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Canon Digital IXUS 200 IS / PowerShot SD980 IS ELPH Ken McMahon, January 2010
 

Canon IXUS 200 IS / PowerShot SD980 IS ELPH review

Announced in August 2009, the Canon Digital IXUS 200 IS, also known as the PowerShot SD980IS ELPH in North America, is the first Canon compact to feature a touch-screen. The 3in 16:9 wide touchscreen can be used to focus, select scene modes and other camera settings, and to control options in playback.

The wide shape of the screen is also ideal for framing in the camera's 720p HD video mode, and while shooting stills in 4:3 will result in black vertical bars on either side of the screen, Canon at least uses this unused space for control icons and other information. Alternatively you can shoot stills in 16:9 to fill the screen, although these will crop pixels from the top and bottom of the frame.

Aside from the touch-screen and HD video, other notable features include a 12.1 Megapixel sensor and a 5x optical zoom with an equivalent range of 24-120mm, equipping the camera with super wide angle coverage; indeed it's Canon's widest coverage on a compact to date. It's a pretty unqiue specification, especially from Canon, but does it add-up to a usuable experience? Find out in our full review where we'll put the touch-screen to use and compare the image quality against key rivals. Read on...



Canon Powershot A2100 IS







The Choc-ice proportioned IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS externally resembles the the IXUS 110 IS / SD960 IS. Available in silver, purple, gold and blue it's larger and weightier than either the IXUS 120 IS / SD940 IS or the COOLPIX S570, but easily compact enough to fit a jacket pocket. The body is finished in a metallic satin sheen with gunmetal grey trim giving an overall look that's understated and stylish.

The top panel houses a three-position shooting mode selector and on/off switch, both of which are triangular in shape to match the trim styling. This looks good, but is less functional than the controls on other IXUS models. The slightly raised shutter release and zoom rocker look and operate in the conventional Canon way.

The rear panel is dominated by the 3in 16:9 touch LCD panel. It must have been tempting for Canon to dispense with physical controls altogether, which would probably have meant a smaller camera, but instead, they've opted to to include similar rear panel controls to those found on most IXUS models. A four-way control disc sits to the right of the screen and is augmented by the addition of an outer wheel, used to scroll through menus and playback images. Above and below the control pad are buttons for activating playback mode and the menus.

 
 
 
 

Two flush plastic covers on the left edge conceal USB/AV and HDMI connectors, while a door on the bottom opens to reveal the combined battery and SD card compartment. The metal tripod bush located centrally on the bottom of the camera provides a solid support, but you can't open the battery/card door with the camera mounted on a tripod.

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Possibly because of its extended length, the IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS feels comfortable, secure and stable to hold. It's 10mm longer than the IXUS 120 IS / SD940 IS, 3mm thicker and weighs an extra 14 grams. While this mitigates against it in your pocket, it works in its favour in your hand.

Some of the functions on the IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS can be selected from the touchscreen, so let's look at those first. What appears on the screen is determined primarily by the shooting mode which is selected using the mode switch. This has three positions – Auto, Program and Movie. Switch the camera on in Auto mode and the central 4:3 viewing area is flanked on either side by black bars with icons. Battery remaining and camera orientation are displayed on the left, while on the right are the scene recognition mode, and below that, the only configurable setting in Auto, the flash mode.

Touching the flash mode icon displays an overlay screen with two icons which you can use to switch the flash between forced off and auto mode – an explanation of what you've you just done appears appears when you select either of them. There's one other thing you can do with the touchscreen in auto mode and that's set the focus. Tapping the screen sets a focus point which is is then tracked. Setting the focus is one of the most useful touchscreen functions.

Switching to Program mode provides a much wider range of options. Tapping the P icon at the top left provides touchscreen access to another 17 scene modes icons which are displayed over three screens. As in Auto mode the flash mode can be set, this time with forced on and slow synchro modes. The touchscreen can also be used to adjust exposure compensation using a scale at the bottom of the screen to increase or decrease the metered exposure by up to two stops in 0.3EV increments.

If you prefer, all of these settings, plus a great many others, can be changed using the physical controls on the rear panel. Flash mode, in addition to display overlays, macro focusing and self timer options can be set using the single-click buttons on the control disc. And in Program mode you can adjust exposure compensation, select scene modes, change the ISO sensitivity and more using the quick-access Func menu, activated using the central button on the control disc.

The IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS has an integral flash mounted above the lens on the top right corner of the front panel. In Auto and Program modes it fires automatically when required in low light. You can force it off and, in Program mode you can also force it on and use it in slow synch mode for fill-in illumination.

There are two built-in red-eye remedies. The AF assist lamp can be illuminated with a half-press of the shutter release, causing people's iris's to contract and so reducing the potential for reflections from the retina which cause red-eye. Secondly there's a software fix which can be automatically applied to photos. The quoted maximum distance for the flash at the wide angle lens setting is 3.5m which is fairly average. As with most compacts there's some fall of at the edges, but given the very wide angle view of the lens that's to be expected. The flash takes a little over four seconds to recycle between shots.

The IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS uses an NB-6L lithium-ion battery back which provides enough power for 240 shots using the CIPA (Camera Imaging Products Association) measurement standards. This isn't sparkling, but is a slight improvement on the IXUS 120 IS / SD940 IS, which manages 220.

Canon IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS coverage wide
Canon IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS coverage tele
4.3-21.5mm at 4.3mm (24mm equivalent)
  4.3-21.5mm at 21.5mm (120mm equivalent)


For those who spend their time photographing landscapes, buildings, interiors and groups, the lens on the IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS is something to get excited about. The 5x optical zoom ranges from 4.3 to 21.5mm - 24-120mm in 35mm terms. Most compacts in this price range offer wide angle coverage in the 30-38mm range and a few, like the IXUS 120 IS / SD940 IS and the COOLPIX S570 go as wide as 28mm, so one which boasts 24mm coverage is something of a rarity; indeed it's Canon's first compact to do so, although a respectful nod should also be directed toward Panasonic which has offered 25mm equivalent coverage on some of its compacts for a while. Either way, it really does allow you to capture a very wide field-of-view, which is invaluable when faced with expansive landscapes, cramped interiors or large group shots, or simply at times when you can't step back any further. It's one of the highlights of the camera.

On power-up, the lens extends by 20mm and the camera is ready for action in around 2 seconds. The zoom rocker takes the lens smoothly through it's full range in about one and a half seconds and you can nudge it through 11 discrete steps. Unlike the IXUS 120 IS / SD940 IS, there's a zoom bar to tell you where you are in the range.

All Canon compacts with the IS suffix include optical image stabilisation which shifts the lens to compensate for camera movement and thereby reduces the effects of camera shake. The general rule of thumb for low-light handheld photography states that the slowest safe shutter speed is one over the equivalent lens focal length. For example to avoid camera shake with a 120mm lens you'd need to use a shutter speed of 1/120th of a second or faster.

Canon IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS: IS off / continuous
100% crop, 4.3-21.5mm at 21.5mm, 1/15, 200 ISO, IS off
 
100% crop, 4.3-21.5mm at 21.5mm, 1/15, 200 ISO, IS on

The two crops above are taken from the IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS with the lens set to its maximum 21.5mm (120mm equivalent) focal length. In Program mode with the sensitivity set to 200 ISO the camera set an exposure of 1/15th of a second at f5.9.

The crop on the left is from a shot taken with IS turned off, the one on the right from one taken with IS in continuous mode. The IS has pretty effectively eliminated the camera shake at an exposure a full three stops slower than would ordinarily be expected.

 
 
 
 

Like the IXUS 120 IS / SD940 IS, the main Face AiAF autofocus option automatically switches from the standard nine-area system to face-detection once someone enters the frame, and it can detect and track up to nine faces. Pointing the camera at a person or group is enough to activate the system, after which a white frame appears on the main subject and two grey frames appear on other faces. When first pressure is applied on the shutter release, up to nine green frames appear on faces on which the camera maintains focus.

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Like other Canon compacts equipped with DIGIC 4 processors, the face detection works very well in nearly all circumstances. In good light it's fast to identify and lock onto faces, and once it's got them it holds onto them, only losing its grip if the subject turns away. In the absence of faces the camera uses the standard nine-area autofocus system and you can also switch to a single fixed AF frame system.

This camera has one other focusing option that other IXUS models lack. By tapping the screen you can set a single focus point that the camera then tracks. This is probably the single most useful feature of the touch-screen because it means you can focus on any subject in an instant regardless of the light conditions.

And so onto the screen itself - did we mention it's touch model by the way?! The IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS features a touch-sensitive 3in screen with a wide 16:9 aspect ratio and 230k pixels. It's bright, vivid and contrasty, and visibility remains good even at quite acute horizontal and vertical viewing angles. The 16:9 wide aspect ratio is a perfect fit when shooting videos in the camera's 720p HD mode, but there can be compromises when shooting stills.

If you're set to the best-quality mode, you'll be taking photos in the squarer 4:3 aspect ratio, which only fill a smaller portion of the screen with black bars running down each side - just like watching old TV shows on a widescreen set. In this mode, the screen effectively shrinks to 2.5in diagonally, although to be fair, Canon does use the black vertical bars to position control icons and other information, so it's not wasted. Alternatively there's an option to take photos with a 16:9 shape which fill the screen during composition, although this simply crops the top and bottom of the frame to deliver an image with 4000 x 2248 pixels. In terms of quality, this gives you the same result as shooting at the maximum 4000 x 3000 pixel size then cropping later, but it's certainly nice to compose a shot using the entire panel.

In use the touch-screen is good, but not that good. What do we mean by that? Simply this, that to justify its presence the touch-screen needs to do what the conventional controls do, only better. For shooting functions, particularly manual focusing, which is a joy, the touch-screen works well, but after the initial novelty wore off, we found ourselves reverting to the physical buttons to do things like review images and video.

The touch-scrolling and active display features aren't clunky exactly, but they're not quite as slick and smooth as they need to be - the gestures in particular require a practiced hand and little luck to get right first time. So beyond the tap-focus and a handful of other aspects, the touch-screen will only really appeal to dedicated gadget fanatics in the long-term. If you love that kind of thing, the IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS will greatly appeal, but more traditional photographers will, like us, probably revert to using the buttons over time.

     

The IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS has the standard two-tab main menu system present on many recent Canon compacts with shooting settings on one tab and camera setting on another. Most of these are of the set-once then leave alone variety: digital zoom, AF-assist beam, blink detection, display overlay and date stamp being a few examples from the shooting settings menu. There's one new addition to this menu – Vert Shutter - which activates a touchscreen shutter release icon for use when the camera is rotated to take portrait format shots.

     

Camera settings is the tab where you'll find, among other things, card formatting, LCD brightness, power saving and date and time settings, and also has a calibration routine for the touchscreen.

Things that are needed on a more regular basis can be found on the Func menu which is activated by pressing the Func.Set button in the middle of the control disc. Like the IXUS 120 IS / SD940 IS, this menu follows a new two-column design with settings in the left column and associated options in a column to the right. In Program mode the Func menu includes image size and compression, ISO sensitivity, exposure compensation, white balance, colour presets, metering mode and continuous shooting.

 

 

Switch to playback mode and the IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS touchscreen once again comes into play. Single tapping anywhere on a photo zooms in to that location and you can then pan by dragging with your index finger. Double tapping returns to fit-to-screen view, or from there to a thumbnail index. Dragging sideways scrolls through photos and you can assign other functions to four programmable touch gestures.

The so-called Active Display feature provides a third method of navigating images. Shaking the camera left or right scrolls forwards and backward though images, a forward shake activates the focus check view which displays the autofocus regions in close up.

As with everything else, all this and more can be done conventionally using the disc pad and menus. Pressing the menu button in playback mode displays the capture settings tab plus a printing and playback functions menu; the latter including erase, protect, rotate, slideshow and basic editing functions like trimming, resizing and red-eye correction. This menu also provides favourite and category tagging functions which can subsequently be made use of in filtered playback and slideshows but, sadly, aren't appended to the image file for use in library software.

Finally, pressing the Func menu in playback mode provides quick access to a selection of frequently used playback options including print lists, protection, tagging and filtered playback.

The IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS has two still image capture exposure modes plus a variety of scene modes all of which automatically determine and set the exposure.

In Auto mode, scene detection determines whether there are people in the scene, whether it includes blue skies, whether the subject is backlit , how close the subject is and whether it's day or night. An icon appears in the top right of the screen to tell you what that camera thinks it's looking at.

Canon's scene detection is a significant advance on conventional auto exposure methods. It's quick, fairly accurate and makes a real difference in image quality, particularly in 'difficult' lighting situations. The scene detection on the IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS seemed a little less sure of itself than on other Canon Compacts we've tested, occasionally detecting phantom faces and displaying a reluctance to recognise blue skies.

In Program mode the Func. Menu provides access to a range of settings as described previously, but there's no manual exposure control – you can't select your own shutter speed or aperture. As we've said previously, though, you can focus manually, simply by tapping on the screen where you want to focus.

 

 

Like the IXUS 120 IS / SD940 IS, the IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS can shoot movies in three sizes, 1280 x 720 (720p HD) 640 x 480 and 320 x 240, all at 30 frames per second and encoded using the H.264 format and stored in a Quicktime MOV wrapper.

If the digital zoom is activated it can be used during filming with increasingly fuzzy results, but sadly the optical zoom can only be used to frame your shot prior to recording; during shooting (like so many Canon compacts) it is deactivated. For HD shooting the maximum continuous shooting time is around 10 minutes. Registered members of Vimeo can download the clip shown here for closer inspection.

It's worth adding the 16:9 screen makes a huge difference to the whole experience of shooting widescreen video on a compact, as it's much easier to compose with the image filling the screen than on a conventional 4:3 panel where there's a smaller letter-boxed image with black bars at the top and bottom. Of course the downside to having a 16:9 screen is having black bars on the left and right sides when shooting squarer 4:3 photos - there's always going to be a compromise when the video and stills are a different shape.

In continuous shooting mode the IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS manages a steady 0.9 frames per second. There's only one continuous shooting mode and it doesn't get any faster even if you reduce the image size.

The IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS employs a 1/2.3in CCD sensor which produces images with a maximum size of 4000 x 3000 pixels which are stored as JPEG files with one of two compression settings – normal and fine. At the maximum image size and quality, files measure around 2.5 to 3 Megabytes. The camera has no built-in memory so you must have an SD card inserted to record images.

The ISO sensitivity ranges from 80 to 1600 ISO and there's a 3200 ISO scene mode which produces photos at the M3 1600 x 1200 size. The shutter speed range runs from 15 to 1/1500th of a second but, as mentioned earlier, cannot be set manually. To see how the quality of the IXUS 200 IS / SD980 IS measures-up in practice, take a look at our real-life resolution and high ISO noise results pages, browse the sample images gallery, or skip to the chase and head straight for our verdict.


 

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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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