As usual with Canon cameras the AF system is extremely fast, in fact it’s one of the fastest AF systems I’ve ever seen on a compact camera, locking on in under half a second, and sometime much quicker. Even in low light it focuses quickly, or at least lets you know quickly if it can’t focus. The bright AF assist lamp means that doesn’t happen very often though, and I found no problem focusing at night at ranges of several metres. The only slight gripe is the AiAF system, which as usual can get it badly wrong when the subject is quite close, often missing the subject and focusing on the background instead. This can be turned off though, and the default centre-only AF is just as quick and a lot more reliable. The face detection mode works quite well, adjusting focus, exposure and flash output to match any face in the frame, although as with most such systems it is only really reliable with subjects that are facing the camera and reasonably well lit. It will work at other times, but it’s not 100 percent effective so it’s best not to rely on it.
One other feature that’s well worth a mention is the red-eye correction mode in playback, which works extremely well. This means you can at last turn off that annoying red-eye-reducing double flash, since any red eyes can be corrected later in the camera. I should also mention the video mode, which shoots at VGA resolution and 30 frames a second, with stereo sound, although I can’t for the life of me spot where the second microphone is hidden.
I’ve rambled on for far too long already, so I better cut to the chase, and get onto picture quality. As you’d probably expect for such an expensive camera, it takes very nice photos under almost any circumstances. Exposure is reliably excellent, with perfect colour rendition and surprisingly good contrast and dynamic range for a 1/2.5-in sensor. The lens is also very good, producing plenty of fine detail, with a minimum of barrel distortion at wide angle. Overall sharpness and clarity are excellent, only really slipping at the extreme corners of the frame at wide angle. Image noise isn’t really a problem, but with such a small sensor one shouldn’t expect too much. The DIGIC III processor does a good job though, and although there is visible noise from 200 ISO upwards, the overall picture quality and level of fine detail remains good even at 800. 1600 ISO is a bit of a mess though.
The Canon Digital IXUS 950 IS is an expensive luxury camera, but there’s no doubt that the money buys solid build quality, brilliant performance and superior picture quality too. There are many other cameras that can beat its specification and features list for less money, but few that can match it for sheer all round class.