Main mode selection is via a small toothed wheel inset into the right-hand edge of the camera, which to be honest is a little fiddly. I far prefer the simple rotary switch of the 850 IS or 900 Ti, especially on the latter where the shape of it also provides a thumb grip. On the 950 the grip is provided by a small textured area next to the dial. Available shooting modes start with a standard auto mode, in which the only available options are picture quality and flash mode. The “manual” shooting mode allows more control, including exposure compensation, a wide range of colour options, adjustable contrast, sharpness and saturation, selectable metering modes and a wider than average array of picture size options, including postcard and widescreen. In the Scene Mode setting the 950 has most of the same options as the 850 IS, 900 Ti and IXUS 75, including the portrait, night snapshot, kids & pets, indoor, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, aquarium and underwater (with the optional marine case), but it does have one unusual scene mode which I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before. In Creative Light Effect mode, distant point lights in night shots are rendered as shapes, such as hearts, crosses, musical notes or stars. I imagine that under just the right circumstances the effect could be quite striking, but it’s not the sort of thing you’re going to use every day.
The various mode options and general camera settings are controlled via a function menu and the circular D-pad, both of which have on-screen menus. It is the same system that Canon has used for a while, and it works very well. All the main options are quickly accessible without recourse to the main menu, which is reserved for less commonly used settings such as AF mode, digital zoom, self-timer custom delay and others.
Of course you won’t know anything about all the controls and options unless you read the full manual, which as usual is only included in PDF format on a CD. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating; if you’re paying over £250 for a camera then I don’t think a printed manual is too much to expect. Many other manufacturers (Pentax being a good example) include excellent printed manuals with much less expensive cameras.
One of the main selling points of the 950 IS is of course Canon’s excellent optical image stabilisation system. This works very well as always, providing a reliable two stops of extra shooting speed and sometimes more. I found I was able to take sharp hand-held shots at full zoom at shutter speeds of 1/20th of a second, which is fairly impressive. It doesn’t slow the camera down a bit, and the overall performance is as fast as always. Start-up time is a fraction over a second, and shut down time just under two seconds. In single-shot mode the shot-to-shot cycle time is about 1.6 seconds, while in continuous shooting it can manage a shot every 0.7 seconds and keep it up until the memory card is full. Talking of memory cards, the 950 IS is compatible with both SD and SDHC cards. With an average file size at the maximum quality setting of around 3.8MB, a 1GB card will hold approximately 286 shots.