The Canon IXUS range is well known for its excellent performance. The 980 IS starts up in approximately one and a half seconds, which is very fast, and shuts down again in about the same. In single-shot mode it has a shot-to-shot time of 1.6 seconds, which is also very fast, while in continuous shooting mode it can maintain 1.4 frames a second with audio cue and a view on the monitor too. Other manufacturers should take note; this is what a continuous shooting mode is supposed to look like.
The autofocus system is also well up to Canon's usual high standard, focusing quickly and accurately in almost all lighting conditions, although as usual the nine-zone automatic AiAF system has a mind of its own. The centre-zone AF option is a lot quicker and more reliable. The bright AF assist lamp has a range of several metres, but even beyond that the low-light focusing ability is excellent. The built-in flash is also very powerful, with a maximum range of over four metres, but is well metered and doesn't over-expose closer subjects.
Picture quality is always Canon's strong suit, and the 980 IS doesn't disappoint. Instead of the current trend toward electronic distortion correction, Canon has chosen the better option of simply fitting a very high quality lens. It produces excellent edge-to-edge sharpness with minimal barrel distortion, and only a little blurring and chromatic aberration in the far corners of the frame. Colour reproduction is superb, and exposure metering is reliably accurate in most situations.
The 980 IS has a larger 1/1.7-inch sensor (7.6 x 5.7mm), rather than the tiny 1/2.3-inch sensors used by most of its rivals, and despite its huge pixel count image noise is well controlled, producing usable images even at the highest sensitivity setting, wisely limited to 1600 ISO in normal shooting, although 3200 ISO is available at 2MP.
The only fly in the ointment is the poor dynamic range. Despite the larger sensor size the 980 has a real problem with high-contrast situations. The exposure meter does its best to avoid burned-out highlights, but as a result it sacrifices almost all shadow detail. The i-Contrast function helps a bit, but even that has its limits. However this is a problem that is common to over-powered compact camera sensors, and the 980 does cope better than some.
The Canon IXUS 980 IS exemplifies just why Canon is so highly regarded as a brand. It is a superb camera, built up to a standard rather than down to a price, combining stylish but functional design, superior build quality, class-leading performance, a useful and accessible range of features and outstanding picture quality. It is very expensive, but if you want top quality you have to pay for it.