By Chris Jager PC World Australia | on May 19, 2009
Pros: Good image quality; 720p video mode; excellent build quality and design.
Cons: Limited manual modes and options; too expensive; noise levels could be lower.
The Canon Ixus 990 IS is the company's flagship compact digital camera. It has a 12.1-megapixel sensor, a 5x optical zoom lens -- the highest of any Ixus camera to date -- HD 720p video recording, an enlarged thee-inch LCD display with 461,000 pixels and an ultra-stylish design.
Curiously though, it's completely lacking in advanced manual features, which is a shame given its high-end credentials. In this respect, the Canon Ixus 990 IS is decisively beaten by the FujiFilm FinePix F200EXR (read our review here) — a rival digital camera with similar imaging capabilities.
The Canon Ixus 990 IS overtakes the Canon Ixus 980 IS as Canon's premium Ixus model — despite having fewer inbuilt features and a lower pixel count than its predecessor. As is often the case with flagship cameras, the Ixus 990 IS partially relies on its sleek good looks as a selling point.
Without a doubt, it's one of the best looking cameras on the market, with a high-gloss finish, sleek curves and a compact body. The metallic body is at turns silver and gold, depending on how the light hits it. In short, it looks exactly how a £330 camera should. At 95-x-57-x-26mm, it’s slightly bigger than the average compact camera, but this is forgiveable given the plus-sized zoom it’s housing. If you want something that's eye-catching and elegant, you won't be disappointed by the Ixus 990 IS.
On the downside, the Canon Ixus 990 IS is incredibly noisy — and we’re not talking about image quality (at least, not yet). Powering up the camera, making menu selections and using the autofocus all caused the 990 IS to emit a series of alarming buzzing sounds. The bizarre noises continued to plague us throughout testing and swiftly got on our nerves. (Note: It’s possible that this was an isolated manufacturing glitch in our model, but we advise checking it out in the store just to be safe.)
Apart from this one caveat, the Canon Ixus 990 IS was a joy to use throughout testing, with the plus-sized LCD being an obvious highlight. Image playback is further complemented by the inclusion of Active Display. This allows you to cycle through photos by physically shaking the camera, which is accompanied by a cool ‘paper flip’ transition. Active Display will also display portrait shots horizontally, and then switch to full screen when you turn the camera vertically. It might not be the most essential feature on the planet, but it does help to distinguish you (and your camera) from the crowd.
We found picture quality to be reasonable for the asking price. Images remained sharp, well detailed and accurately coloured throughout testing, although we did notice some barrel distortion in our panoramic shots. Its low-light performance was also problematic. Noise became an issue at ISO 400, which is unacceptable for a camera in this price range. Images began to suffer from speckling and colour desaturation at ISO 800, with significant loss in fine details. The 37-185mm lens could have been a bit wider, too.