The Canon IXUS 220 HS's power switch is slightly recessed into the top plate to prevent accidental activation when handling the camera. Give this a press and with a sprightly chirp the camera almost instantly bursts into life, LCD switching on and lens defaulting to its maximum wide angle setting. The controls are well-labelled and larger than average for a camera of this size. The IXUS isn't daunting for first-time users.
A thumb-operated slider switch swaps between Smart Auto and Program Auto capture - the latter mode providing a greater range of image tweaking options. With playback of captured snaps given its own dedicated button, a half-press of the shutter button will have you right back in shooting mode, without needing to mess around with any other dials or switches. In fact there's no bottle top style shooting mode dial here at all - controls have been pared-down to the essentials to allow users to take and review shots quickly.
Ranged around the dial on the back are exposure compensation options (a modest /- 2EV), flash settings, display settings and focus adjustment between infinity and macro. If you've opted for the simpler Smart Auto instead, the focus point is decided by the camera. Pressing the exposure comp option calls up an AF tracking point instead, for those who want to maintain focus on a particular subject - for example children or pets who won't stay still.
A press of the 'func/set' button in Smart Auto mode brings up a toolbar on the left side of the screen with a very limited array of options: self timer, the ability to control image aspect ratio, plus a choice of JPEG image size (Large, two Medium options, Small) and compression level (Fine or Normal) depending on how many shots you want to squeeze on to your SD, SDHC or SXHC memory card - there's no internal memory supplied with the camera.
Flick the switch to Program mode instead and a press of the function button opens-up a rather more extensive array of options. Metering can be controlled, with the choice of flitting between evaluative, centre weighted average and spot, and it's here we get access to the 'My colors' colour tone options. You can leave this set to 'off' whereby the camera deploys its factory presets for naturalistic results. Or alternatively you can select vivid, neutral, sepia, black and white, our favourite 'positive film', darker skin one, and bias individual red, green or blue colours in the frame. There's also a further custom colour option. White balance and ISO speeds can also be adjusted, with options ranging from ISO100 up to the maximum ISO3200 setting. An auto setting is also on-hand.
The rest of the shooting modes are hidden within this same toolbar, including Movie Digest mode, dedicated portrait and "kids and pets" scene options, smile shutter, high speed burst shooting, best image selection (the camera choosing the best representation of a given scene from a sequence of shots), handheld night scene, Low Light (three megapixel resolution), plus fisheye, miniature effect, toy camera, monochrome, super vivid and poster effect. The slow motion movie clip option is also squeezed into this long list of possibilities.
While the autofocus is not lightning fast, it's fast enough for this class of camera. Press down fully to take the shot and in single shot mode the camera takes around three to four seconds to write a maximum resolution JPEG to memory. Again, not the fastest ever but neither is it something you notice holding you up as you progress from one shot to the next.
We were very pleased with the image quality of the IXUS 220 HS. Sure, like any compact camera it has its issues with pixel fringing and loss of sharpness towards the corners of the frame heightened by that wider than average 24mm equivalent wide angle setting. But most of us will be looking dead centre at our subject, which is generally well-exposed and crisp. The camera obviously functions at its best in good daylight conditions, so is an ideal sea and sun holiday companion in that respect. However, its performance in lower lighting impressed us too, with its top ISO3200 actually being usable rather than just there to bump-up the spec list. It's a better-than-expected result from this relatively low cost Canon IXUS.
The Canon IXUS 220 HS continues Canon's run of sleek, attractive pocket models and at under Â£200 it's not going to break the bank. That may sound like feint praise, and indeed it is - there's little here that we haven't witnessed before from the range. That in itself doesn't of course make the IXUS 220 HS a bad camera, it's just not an especially exciting one.
It does, however, stand out from the crowd by virtue of its noise-free results at higher ISO settings, Full-HD video, HDMI output, and fun digital effects filters. It may lack the 3D mode found on Panasonic Lumix and Sony Cyber-shot models for £100 more, but in truth most of what anyone would require from a snapshot pocket camera these days is present and correct. It's not revolutionary in any particular way, but the Canon IXUS 220 HS is a competent, consistent performer.