producing extremely good edge-to-edge sharpness, and with less wide-angle spherical distortion than most. Combined with the Digic III processor it provides some of the best image quality I’ve seen from a pocket compact. Colour rendition is especially good; even when I deliberately tried to confuse the auto white-balance setting it still got it right. The only criticism I could find was some minor blue fringes on some high-contrast edges, but only under certain conditions.
The Digic III processor also gives the IXUS 850 a great ISO range, from 80 to 1600, with exceptionally low noise levels. Images shot at 400 ISO are virtually noise-free, and even at 1600 ISO the visible noise has none of the red/green colour speckling usually produced by other high-ISO cameras. Of the cameras I’ve seen recently, only the Fujifilm F30 has better high-ISO performance.
The Canon Digital IXUS 850 IS combines every piece of cutting edge technology currently available in the digital camera market into one beautifully made high-performance package, and tops it off with superb image quality. It’s an expensive luxury gadget, but if you really want the best then you should expect to pay a little extra for it.