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Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS / Powershot SD990 IS - Digital Camera Review
Review Date: 25/10/2008
Rating: Recommended
Author: Joshua Waller
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More Reviews: Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS


Introduction: Announced late September 2008, the Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS / Powershot SD990 IS is one of Canon's new top of the range compact digital camera - not only do you get a whopping 14.7 megapixels, but it the first IXUS to feature full manual controls, including manual focus, aperture and shutter settings! It's also one of the first IXUS cameras to be available in black. The camera has a 3.7x optical zoom lens with image stabilisation, a 2.5" LCD screen, VGA video recording, an optical viewfinder and face detection focus. The Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS is available from around £259. The camera is enclosed in a stylish metal body that measures approx. 96.7 x 62.2 x 27.9mm (excluding protrusions), and weighs approx. 160g. excluding battery and memory card.

Canon have this to say about the camera:

"The 14.7 MP Digital IXUS 980 IS blends technical excellence with a unique, stylish black or silver design. Powered by Canon’s latest DIGIC 4 processor, it combines advanced auto features with Manual control."

You can find more information on their website.

The Camera: a visual tour: (Photos of the camera taken with the Canon Powershot A2000 IS)


Front view - camera off.


Front view - camera on, microphone, focus assist lamp, viewfinder, flash.


Top - speaker, on/off, zoom control, shutter release.

Size Comparison: Compared to a Pentax PC-550 35mm film camera - a medium/compact sized 35mm film camera.


Size comparison.


Size comparison.

Specifications / Features:

  • 14.7 Megapixels CCD Sensor
  • 3.7x zoom with optical Image Stabilizer
  • Manual control
  • Face Detection Technology
  • Red-Eye Correction
  • DIGIC 4
  • Anti-blur Motion Detection
  • i-Contrast - boosts brightness in dark areas of an image.
  • My Menu - Customise the menu system with My Menu for rapid access to the functions you use most.
  • 2.5" LCD and OVF
  • Manual Control and 20 Shooting Modes
  • VGA (640x480, 30fps) movies
  • Scenes: Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Sunset, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, ISO 3200, Digital Macro, Color Accent, Color Swap, Stitch Assist
  • Histogram available: Yes
  • Optical viewfinder: Yes
  • Manual WB: Yes

Box Contents:

  • Digital Camera
  • Wrist Strap
  • Battery Charger
  • Lithium-Ion rechargeable Battery NB-5L (3.7v, 1120mAh)
  • AV Cable
  • USB Cable
  • 32mb SD Memory card
  • Software CD ROM
  • Basic Printed Manual

Average box contents - a larger memory card would be nice, as would a case. A case, and a large memory card is highly recommended.

Menu system: The menu system is logical and fairly straightforward. Once you get used to the way Canon menus work then you can use any Canon camera. The function button gives (along with the buttons on the back of the camera) quick access to the most commonly used options with just one press of the button, and the menu button works as it should providing access to options that you rarely need to change (such as flash compensation). The scroll wheel lets you adjust the mode further allowing you to switch between Program and full Manual mode, as well as scroll through the scene modes. The playback menu gives you some useful features such as slideshow, red-eye correction, sound memo, and the usual print options, as well as a few new features such as i-contrast (increases dynamic range), and my colours.

Picture Size / Quality: The camera lets you choose the image size (14.7m, 9m, 5m, 2m, VGA, Widescreen 4416 x 2480), aspect ratio (4:3, or Widescreen), and how much compression is applied to the images (Superfine, Fine, Normal). Higher quality images take a large amount of memory, so a high capacity memory card is definitely recommended, unless you're prepared to sacrifice image size or compression to fit more pictures in memory. There is a very good choice of image sizes, compression options, and some choice regarding aspect ratios - it's just missing a 3:2 aspect ratio mode.


Bottom - metal tripod mount, plastic battery and SD memory card compartment.

Battery usage: Battery life is rated at approx. 280 shots according to CIPA standards. I was able to take over 320 shots before the battery went flat. Battery life will be dependent on the kind of use you make of the camera.

Memory cards: A large memory card is relatively cheap, and highly recommended, I would recommend at a bare minimum a 2gb memory card, if you intend to take fine JPEG images, and preferably a 4gb memory card, or larger. The larger the memory card, the more photos you will be able to take. If you are likely to go on holiday then the largest memory card you can afford would definitely be worth investing in, as you don't always know when you will next be at a computer. You can use SD or SDHC memory cards - I tend to use Sandisk Ultra II Plus USB SD memory cards as these let you plug the memory card straight into a USB socket making it easy to transfer images onto any computer, they are available as 1GB SD, or 2GB SD cards and 4GB SDHC cards. Listed below are links to memory cards that will work with the Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS:

Find the latest prices for SD memory cards at Amazon.co.uk: 1gb (1000mb): £4, 2gb (2000mb): £5, 4gb (4000mb SDHC): £6, 8gb (8000mb SDHC): £10
Need more help deciding what memory card to buy? Have a look at our guide to digital camera memory cards or our article what size memory card should I buy?

Speed: The camera can take its first photo from 'off' in approx 1.8 seconds (without flash), which is quite quick. Focusing seemed very quick too, and even in very low light when it uses flash-assist it takes only a little longer. The camera shutter response seemed instant when pre-focused, responding in 0.1 seconds or less - and shot to shot time was fairly quick, with a delay of around 2.2 seconds without flash (and review off). The flash recharge time was quite quick allowing a shot to be taken every 3.4 seconds, flash is also available in the continuous shooting mode, with a good shot to shot time of around 1 seconds for up to 20 shots. Continuous shooting is reasonable with a fast memory card, at roughly 1.5fps at all resolution until the card is full. The playback and menus are very quick. The quick mode switches off the preview screen at the back, and instead shows shooting information, leaving you to frame the subject using the optical viewfinder, this mode speeds up shot time by activating continuous focusing.


Back - 2.5" LCD screen, mode dial, print/function button, play / shoot, 4-way controller / scroll wheel, function / set button, display, menu.

Ease of use: The camera is easy to use, especially in the AUTO mode and has a number of scene modes that help get good results. The controls on the back of the camera are quite straightforward. The menus are responsive and are also easy to use, and the options are big enough and easy enough to see clearly, although built in help would have been nice. The scene modes are easy to access, mainly thanks to the large display, and a lot of the options can be accessed using the buttons on the back. It's easy to see when photos are in focus, and the image stabilisation means that more of your shots will be sharp. The scroll wheel and combined 4-way controller is a little bit small, but can help speed up selecting different modes and options in the menus.

Ergonomics and Buttons: (Feel, placement, labels, etc) The layout and size of the buttons and controls are good, with the most commonly used options reachable with your right thumb. The zoom control and shutter release also work well. I thought the camera felt good ergonomically, as it feels solid and well built. However there is no hand grip on the front or back, leaving only the curved styling to grip onto, therefore it's highly recommended that you use the wrist strap to make sure you don't drop the camera. Bring a Canon Digital IXUS it will very easily fit into pockets.

Image Quality: Here are some real world sample photos taken in various settings, (such as Inside, Outside, Macro) to demonstrate the image quality and also show different features of the camera. Larger versions of these, plus more photos are available in the Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS Sample Photo Gallery!

Inside:

Heather and Flower (ISO250) Flash photo (ISO250)

Inside: The camera has very good colour - It took a good "Heather and Flower" photo - there is very little red-eye in the photo. The camera copes well with group photos, although red-eye is often noticeable. On AUTO ISO, the ISO setting was kept quite low in these photos (ISO250), however noise was noticeable. Better results are possible by using a lower ISO setting, especially with subjects close to the camera. The camera did a good job at focusing even in low-light where the focus assist lamp kicks in. Colour is quite richly saturated, though lacking in contrast however this can be improved using My Colours "Vivid" or "Custom Colour" setting.

ISO Noise Test: Noise is generally a bad thing - it fragments detail, and gives a grainy effect over the image. With digital cameras noise can be a real problem as it is often made out of blue, red or green dots. As the ISO setting increases, pictures tend to have more noise and is most noticeable in darker areas. The camera has an Automatic mode for ISO levels (ranging from ISO 80 - ISO1600), and manual ISO settings (ISO: 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200).

Below you'll find the noise test image, plus actual pixel crops, viewable at 100%, from the image taken at different ISO settings, compared with the 9 megapixel Canon Powershot SX110 IS, and 10 megapixel Canon Powershot A2000 IS.

Canon Powershot SX110 IS (9mp) Canon Powershot A2000 IS (10mp) Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS (14.7mp)

ISO Noise Test Photos - Flash is off. Canon Powershot SX110 IS on the left, Canon Powershot A2000 IS in the middle, Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS on the right. Any tonal difference is due to white balance or lighting / metering differences.

Canon Powershot SX110 IS (9mp) Canon Powershot A2000 IS (10mp) Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS (14.7mp)
ISO80 - NA ISO80 - Actual Pixels ISO80 - Actual Pixels
ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels ISO100 - Actual Pixels
ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels ISO200 - Actual Pixels
ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels ISO400 - Actual Pixels
ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels ISO800 - Actual Pixels
ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels ISO1600 - Actual Pixels
ISO3200 - Actual Pixels (2mp) ISO3200 - Actual Pixels (2mp) ISO3200 - Actual Pixels (2mp)

Noise results: What's surprising here is that the camera with the highest number of megapixels, the 14.7 megapixel Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS, appears to have the lowest noise of the three cameras! The 9 megapixel Canon Powershot SX110 IS has the highest noise, but also the sharpest images, with ISO800 and 1600 particularly noisy. The 10 megapixel Canon Powershot A2000 IS has slightly less noise, but still shows a lot of noise at ISO800 and above. The Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS has less noise, cleaner pictures, and an impressively smooth ISO3200 mode (albeit at 2mp) - these impressive results could be due to the IXUS 980 using the new Canon DIGIC 4 image processor, while the SX110 and A2000 use the older DIGIC 3 processor.

Image Stabilisation: The camera features real image stabilisation, as optical image stabilisation. This feature helps reduce image blur due to low light or long zoom photography. Examples showing this feature switched on and off can be seen below.

Image Stabilisation On
1/8 ISO320
Image Stabilisation Off
1/8 ISO400
Image stabilisation on (thumb) Image Stabilisation Off (thumb)
Image stabilisation on (Actual pixels) Image stabilisation Off (Actual pixels)

With image stabilisation switched on the images are much sharper and clearer, and are much more likely to come out blur free, especially in low light, when using the zoom or when using slow shutter speeds. The camera's system appears to work well, and it's good to see that this feature is becoming the norm with digital cameras.

Outside:

Liverpool shops (ISO80) Super Lamb Banana (ISO80)

Outside: The camera has quite rich, saturated colours. There was impressive detail, and the camera took a number of very pleasing images outside, with good contrast, low noise and very little chromatic aberrations or purple fringing. In general 'normal' quality jpeg artefacts are not easily seen, however areas with strong contrasts benefit from use of the highest quality setting.

Zoom: This lens provides a 3.7x optical zoom starting at 36mm equivalent which is great for 'normal' everyday photography, zooming to 133mm. I've included examples below to show what the zoom is capable of. An example of digital zoom can be seen as well. Digital Zoom basically takes a crop of the centre of the frame and enlarges the image, degrading image quality, and is therefore best avoided.

Wide-angle 4x optical Zoom Full optical and digital zoom

Exposure: The photos of the clock tower are exposed well with detail in the dark areas as well as the lighter areas - exposure in other photos was generally very good. Vignetting was not noticed in these photos. It can be useful to under expose images with bright backgrounds (eg. sky) with use of exposure compensation.

Lens noise and zoom: The lens makes some noise, and gives you seven steps between wide and telephoto - this gives adequate control over how you frame your subject.

Other Image Quality issues: Purple fringing / Chromatic aberration were slight but sometimes noticeable especially in areas of high contrast (such as the wide angle clock tower photo). There is some barrelling at wide angle though pin cushioning was barely noticeable at full zoom.

Macro Lens Performance:

Timex Watch Macro Actual Pixels (ISO100)

The closest the camera lens can get to the subject when taking macro photos is 5cm. Colour and detail is very good, and there appears to be low noise at ISO100 and below. Setting the white balance manually helps achieve better results. The camera can also take macro photos when zoomed in slightly, and can be manually focused.

Video mode: The camera records VGA videos at 30fps with sound as AVI files, and using the optical image stabilisation they appear very smooth and shake free. However, compared to other digital cameras the Canon can't fit very long videos on the memory card, as it doesn't use very high compression, such as MPEG4, and will only fit 20 minutes on a 2gb card. Optical zoom is available prior to, and digital zoom whilst recording.

Conclusion

Image Quality: Image quality is excellent - with excellent colour, with high levels of saturation, contrast and very good detail. Noise is quite low considering the camera has 14.7 megapixels - and shows lower noise than other 9 and 10 megapixel Canon cameras! It also offers a useable high ISO 3200 mode! There was also some red eye in group photos, but overall red-eye was generally quite low, and red-eye reduction worked well to remove most of them. The camera did a good job focusing even in low light thanks to the focus assist lamp, and had a high success rate due to the built in optical image stabilisation. There was no noticeable vignetting, I noticed slight barrel distortion (at wide angle) and pincushion distortion at full zoom was slight. There is a very good range of image sizes, aspect ratio, and a good choice of compression options. Auto white balance and metering seemed to be very good. The camera gives very good control over image quality and by using the 'My Colours' option there is further control of the resulting image. (9/10)

Everything else (the camera as a whole): The camera is available in black or silver and it has a stylish metal body. The camera has a very good 2.5" LCD screen that is visible except in bright sunlight. The camera feels well built, and is fairly comfortable to hold. It is easy to use, and has quick access to the most commonly used options. The layout of buttons and controls is good, although there is not much of a hand grip so a wrist strap and case is recommended. The camera speed is good, with a good switch on time, quick focusing time, excellent shutter response, quick playback mode, quick menus, reasonable continuous shooting, and good flash recharge time. The camera has a wealth of features that should suit everyone, from beginners who will appreciate features like face detection focus, numerous scene modes, fair video mode, good macro mode, optical image stabilisation; to experts with features such as manual focus, manual white balance, full manual aperture and shutter settings, quick mode, flash settings and the ability to print huge photos. It's a shame this camera doesn't also feature a wide-angle lens, and an improved video mode. (9/10)

Value for Money: The Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS from around £259, is good value for money, offering a number of features not normally found in a compact camera, such as full manual controls. (8/10) See more digital camera reviews sorted by megapixels here.

Summary: The Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS headline feature is a whopping 14.7 megapixel sensor in a compact body - which to most people would seem a little excessive. If we've learnt anything over the last few years of the "Megapixel Race", then more megapixels is bad and results in images filled with noise, but surprisingly not so with this camera. It manages to cram 14.7 megapixels into a tiny body, and show LESS noise than other 9 and 10 megapixel cameras from Canon! So if we can have more megapixels, and lower noise, then why not? The camera also provides full manual controls, a first for a Canon Digital IXUS, which will give advanced photographers to ability to be as creative as they would with a Digital SLR (minus the lens options!).

Image quality is generally excellent, with a useable high ISO mode. The compact camera provides a useful 3.7x optical zoom lens, with image stabilisation, and an impressive 2.5" LCD screen. The camera's screen works well and battery life is very good. Areas where this camera could be improved - it would be nice if the camera featured a wide angle lens, and an improved video mode. Overall this is a very appealing camera offering good value for money, and a number of features that should suit beginners as well as experts - with full manual controls proving you no longer need to buy a bulky camera.

Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS Rating: Recommended (8.6/10)
Available for £259 - or Get the best price below!

What I like:

  • Excellent image quality
  • 14.7 megapixels - should you need it!
  • Face detection software
  • Optical image stabilisation helps in low light
  • High quality 2.5" screen
  • Robust body - available in black
  • Orientation sensor
  • Good battery life (for a compact)
  • Focus assist light
  • Good macro mode
  • Quick performance
  • Full manual controls including flash output
  • Lower noise than 9 and 10 megapixel Canon cameras!
  • Usable high ISO mode - ISO3200 works!

What I don't like:

  • Lacks wide angle lens
  • Some purple fringing spotted
  • Red-eye higher than average in group photos
  • Video mode only VGA resolution - when competition now offers HD video

Additional Test Images are viewable in the Canon Digital IXUS 980 IS Sample Photo Gallery.

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