A major selling point is of course the image stabilisation system. This uses electronically activated moving elements within the lens to compensate for camera shake at slow shutter speeds, a system used by Canon in many of its models. Image stabilisation is becoming increasingly common in pocket compacts, but Canon's system is one of the best, giving a reliable three stop advantage over non-stabilised cameras. I found I was easily able to shoot without the flash at shutter speeds as slow as 1/10th of a second. The system has a panning option which only stabilises in the vertical plane.
Overall performance is traditionally Canon's strong suit, and the 960 IS does not disappoint. It starts up in just over a second, which is very quick, and shuts down again in just under two seconds. In single-shot mode, at the highest image quality setting, the shot-to-shot cycle time is approximately 1.8 seconds, which isn't blindingly fast, but isn't bad considering that the average files size is around 5.5MB per shot, indicating a much lower compression rate than some other 12MP compacts. Continuous mode is much quicker, averaging just over one frame a second.
Canon's AF system is also exceptionally good, focusing quickly and accurately in virtually all light conditions, including pitch darkness thanks to the AF assist lamp, which has a range of about three metres. I'd put the 960 IS in the top five of current compact cameras for overall low-light performance.
Having reviewed a lot of 12MP compact cameras and not having been very impressed by the image quality produced by many of them, I was concerned that this might also prove to be the IXUS 960's weakness, but I need not have worried. What is surprising though is that its greatest strength lies in an area where high-resolution compacts are normally at their weakest: image noise at high ISO settings. The 960 produces better quality pictures at 800 ISO than most 10MP or even 8MP cameras, and at the lower settings the image quality is simply stunning, with perfectly sharp detail and no trace of noise at all. Likewise in the other potential trouble spots of dynamic range and colour depth the 960 performed very well. The lens is also superb, producing very little distortion at the wide angle end and none at all at telephoto, with excellent sharpness that only drops off in the furthest corners of the frame. The only criticism I could find was a surprising one, the presence of some purple fringing around some very bright highlights, but the effect was minor. Despite this the IXUS 960 IS has the best image of any of the 12-megapixel compacts, indeed it has among the best image quality of any ultra-compact camera I've tried.
Canon's IXUS range of high-spec compacts continues to set the standard for the rest of the industry. The 960 IS has pretty much everything you need except a wide-angle lens. It is relatively expensive, but with superb design and bomb-proof build quality, exceptional performance and class-leading image quality you really do get what you pay for. The 960 IS is easily the best 12MP compact on the market, and a sound investment for anyone who can afford it.