The Canon Ixus 980 IS is treasure trove of technology, driven by Canon's new DIGIC 4 image processing system and featuring a generously proportioned 1/1.7-inch CCD sensor that offers a mighty 14.7MP – more than most DSLRs.
Our first reaction was that image noise would be a problem but, at low ISO ratings the new Ixus is amazingly noise-free and is still very usable at ISO 800.
We found that switching to the ISO 3200 Trick mode gave much smoother results and was well worth the image size limitation of 1,600 x 1,200 pixels.
The typically tiny Ixus lens nevertheless offers a better than average 3.7x zoom range, equivalent to 36-133mm, backed up by optical IS (Image Stabilisation).
Many shooting modes combine the lens' IS with Auto ISO and Motion Detection Technology, which senses movement in both the camera and the subject, tweaking everything for sharp results, including Servo Autofocus for tracking moving targets.
In practice, we got sharp results time after time, even in very tricky shooting conditions.
One bugbear with previous Ixus cameras is the misnomer of the Manual exposure mode, which, generally speaking, merely offers access to a few basic controls like exposure compensation and white balance settings. We'd expect these to be available in Program mode anyway, and now they are.
Better still, the Manual mode on the 980 IS finally enables you to adjust both shutter speed and aperture as you wish. Sadly, you only get two alternative apertures at any given zoom length but, on the plus side, a handy metering scale and live histogram information make light work of getting the best exposure settings.
Another neat shooting mode is Quick Shot, which displays exposure compensation, ISO, flash mode, colour settings, white balance, flash exposure bias and various other functions on the LCD, and enables quick adjustment of all the settings.
All the features you'd expect on a brand-new compact camera are present but, in many cases, the 980 IS takes them a step further. For example, Face Detection autofocus is combined with automatic flash exposure that also locks onto in-focus faces, and there's also a face-detection self-timer shutter delay mode, for sharp self-portraits.
Of course, no camera is ever completely perfect and there are a couple of niggles. We had trouble with the rotary dial that forms the outer edge four-way control pad on the back of the camera, as it's all too easy to operate this by accident. We were occasionally also caught out by some of the scene modes.
For example, the Foliage mode, formerly known as Landscape is great for boosting autumn colours and for making landscapes look more vibrant, but for some reason it switches off the Auto ISO, so you can find yourself suddenly getting blurred results because of slow shutter speeds. Similarly, in the Portrait mode, the fill-flash fired far too often for our liking.
Ambiguity of scene modes aside, the new Canon Ixus 980 IS is a cracker of a camera, ushering in a refreshingly creative set of features for an Ixus camera, along with superb image quality.