As with the majority of Canon compacts we’ve tested in the past, the IXUS 1100 HS delivers consistently high image quality.
Used with the My Colours colour profile switched off, the 1100 HS delivers neutral images that, while lifelike and accurate, can be a bit flat tonally. Trying out the various My Colours colour profile options, we found the Vivid to be slightly too saturated for our tastes, while the Neutral setting was a bit flat.
The Positive Film option, however, occupied just the right space for us, mimicking the look of colour film with bold (but not overly saturated) colour and rich tones. Of course, these things are entirely subjective, and the My Colours menu offers something for everyone.
The various shooting modes offered by the 1100 HS all have their time and place, but for general day-to-day shooting we found ourselves drawn to Program mode thanks mostly to the additional control on offer. That said, we did notice that switching over to Smart Auto mode to photograph exactly the same scene often produced quite different results.
The reason for this is that, rather than just selecting an aperture/shutter combination, the 1100’s Smart Auto mode actually analyses what’s before it before selecting what it deems to be an appropriate Scene mode (from 32 options), which will often mean choosing a different My Colours setting too. In Program, Smart Auto and the various Scene modes alike we encountered no problems with Automatic White Balance performance.
While dynamic range is about what we’d expect from a compact - i.e. not brilliant - metering is mostly spot on, especially in even or flat lighting conditions and in scenes that offer little in the way of contrast. In high-contrast situations the camera treads a good balance between highlights and shadows as far as its dynamic range will allow, with the latter particularly well looked after by the i-Contrast (shadow detail preservation) tool that can be switched on in the main menu. For more robust manual intervention, the 1100 HS also offers /-2EV of exposure compensation.
The 12x optical zoom offers a generous degree of flexibility while out shooting and delivers good sharpness in the middle of the frame, although detail does get softer towards the edges and corners of the frame. This is more pronounced when the camera is used at 28mm. A small amount of barrel distortion is also noticeable at 28mm, although this quickly corrects itself as you move through the focal range. We did notice some instances of purple and cyan fringing on high-contrast borders too.
Noise is well controlled in the lower sensitivity settings of ISO 100-400, but does become significantly more noticeable above this, even when images are reduced in size. If you’re shooting images that are only going to be reproduced on-screen at a maximum 30% of actual size (which, in the case of the 12.1MP IXUS 1100 HS, is still large enough to comfortably fill a 15in laptop screen) then it’s possible to produce useable images at ISO 800 and 1600, although some grain and a slight softening of detail is visible. Images shot at the top setting of ISO 3200, though, display a substantial loss of detail along with a noticeable reduction in colour, which is noticeable even when viewed at 15% (about the same size as the images in our Sample Gallery).
The Canon IXUS 1100 HS is a stylish and well-made touch-screen compact that offers good point-and-shoot usability, a generous zoom range and a decent, if not quite class-leading, range of shooting features. While touch-screen control remains a nice idea in principle, in practice it does slow overall operation of the camera down quite considerably. That’s a shame because, touch-screen control issues aside, the IXUS 1100 HS is a very competent and stylish camera. Given its fairly high launch price we wouldn’t expect it to hold much appeal beyond those particularly averse to normal physical controls. However, should the street price drop below £300 then it’s likely to find much more mass appeal.