A press of the tiny on/off button on its top plate and the Canon IXUS 130 powers up in around a second, which is swift for its class. The lens barrel extends from its retracted position flush with the body to maximum wide angle setting and the rear screen blinking into life with a cute chirping noise.
A half press of the shutter release button and the IXUS determines focus near instantaneously, AF point/s highlighted in green accompanied by a beep of affirmation that you're good to go ahead and take the shot. Squeeze the shutter release button fully and with hardly any lag the camera takes two to three seconds to write a highest quality JPEG to the inserted media card, the screen blacking out briefly before coming to life once more and freezing to display the frozen image for a second or two. Whilst not the quickest ever, these timings are pretty standard for its class.
With no internal memory on offer, the writing of images is to SD media, the camera being compatible with all current formats including the high capacity SDXC. Access to the slot can be gained via a door at the base of the camera where we also find the wafer-thin rechargeable lithium ion battery. A slide of the thumb opens or closes it.
We were pleased that Canon had found room to squeeze in a couple of digital filter effects on the IXUS 130, including its effective miniature mode that narrows the band of focus to give the Lilliputian illusion that full size subjects are actually on a toy-town scale. This option also seems to boost colour saturation at the same time to almost pop art-like levels, making subjects appear even more toy-like. Fish eye is also on hand for those who want to bend and twist their subjects out of shape for creative gain.
In terms of low light shooting, when switching off the built-in flash and utilising available light we were pleasantly surprised by the camera's performance over and above ISO400, with noise not really creeping in until ISO800 and then only very subtly. At ISO1600 we are beginning to lose definition across the image, but unlike on even cheaper compacts, the result still resembles a photograph rather than a watercolour painting, and thus, we felt this was a setting we might find ourselves reaching for if push came to shove.
Undoubtedly a snapshot model like this performs well when there's plenty of light available. Unfortunately our test period was blighted by grey featureless winter skies. Even so, the IXUS 130 delivered a consistent performance, pulling detail out of the drab. Ultimately we'd have preferred a broader focal range than the modest 4x optical zoom afforded, but then again, this has to be placed in context. This IXUS is about style as much as image quality, and that being said we didn't feel image quality came a poor second here. Slightly disappointing however was that the optical zoom cannot be accessed when recording video, doubtless to avoid the microphone picking up its mechanical buzz when making adjustments. A digital alternative kicks in instead when the zoom lever is nudged.
Its build quality and finish transcend the Canon IXUS 130's current bargain street price, meaning that anyone who gets their hands on it is more likely to reach for their wallet than hand it back to the shop assistant. That diminutive nature does mean that those with larger hands may actually find it too petite for comfort but otherwise it's an impressive feat of engineering.
Along the same lines, this is most definitely a point and shoot camera, rather than one for the enthusiasts. Nevertheless, it produces more than acceptable results and is diverse enough for most everyday social photography. Indeed serves to show just how far phone cameras have to come before they're truly a viable alternative.