Canon Ixus 960 IS review

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In the wake of the recently discontinued IXUS 900 Ti – which occupied our A-List digital-camera slot for its brief but happy life – comes its replacement the 960 IS.

Canon Ixus 960 IS review

It loses the Ti (for titanium) in its model name, but the casing retains its titanium construction and external styling is only a little changed from the old model.

The only genuine exterior difference is a dedicated Play button on the back to let you review your shots without touching the mode dial. It’s a subtle change but a useful one: when you’re out shooting you can hit the button at any time to review your handiwork. To carry on shooting just half-press the shutter and the camera drops straight back into shooting mode – there’s no fiddling about with the mode dial, so no risk of putting it in the wrong position and missing a picture.

All the features of the previous generation are there: face-tracking detects and exposes correctly for the people in the frame, and the IS in the model name stands for image stabilization, allowing you to take handheld shots in far lower light than you’d normally be able to manage. It’s a feature that’s creeping into models much lower down the range but is no less useful for that.

As far as ease of use is concerned, Canon nailed the operation of its IXUS cameras a while ago and the new model is just as capable. A few minutes’ use is all it takes to get to grips with the 960, and the playback controls for both stills and video are as intuitive as you’ll find anywhere. Video itself is superb, giving 30fps at 640 x 480 – with audio – for as long as your memory card has free space. The only drawback is that both focus and zoom are locked while you’re recording.

The megapixel rating of compact cameras continues to climb. The 960 IS has an enormous 12.1-megapixels, which on a small digital-compact sensor is a more or less pointless advance on the 10 megapixels of the 900 Ti.

The 960 does have a larger sensor than its predecessors though, at 1/1.7in compared to 1/2.5in, so noise levels have been kept stable despite the higher pixel count. Plus you can choose 8-megapixel capture, which will still let you enlarge up to A3 prints before you start seeing any pixellation.

The camera’s ISO sensitivity goes very high too, but in common with other digital compacts, noise is a problem. At any setting above ISO 200 it’s obvious, and the highest ISO 1600 setting is definitely for emergencies only. If you get really desperate, turn the mode dial to Scene and among the 11 modes you’ll find one labelled “ISO 3200”. But at this setting the maximum resolution is limited to 2 megapixels and noise is massively intrusive. Keep it to ISO 100 though, and images look great.

The tiny sensor will never match a digital SLR, but comparing it with the likes of a Nikon P5100 – a more expensive enthusiast compact – there’s little to choose between them. Absolute quality isn’t perfect – it’s clear the camera applies a fair bit of noise reduction, which manifests itself as slight smearing of very fine detail – but you’ll only notice that at 100% magnification or with your nose half an inch from an A4 print.

More serious photographers won’t be too frustrated by the 960’s feature set either. As well as the very capable image stabilisation – allowing at least two stops of leeway when it comes to low-light shots without the flash – you get three metering modes, including spot metering. Image review options include a histogram breakdown and highlight-clip warnings (over-exposed areas of the image flash in the preview).

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