In terms of performance the IXUS 85 IS is pretty impressive. It starts up in approximately one second, which is extremely fast by any standard, and shuts down again in under a second and a half. Shot-to-shot time in single shot mode is just under two seconds, which is pretty good for a 10MP camera, although not brilliant. In continuous mode it is somewhat faster though, shooting at just under two frames a second. However it doesn’t focus between shots so it may not be too useful for moving subjects.
The autofocus system is very quick, locking on in about half a second in virtually any lighting conditions. In fact its low-light focusing is particularly impressive, ideal for those sort of social occasions at which as camera like this is most likely to be used.
As one might expect from a premium-priced camera like this, image quality is generally very good, but it is not without one or two annoying problems. The lens is very sharp and detailed over most of the frame, but the corners are soft and blurry, and barrel distortion at wide angle is much more pronounced than I would expect from the usually excellent Canon optics. Likewise image processing, normally another Canon strong-point, also has a couple of notable problems. Colour rendition is superb, with good detail even in saturated bright colours, but high-ISO noise control is surprisingly poor, with visible noise effects from as low as 200 ISO. Dynamic range is also quite limited, with highlights burning out in order to preserve shadow detail.
While there’s no disputing that the Canon IXUS 85 IS is a superbly well-made camera, and is light, compact and easy to use, there’s also no denying that it is very expensive and doesn’t offer a lot of features for the money. While performance is well up to Canon’s usual standard, image quality is let down by wide-angle lens distortion, corner blurring and high-ISO noise problems. If I was spending over £200 on a compact camera I’d expect a bit more than this.