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Canon Digital IXUS 120 IS Review

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £260.00

When you’re buying a status symbol, the brand name is all important. You want people to know that you can afford what they think is the best, so you’ll choose the famous names that everyone recognises. If you’re buying a camera as a status symbol the label you’re going to go for is Canon, because even people who know nothing about cameras (and if you’re buying one as a status symbol then I’m afraid that probably includes you) know that Canon make good ones. Canon knows this too, and makes a range of tiny, fashionable and astonishingly expensive compact cameras just for you.


The IXUS 120 IS is the latest in this line. It is very similar in specification to the excellent IXUS IXUS 110 IS which I reviewed last August, but shares other features with the IXUS 100 IS ultra-compact, seen last November. However with a current high street retail price of around £260 it’s a lot more expensive than either. Considering its specification of a 4x zoom lens, 12.1MP 1/2.3-inch sensor and 2.7-inch 230k monitor that’s a hell of a lot of money for a point-and-shoot snapshot camera, no matter how good.


To be fair though, the IXUS 120 IS is a lovely bit of kit. The body is all metal, and the silver finish version that I have for review has trim around the lens that appears to be titanium. The build quality is absolutely superb and it looks great too. The body is just 20mm thick, with a smoothly rounded shape and flush-mounted controls for the perfect pocket-friendly profile. The matt finish provides a surprisingly grippy surface, and the camera is easy to hold securely. Despite the camera’s tiny dimensions the buttons are larger than average and clearly labelled, and even the flat D-pad isn’t as fiddly as it looks. The only slightly fiddly bit is the three-position slider switch to select between standard, full auto and video recording modes, but the switch is recessed and quite stiff, so it’s not likely to get jogged accidentally.

The secret to great quality is attention to detail, and the IXUS 120 IS gets most of its details exactly right. The LCD monitor is sharp and bright with a superb anti-reflective surface and an exceptionally wide viewing angle of almost 180 degrees in all directions. It works well even outdoors in bright sunlight, assuming you can find some.


The 120 IS has Canon’s recently revised function menu, and I have to say that it’s absolutely superb. This is the way camera menus should be done; intuitive, responsive, and superbly easy to understand, with explanatory tool tips for every function. It even looks good, with a nice gradient shading effect and a clear readable font. The main menu is just as good; sensibly laid out and very easy to use. Again there is explanatory text for every function. There are several other manufacturers (cougholympuscough) who should take a look at Canon’s menus and learn a few things.


As a point-and-click pocket compact the IXUS 120 IS doesn’t have much in the way of creative manual control apart from colour adjustment, but it does have a wide range of useful automatic features. These include optical image stabilisation, a rare feature on a camera this small, but which works extremely well, allowing hand-held shooting at shutter speeds as low as 1/15th of a second. The IXUS 120 also has i-Contrast, which is supposed to boost shadow detail in high-contrast situations, but in fact all it seems to do is increase overall brightness, improving shadow detail but burning out highlights.


The video recording mode is about average for its class. It can shoot at a resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels (720p) and a frame rate of 30fps. Audio recoding is mono via an internal microphone, and as usual the optical zoom cannot be adjusted while recording. Clip length is limited to 10 minutes at maximum quality and resolution.

Canon’s compact cameras usually have great overall performance, and the IXUS 120 IS is a lot quicker to operate than most of its immediate rivals. It starts up in approximately 1.3 seconds, which is very fast, and shuts down again in just less than two seconds. In single-shot mode at maximum image quality it has a shot-to-shot time of approximately 2.1 seconds, which is certainly above average, while in continuous shooting mode it can maintain one frame a second, which is quite fast for a 12MP ultra-compact.


As usual Canon’s autofocus system is excellent, locking on quickly and accurately in virtually any lighting conditions. Even the usually annoying AiAF multi-zone focusing system seems to be more predictable than usual. The camera has a good bright AF assist lamp with a range of at least a couple of metres, just what you need for low-light snapshots on a night out. The flash is also surprisingly bright for its size, living up to its claimed four metre maximum range.


It’s unusual for image quality to be a weak point for a Canon camera, but this is the case for the IXUS 120 IS. It’s not that the image quality is particularly bad, more that the rest of the camera is so good. There are a couple of minor issues though. The lens does produce quite noticeable barrel distortion at wide angle, and there is some chromatic aberration at the far corners of the frame. Edge-to-edge sharpness is very good though.


Image noise control is superb, with usable images at 800 ISO, and even at the pixel-binned maximum of 1600 ISO there is little visible noise, although some detail is lost. Exposure and white balance remain consistent in all shooting conditions. The overall level of recorded detail is extremely high, but as usual with 12MP compacts there is a slight hint of over-processing. Dynamic range is also somewhat limited, with a tendency to preserve shadow detail at the cost of burned-out highlights, even when using the i-Contrast feature.


”’Verdict”’

There’s no question that the Canon IXUS 120 IS is a lovely little camera. It is extremely well made, looks great, is easy to use and performs well in all lighting conditions, and it takes a decent picture. The only real downside is its extremely high price. If it drops by £70 it can have an extra point.

”Over the next few pages we show a range of test shots. On this page the full size image at the minimum and maximum ISO settings have been reduced to let you see the full image, and a series of full resolution crops have taken from original images at a range of ISO settings to show the overall image quality. These pictures were taken indoors using shaded natural light. ”


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This is the full frame at 80 ISO.


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At 80 ISO the image is clear, smooth and noise-free.


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Very little difference at 100 ISO.


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Still no issues at 200 ISO.


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There is a hint of luminence noise at 400 ISO, but image quality is still excellent.


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Some detail has been lost, but even at 800 ISO the quality is still there.


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Some deterioration at 1600 ISO, due to pixel binning.


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This is the full frame at 1600 ISO.


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”A range of general test shots are shown over the next two pages. In some cases, the full size image has been reduced for bandwidth purposes, and a crop taken from the original full resolution image has been placed below it to show the overall image quality. Some other pictures may be clicked to view the original full-size image. ”


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Here’s the usual detail test shot of the West Window of Exeter Cathedral, for you to compare with other cameras. See below for a full res crop, or click to see the whole picture. The downloadable file is approximately 3.84MB.


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While the fine detail is certainly there, the slightly heavy compression has reduced overall quality.


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The wide-angle lens does produce some barrel distortion.


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Centre sharpness is excellent.


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Corner sharpness is also very good, but there has been some change leakage, causing the blue. fringes.


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”Here are some general test shots to help evaluate the camera’s overall image quality, including dynamic range, colour rendition and the zoom range of the lens. Some pictures may be clicked to download the full size original image. ”


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The wide angle end is equivalent to 28mm.


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The telephoto end is equivalent to 112mm.


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With i-Contrast turned off there’s reasonable shadow detail, but the highlights have burned out.


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Turning on i-Contrast just brightens the image, resulting in even more burned-out highlights.


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Trusted Score


Score in detail

  • Value 5
  • Image Quality 8
  • Build Quality 10

Features

Camera type Ultra Compact
Megapixels (Megapixel) 12.1 Megapixel
Optical Zoom (Times) 4x
Image Sensor CCD
Image Stabilisation Optical
LCD Monitor 2.7 in
Flash modes Auto Flash, Flash OFF, Flash ON, Red-eye Reduction
Video (max res/format) 1280 x 720
Memory card slot Secure Digital (SD) Card, Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) Card, MultiMediaCard (MMC), MMCplus, HC MMCplus

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