Canon Digital Ixus 120 IS

      Photo Review 8

      In summary

      A stylish, super-slim digicam with a 12-megapixel sensor, 4x optical zoom lens and 720p HD movie recording capability.Touted as ‘the slimmest ever wide-angle Ixus’ and almost credit-card sized, the new Ixus 120 IS comes in four stylish colours (black, blue, brown and silver) and boasts a CCD imager with 12.1 megapixels (effective) and a wide-angle 4x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilisation. The lens covers a 35mm equivalent focal length range of 28-112mm and the camera is equipped with family photographer friendly features like Face Detection, AF/AE/FE, Motion Detection, a FaceSelf-Timer and Auto Red-Eye Correction. . . [more]

      Full review


      Touted as ‘the slimmest ever wide-angle Ixus’ and almost credit-card sized, the new Ixus 120 IS comes in four stylish colours (black, blue, brown and silver) and boasts a CCD imager with 12.1 megapixels (effective) and a wide-angle 4x optical zoom lens with optical image stabilisation. The lens covers a 35mm equivalent focal length range of 28-112mm and the camera is equipped with family photographer friendly features like Face Detection, AF/AE/FE, Motion Detection, a FaceSelf-Timer and Auto Red-Eye Correction.


      The four colour options for the Ixus 120 IS. (Source: Canon.)


      Front view of the Ixus 120 IS in silver. (Source: Canon.)


      Rear view of the Ixus 120 IS showing the LCD monitor and main control panel. (Source: Canon.)

      The new model isn’t quite as small as the Ixus 100 IS, which was launched in February and remains the smallest, lightest in the Ixus line-up – but only by a whisker. The new model has more rounded contours and lacks an optical viewfinder. The slightly longer zoom lens on the Ixus 120 IS extends the zoom range in both wide and tele directions, covering an equivalent focal length range of 28-112mm in 35mm format. However, you have to swap to the macro setting to shoot subjects closer than 50 cm from the lens, whereas the Ixus 100 IS could focus down to 30 cm. Both models are limited to 3 cm in macro mode.

      New features introduced with this model – and also the new Digital IXUS 200 IS, which was announced at the same time – include a Smart Auto mode with Scene Detection Technology, and a ‘Hints & Tips’ system that camera settings are clearly explained within the menu.

      Canon’s TruCapture technologies carried over from the Ixus 100 IS include extensive Face Detection options plus automatic in-camera red-eye correction and Blink Detection (which alerts users when subjects are detected with their eyes closed in shots). The Ixus 120 IS also supports 720p HD video recording at 30 frames/second with monaural sound.

      Otherwise almost nothing has changed, although, according to their specifications, the flash in the new model provides greater coverage. However, the difference between the two models isn’t great and it this may be related to the wider focal length of the lens.

      The control suite provided in the Ixus 120 IS is pretty basic. Only three shooting modes are provided: full auto and P, both of which are dedicated to recording still image files, plus movie. In full auto mode, the camera will automatically select the appropriate settings for the type of scene detected from a database containing up to 22 scenes. In P mode, you can choose the scene pre-set manually. Aperture and shutter speed settings are not separately adjustable, although you can set shutter speeds between one and 15 seconds in the Long Shutter scene mode.

      Movie recording can only be initiated if this mode is selected. Recording starts when the shutter button is pressed. A second push stops recording. Recording will also stop when the file size reaches 4GB. You can’t use the optical zoom while recording video clips but the digital zoom remains accessible.

      Pressing the Menu button lets you access some additional settings in P mode, including the i-Contrast dynamic range expansion facility. This primes the image processor to detect areas in the scene where highlight or shadow detail may be lost and applies automatic corrections. The processing may also boost overall contrast to create an impression of added sharpness. We found the processing fairly light-handed and not up to the demands of bright Aussie sunlight.

      Several focusing aids are included in the autofocusing modes. Users can select Face AiAF for face detection or Centre AF to lock focusing on the centre of the frame. Half-pressing the shutter button magnifies the AF frame, providing a useful focus check. However, at times (particularly with close or complex subjects) this can impede your ability to compose shots. You can’t turn it off, although you can reduce the AF frame size to Small.

      Half-pressing the shutter button also engages the AF/AE/FE lock. If you’ve selected Servo AF in the menu, the camera will continue to adjust focus and exposure to keep both correct when shooting moving subjects.

      Canon’s Colour Accent and Colour Swap functions, which let you change the look of an image while shooting, are supported in both still and video modes. There’s also a special Scene mode setting for shooting panoramic sequences.

      Sensor and Image Processor
      The sensor in the Ixus 120 IS appears to be the same as that in the Ixus 100 IS – and also the PowerShot SX20 IS Although the camera supports sensitivity settings ranging from ISO 80 to ISO 3200, the highest setting is only available as a Scene pre-set – where shutter speeds and aperture adjustments aren’t supported. This is probably a good strategy since we found image quality deteriorated with this setting to such an extent that shots became essentially unusable. Colour accuracy and sharpness were both seriously compromised. (Examples can be found in the Sample Images section below.)
      The Ixus 120 IS only records still images as JPEGs, offering six image size settings (including one 16:9 ‘widescreen’ option), each at Fine or Normal compression. Image size is adjustable via the Function/Set menu. To adjust compression you must select the image size then press the Function/Set button again and use the vertical arrow pad buttons to select Fine or Normal.

      Compression levels are almost the same as those in the SX20 IS. Typical image sizes are shown in the table below.

      Camera setting






      4000 x 3000




      3264 x 2448




      2592 x 1944




      1600 x 1200




      640 x 480




      4000 x 2248



      Video clips can be recorded in 720p quality (not Full High Definition but, at 1280×720 pixels, good enough to display on a widescreen HD TV set). A frame rate of 30 frames/second ensures smooth capture of moving subjects and use of the H.264 video compression standard provides greater recording times for memory capacities. Audio tracks are monaural. Typical recording capacities are shown in the table below.


      Frame rate

      Capacity with 2GB card

      Maximum clip length

      1280 x 720

      30 fps

      10 minutes 53 seconds

      10 minutes

      640 x 480

      30 fps

      23 minutes 49 seconds

      1 hour

      320 x 240

      30 fps

      1 hour, 13 min. 10 sec.

      1 hour

      Playback and Software
      Playback options are essentially unchanged from previous Ixus cameras and include single and index displays, searching by scrolling, up to 10x playback zoom and advancing and reversing through magnified images. Pressing the Display button magnifies the area inside the AF frame for focus checking. You can also ‘filter’ a large collection of images on a memory card to display them according to a specified shot date, category or file type (still or movie).

      Slideshows can be played with one of four transition effects. You can also set the camera to auto rotate vertical images and display Hints and Tips when different functions are selected. Post-capture adjustments include red-eye correction, ‘Enhanced Intelligent Contrast Correction’, trimming, resizing and folder creation. You can also display a brightness histogram or overexposure warning in playback mode.

      The software disk contains the standard Canon Digital Camera Solution Disk, which includes an electronic version of the full user manual in PDF format plus the latest versions of ZoomBrowser EX (Windows) and ImageBrowser (Macintosh) for organising and editing images, movies and slideshows, or creating and printing digital photo albums. A Personal Printing Guide is also provided, along with the PhotoStitch panorama stitching application.
      Pictures straight out of the review camera showed evidence of image processing and colour noise could be seen in shadowed areas when shots were enlarged to 100%, even at low ISO settings. Highlight details were frequently lost in bright outdoor scenes, even when the iContrast function has been engaged.

      Imatest showed resolution to be below expectations for a 12-megapixel camera and revealed considerable edge softening, which was greatest at mid-range focal lengths. Best overall performance was obtained at around 15mm focal length. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.


      Resolution began to decline at ISO 200 and fell sharply to ISO 400, after which it flattened off for the ISO 800 and ISO 1600 sensitivity settings. The graph below shows the results of our tests.


      Noise-reduction processing – using dark-frame subtraction – kicks in at the lowest sensitivity settings for all shots taken with the Long Shutter mode. It certainly minimised apparent image noise in long exposures, although at the expense of slight image softening. Flash shots taken with the highest ISO settings were also noticeably softened.

      Imatest showed colour reproductions to be reasonably good, with only minor hue shifts, although saturation was slightly elevated in the red and blue bands of the spectrum. Lighter skin hues were slightly off the mark, while darker skin hues were almost spot-on. Barrel distortion could be seen in shots taken with the widest focal length setting but little distortion was evident from middle focal lengths on.

      Lateral chromatic aberration was mostly low and we only detected slight coloured fringing when test shots were enlarged to 100%. However, edge softening was obvious in all test shots. An example is shown in the Sample Images section below.

      The flash was able to illuminate an average-sized room at ISO settings of 200 and above and exposures were evenly-balanced for all ISO settings up to 1600. The review camera’s auto white balance was unable to correct the orange cast of incandescent lighting but produced close-to-natural colours under fluorescent lights. Corrections provided by the pre-sets and Custom measurement produced neutral colours with both lighting types.

      Close-up performance was adequate and digital zoom shots were relatively artefact-free. The review camera also handled backlighting surprisingly well, producing shots that were barely flare-affected when the sun was just outside the frame.

      Overall response times were about average for Ixus models. The test camera powered up ready for shooting in approximately 0.8 seconds and we measured an average capture lag of 0.5 seconds, which was reduced to a consistent 0.1 second lag when shots were pre-focused. High-resolution images took an average of three seconds to process.

      The continuous shooting mode recorded 5 shots in 6.2 seconds, with a progressive slowing between one shot and the next before a pause of several seconds. Image processing appeared to be on-the-fly as it took 3.9 seconds to process a 5-shot burst.

      Buy this camera if:
      – You’re looking for a slim, pocketable digicam with a point-and-press ‘intelligent’ shooting mode.
      – You’d like a digicam that can record widescreen high-definition video clips.
      – You want effective image stabilisation.
      Don’t buy this camera if:
      – You want the ability to capture raw files.
      – You want plenty of adjustable controls.
      – You require an optical viewfinder.
      – You need a camera that can record a wide dynamic range in outdoor shots.
      – You require high performance levels in dim lighting, particularly for long exposures.





      Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.


      Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.


      Close-up. 5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/60 second at f/4.5.


      5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/251 second at f/8.


      20mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/501 second at f/5.9.


      Digital zoom. 20mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/636 second at f/5.9.


      Digital zoom. 20mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/636 second at f/5.9.


      8mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/636 second at f/3.5.


      Coloured fringing and edge softening in a 100% crop from the above image.


      ISO 100, 15 second exposure at f/3.5; 8mm focal length.


      ISO 1600, 6 second exposure at f/3.5; 8mm focal length.


      Flash exposure; 20mm focal length. ISO 100, 1/60 second at f/5.9.


      Flash exposure; 20mm focal length. ISO 1600, 1/60 second at f/5.0.


      Dynamic range coverage; 5mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/251 second at f/8.


      Flare: 5mm focal length, ISO 80, 1/159 second at f/8.


      12.8mm focal length, ISO 200, 1/159 second at f/4.5.


      20mm focal length, ISO 100, 1/501 second at f/5.9.




      Image sensor: 6.16 x 4.62 mm CCD with 12.4 million photosites (12.1 megapixels effecive)
      Lens: 5.0-20.0mm f/2.8-f/5.9 zoom lens (28-112mm in 35mm format)
      Zoom ratio: 4x optical, up to 4x digital
      Image formats: Stills – JPEG (Exif 2.2); Movies – MOV (Image data: H.264; Audio data: Linear PCM monaural )
      Image Sizes: Stills – 4000 x 3000, 3264 x 2448, 2592 x 1944, 1600 x 1200, 640 x 480, 4000 x 2248 (widescreen); Movies – 1280 x 720, 640 x 480, 320 x 240, all at 30 frames/second
      Shutter speed range: 15 to 1/1500 seconds
      Self-timer: 2 or 10 seconds delay plus Face Self-timer, Custom Timer
      Image Stabilisation: Lens-shift type
      Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3EV increments
      Focus system/range: TTL AF with Face AiAF/Centre modes; range 50 cm to infinity; macro 3-50 cm
      Exposure metering/control: Evaluative, centre-weighted and spot metering
      Shooting modes: Auto, P, Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Sunset, Fireworks, Long Shutter, Beach, Underwater, Aquarium, Foliage, Snow, ISO3200, Digital Macro, Colour Accent, Colour Swap, Stitch Assist
      ISO range: Auto, ISO 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600
      White balance: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, tungsten, Fluorescent (x2), Custom
      Flash modes/range (ISO auto): Auto, On, Slow Synchro, Off (red-eye reduction/correction available); range 0.3 to 4.0 metres
      Sequence shooting: Approx. 0.8 frames/second (max.)
      Storage Media: SD/SDHC/MMC
      Viewfinder: No
      LCD monitor: 2.7-inch TFT LCD with 230,000 dots
      Power supply: NB-4L rechargeable lithium-ion battery
      Dimensions (wxhxd): 89.5 x 54.9 x 20 mm
      Weight: 120 grams (without battery and card)





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