The Ixus 90 IS takes up its positions in the middle of Canon’s Ixus range. It lacks the wide angle and longer zoom of its superiors, yet offers this year’s must-haves; image stabilisation, a high pixel count (10MP), face recognition, and a reasonable price.

Canon hasn't changed its menu system significantly for a number of years now, choosing to refine basic functions rather than add more advanced features. You can easily find a more advanced compact for similar money, but you'll struggle to find anything as well designed externally.

The tried-and-tested Ixus form has seen only minor changes, and this is no bad thing; the offset location of the lens remains, and the focus assist light allows for a solid single-handed grip without fingers intruding into the shot.

Beautiful design

One casualty of this year’s revision is the optical viewfinder, though it’s far less important than it used to be thanks to the improved PureColor LCD, remaining viewable in even relatively bright sunlight.

Canon has reworked the rear controls significantly, though what is gained in aesthetics is lost in usability. Much of the navigation now takes place via a textured click wheel, used to change shooting modes, scroll through photos and navigate the menu.

Those used to Apple’s click wheel may have trouble here – operation of the Ixus has more in common with a rotary dial telephone than an iPod, requiring a firm revolving movement to create enough traction. Even then, the interface struggles to keep up if you move too fast, and pressing too hard will operate the buttons underneath. Similarly, the flush mounted buttons – fashioned from the same piece of metal as the outer shell – are far less yielding than you’d expect, and provide little tactile feedback.

Great image quality

Despite some poor external design decisions, the Ixus 90’s image quality is a marked improvement over previous incarnations. This is partially due to the megapixel bump, but we also noticed significant improvements in colour reproduction, with the previously-volatile automatic white balance proving accurate in every shot we took.

We did have issues with noise at higher ISOs, with heavy noise interfering with the JPEG compression at anything above ISO 400; thankfully, there’s less of a need to increase the sensitivity thanks to the image stabilisation. Once only seen on Canon’s professional L glass SLR lenses, optical image stabilisation is becoming a mainstay in compact cameras, and the Ixus 90 IS is proof that it’s a valuable addition whatever sort of pictures you take.

We were able to shoot indoors with no flash, hand-held with a half-second exposure and still come out with a sharp shot. That's extremely impressive for such a small camera.

No internal memory

While the Ixus lacks an internal memory, you’ll find a woeful 32MB memory card in the box. It’s only good for six shots at full resolution, but it’s enough to get you going if you’ve neglected to pre-empt the purchase with a larger capacity card.

The Ixus range has always represented style over substance, and in this respect the Ixus 90 IS is a worthy, if unremarkable, addition to the range. It’s solid, beautifully designed and takes fine photos, though the new button layout will take some getting used to.