For over nine years now, since the launch of the original two megapixel Digital IXUS in early 2000, Canon's IXUS range of luxury compact cameras have been the benchmark against which all others in this prestigious class have been measured, and it's no exaggeration to say that no other range of cameras has been so good for so long. They have combined superb build quality, elegant style and class-leading performance, as well as staying at the cutting edge with the latest features and technology. Needless to say they also have an enviable reputation for outstanding image quality.
There are currently six models in the IXUS range, however Canon's numbering convention is a little confusing. Until recently the 9xx models such as the 950 IS, 960 IS, 970 IS and the still-available 980 IS have included the highest possible sensor resolution, longer zoom lenses and optical viewfinders, however today's review camera, the new IXUS 990 IS, breaks with that convention. It is a 12.1-megapixel camera featuring a 5x zoom lens and a 3.0-inch LCD monitor. It has optical image stabilisation, HD movie recording and an HDMI connector, but it has no optical viewfinder. Currently the IXUS 95 IS, 100 IS and 980 IS are the only models in the range with this much-requested feature.
Cameras like the 990 IS are as much about style and fashion as they are about taking pictures, and like most of its predecessors the 990 IS is a very handsome device. The body shape is all new, and it is a lot cleaner and more conventionally styled than the last couple of models in the series. The curved front panel is a little slippery (although nowhere near as bad as the 970 IS) but the subtle sculpting of the back panel makes the camera very comfortable to hold, and it sits snugly and securely in the hand. The distinctive control layout, with large triangular buttons, is actually very easy to use, especially if you have limited manual dexterity.
The body shell is a thin layer of aluminium over a plastic chassis, and the fit and finish is of the high standard we've come to expect from Canon. Unusually however it is only available in one colour, the attractive champagne-and-bronze two-tone shown here.
Although it has lost the optical viewfinder, one feature typical of the IXUS range that the 990 IS retains is the stupendously huge price tag. The 990 IS is currently selling for between £280 and £305, and if you think that'll come down much, the IXUS 980 IS is still selling for £265 and that was launched last September. The 990 IS is a very nice camera and has plenty of modern features, but there's no denying that it is extremely expensive. By comparison, the 12MP, 5x zoom Panasonic FX40 is around £250, the 12MP 7x zoom Nikon S630 is available for around £190, while the Sony DSC-W290 is around £185. In fact you can get an Olympus E-420 digital SLR complete with standard zoom lens for under £300.