|June 10, 2011|
The bottom line: If you’re looking for a nice, simple ultracompact for use indoors and out, you’ll want to seriously consider the Canon Ixus 220 HS.
Canon was falling a bit behind with its Ixus series of ultracompact cameras. Not in photo quality, but in terms of features, shooting performance, and overall value. For 2011 though, Canon snapped back thanks to the addition of backside-illuminated CMOS sensors in all of the new Ixus models. It even changed the naming system, dropping SD and IS from the products and adding HS. They all take SD cards and have image stabilization so those were no longer necessary and now feature Canon’s HS System that combines the aforementioned sensor with the Digic 4 image processor to product better low-light photos and faster shooting performance.
This review is based on tests done by our sister site CNET.com. As such, please note that there may be slight differences in the testing procedure and ratings system. For more information on the actual tests conducted on the product, please inquire directly at the site where the article was originally published. References made to some other products in this review may not be available or applicable in Asia.
The Ixus 220 HS is the smallest in the current lineup and overall it’s just a really fun pocket camera. Partly because it is so small, but it’s also easy to use and works well. It may not have as many features or be as fast as some competing models, but it has plenty to offer and should be fast enough for most users. And if you just want very good photos straight from the camera without leaving Auto, this is probably the ultracompact you want.
ISO comparison between ISO 200 to 3200. (Photo credit: Joshua Goldman/CNET)
The Ixus 220 HS produces generally excellent snapshots. Photos do get softer and noisier above ISO 200–typical for point-and-shoots–but ISO 400 and 800 are still very usable. The noise and noise reduction are well balanced so you still get good color and detail at these higher sensitivities. Colors desaturate some at ISO 1600 and 3200, subjects look very soft, and detail is greatly diminished. While you might not want to view them at larger sizes or heavily crop them, the high-ISO results should be satisfactory for Web or prints at small sizes.
Image samples of the 220 HS’s color performance. (Photo credit: Joshua Goldman/CNET)
Compared with a camera with a similar sensor and lens, the Sony Cyber-shot WX9, the Ixus 220 HS may have a slight edge. Both drop off in quality at ISO 400. The Sony’s noise is slightly better, but its reduction smears details; the Canon is noisier, but it retains more detail. Sony has multishot modes for improving low-light photos and dynamic range, which can get you better results than the Canon, but the Ixus 220 HS has better color performance: Bright, vivid, and accurate. It really comes down to your needs and expectations and, frankly, how many gee-whiz features you want for your money.
Video quality is on par with a very good HD pocket video camera; good enough for Web use and nondiscriminating TV viewing. The full-HD video records at 24fps and while panning the camera will create judder and there is visible trailing on moving subjects, the video is definitely watchable. Those things are typical of the video from most compact cameras, too. The zoom lens does work while recording; it moves very slowly, though, likely to prevent the movement from being picked up by the stereo mics on top.
If you’re looking for an ultracompact to leave in Auto, the Ixus 220 HS is probably perfect for you. The shooting-mode switch on back of the camera has two options: One for Auto and a Camera mode (that’s what we’re calling it since it’s designated by a picture of a camera). The Camera mode gives you access to a Program Auto mode as well as all the scene modes, creative effects modes, and slow-motion video recording. However, they’re laid out in one long list, so if you’re the type to change modes frequently, this can be a pain. Canon’s Smart Shutter option is there, too, which includes a smile-activated shutter release as well as Wink and Face Detection self-timers. Wink allows you to set off the shutter simply by winking at the camera and the Face Detection option will wait till the camera detects a new face in front of the camera before it fires off a shot. Both work well.
The 300’s burst mode is of capable of capturing at 3.2 frames per second, with focus and exposure set with the first shot. (Photo credit: Joshua Goldman/CNET)
One of the biggest benefits to CMOS sensors is their fast speed compared with CCD sensors. That’s certainly true of the Ixus 220 HS, getting a noticeable performance jump from the CCD-based Canon Ixus 130. On the other hand, it is slightly slower than CMOS-based ultracompacts from other manufacturers. The camera goes from off to first shot in 1.5 seconds with shot-to-shot times averaging 2.2 seconds without flash and 3.6 seconds with flash. Its shutter lag–the time it takes from pressing the shutter release to capturing a photo–is 0.5 second in bright lighting and 0.9 second in low-light conditions. The camera’s burst mode is capable of capturing at 3.2 frames per second, with focus and exposure set with the first shot. It can shoot until your memory card fills up, though, which is nice; competing cameras have a burst limit and make you wait while images are stored before you can shoot again. The camera also has a high-speed burst mode that can shoot 3-megapixel photos at up to 8.2fps. The results are very good compared to similar modes on other cameras we’ve tested, suitable for small prints and definitely for Web use.
The look and design hasn’t changed much from its predecessor, the Ixus 130, or its predecessor, the Canon Ixus 120 IS. It’s still very, very small, which remains its greatest attribute. It’s small enough that you’ll never hesitate to take it with you. However, if you plan to keep it loose in a bag, invest in some manner of protection or risk scratching up its beautiful body and screen. The model is available in silver, black, and red. The lens barrel color closely matches the body, too, giving it a peculiar uniform look. Canon did add a slight gritty texture to the body, which is appreciated, but some might find it irritating.
Using the camera is remarkably comfortable, even for large hands. All of the controls are flat and flush with the body. It gives the camera a very smooth appearance, but using the four-way directional pad and center Func/Set button can be a little difficult. They do feel easier to press than past models, though. Also, while I had no problems using them, the buttons, shooting-mode switch, and zoom rocker are tiny, which might be a problem for some; it would be an excellent idea to lay hands on one before you buy it.
Regardless of their shape and size, the controls are easy to master. The menu system can take some getting used to depending on how quickly you can remember to hit the Func/Set button for shooting-mode specific settings and the Menu button for everything else. You also have the option to turn on a help system with hints and tips for choosing the appropriate settings or simply telling you what the shooting mode you’re in is going to do. It’s not uncommon to find, but Canon does a nice job of it. The next step is to get a full, searchable user manual on it since there’s no printed manual included.
For connecting to a computer, monitor, or HDTV there are Mini-USB/AV and Mini-HDMI outputs underneath a small door right side of the body. The battery and memory card compartment is on the bottom under a nonlocking door. The battery does not charge in camera, and the shot life is rated at 220, so you’ll probably find yourself opening the compartment quite a bit if you shoot regularly. Keep in mind, too, that using the zoom or burst shooting a lot, shooting full HD movies, and keeping the screen brightness high will all cut into your battery life.
Instead of just giving the Ixus 220 HS a megapixel bump and some extra shooting modes, Canon actually improved it from earlier iterations. One of the big issues with those past models was shooting performance, which is better on the 220 HS especially in regard to continuous shooting. Photo and video quality are excellent and instead of unnecessarily going up to 16 megapixels, Canon keeps it at a sane 12 megapixels, which is actually a lower resolution than its predecessor, the Ixus 130. For those of you that like to keep your point-and-shoot in auto, the 220 HS is a smart choice.