A couple of years ago Canon stood as the undisputed leader in virtually all areas of the digital camera market, but it has recently seen that lead disappear under a relentless onslaught from its many determined rivals, particularly Panasonic, Samsung and Sony. Even Canon's prestigious Digital IXUS range, the benchmark of luxury compacts for over a decade, has seen its prices undercut and its position challenged by cameras such as the Panasonic FX60, the Sony WX1, the Samsung WB1000 and even the outstanding Casio EX-Z2000. There are really only two ways that Canon can respond to this; it can either cut its prices, or try to beat the opposition on features, performance and image quality. Typically, Canon has done both. First, it has introduced a couple of relatively affordable entry-level models including the IXUS 105. Second, it has launched a new flagship model for the IXUS range, the 300 HS which I'm looking at today.
The IXUS 300 HS has a specification which, at least at first glance, doesn't appear to be all that impressive. It has a 10.0-megapixel sensor, a 3.8x zoom lens and a 3.0-inch 230k monitor. However when you look a bit closer at the technical details things start to look a bit more interesting. The sensor is a newly-designed back-illuminated CMOS chip, offering significantly better light-gathering capabilities than conventional designs. The lens has a focal length range equivalent to 28-105mm, but more importantly it has a maximum aperture of an exceptionally fast f/2 at wide angle, again improving the low light performance. Special features include 720p HD video with stereo sound, 240fps high-speed video, 3.7fps full-resolution still shooting and optional manual exposure modes.
Of course all that super-fast technology doesn't come cheap, and the newly-launched IXUS 300 HS is currently priced at a whopping £379 from both high street and online retailers. That price will almost certainly drop over the next few months (the IXUS 120 IS was £260 in January and now sells for around £180), but at the moment it is the most expensive pocket compact on the market. It's only £40 less than the PowerShot G11, and there are quite a few digital SLRs that cost less. It's somewhat annoying to note that in America the IXUS 300 HS (known over there as the PowerShot SD4000) is priced at $349, which at the current exchange rate is equivalent to approximately £240. Rip-off Britain, anyone?