A press of the power button and, provided date and time have already been set, at just over a second the camera is ready for action. A half press of the shutter release button and, after the briefest of pauses, focus and exposure are determined, the camera signalling the fact with a cheery bleep. A neat feature is the ability to tap an object on screen for the camera to bias focus toward. If you subsequently alter your framing and move the camera in doing so, the AF point will perform a little dance across the screen as it attempts to keep tabs on the object you originally selected. Take the shot and a maximum resolution JPEG is committed to memory in two to three seconds.
Like most of its rivals, when it comes to making function selections, it takes a while to get used to the responsiveness of the Canon's touch screen. Sometimes it is tricky to avoid shooting past the setting you want, whilst conversely at times you have to stroke the screen several times to prompt it to move a little faster, particularly with regards to the function toolbar. At points this made us wish for a dedicated shooting mode dial purely as a time saver, or a Quick Menu button to jump to key settings, as on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX77. Whilst doing away with most physical controls can make for a cool design and a minimalist appearance, when you're in a hurry to find the setting you want it can be a little frustrating.
The main talking point of the touch screen is further user-customisation in that icons for various camera settings can be arranged in the order of the user's preference if the default settings don't suit. Touch Actions and Tap Control functionality also allow captured images to be flicked through with a finger swipe; the screen responding nigh instantly. That said, when stroking a finger down a side bar it is sometimes tricky to reach the option you wanted without inadvertently selecting something else on the way.
Thanks to the expected inclusion of a Smart Auto mode which recognises common scenes and subjects matches them up with 32 presets for optimal results, it really is point and shoot all the way with this camera, as is the case with all Canon IXUS's, which are typically as much about form as function. Canon's technology proves as consistently reliable as any other intelligent Auto option, so use of the IXUS really is a no brainer. The 'Smart' feature also works when shooting video, the camera again automatically making its adjustments. Though we wouldn't expect much in the way of manual control from an IXUS, the 310 HS does feature limited control over the likes of shutter speed and aperture, again located among the shooting mode icons which are sufficiently large to prevent selecting the one adjacent to the one you actually wanted.
In terms of image quality the IXUS 310 HS really impressed us with sharp, detailed images as hopefully our test examples clearly display, though familiar bugbears like pixel fringing do rear their ugly head on occasion, as do leaning verticals when shooting at maximum wideangle - albeit most notably on man made as opposed to natural structures. Video also looks good, with natural, faithful colour rendition. For low light shooting, that combination of a bright f/2.0 maximum aperture and an ISO range that for the most part remains resolutely noise free as you work your way up through the higher settings indicates this camera is rather better than most of your standard point and shoots.
You'll already have an opinion on whether a touch screen camera is for you, or if dedicated controls feel more familiar and make for quicker operation. We're slightly torn ourselves. The larger virtual buttons work well, but the smaller ones can actually slow operation down as you have to be quite careful in making a selection. We actually like the approach Panasonic takes on its Lumix pocket compacts, with touch screen buttons being mostly a doubling up of physical buttons alongside the LCD. Some functions are quicker to use with actual buttons - others with a swipe of a finger; but ultimately the user can choose what works best, and quickest for them. As buttons are few and far between on this IXUS, you're more totally reliant on the screen, even with its quirks.
This attention grabbing facet of the camera's design aside, the IXUS 310 HS is fairly future proofed by virtue of shoehorning in most of the latest must haves, even if, probably because Canon doesn't have a vested interest in flogging televisions, we don't get a 3D shooting mode option. Ultimately, by incorporating both fun and creative features alongside its basic point and shoot functionality, and delivering impressive results in both daylight and low light at the press of a button, this IXUS is a no brainer choice for those wanting point and shoot simplicity yet results that are a cut above the norm.