Having lost my previous camera in an unfortunate incident involving a corrupt taxi firm, intoxication and being dressed as a knife and fork (long story), just days before embarking on a cross continent cycle ride, a snap decision had to be made. Weight becomes at a premium on that kind of trip, and whilst I wanted to capture the best possible pictures of North America's amazing scenery, I knew that anything bigger than about matchbox size, was not what I wanted to lug around on my back for 3,800 miles. I could really do without the backache. Whilst being lightweight, the camera also needed to be fairly robust, cope with some decent temperature extremes and be simple enough to use that even a trained monkey would have a fighting chance.
These requirements, combined with a student budget, effectively wiped out anything but a very portable camera. So I chose the Canon IXUS 80 IS digital compact camera. The IXUS 80 IS from Canon is sleek and small and weighs in at only 125g minus battery (who uses a camera without a battery in it?!). As an added bonus, though not a draw for me personally, the Canon IXUS 80 IS also comes in pink; obviously Canon is trying to hit the female birthday present market.
Fitting nicely between my thumb and little finger, with a very easily accessed picture-taking button and zoom, the Canon IXUS 80 IS is great for one handed, on-the-go photos - just what I needed. A solid slide switch easily flips between playback, video and photo with an encouraging click to notify you of the change, and reduce those somewhat awkward moments of realising you\'ve been videoing 10 seconds of forced smiles having hit the wrong mode. Being my mother's son, my view on instruction manuals is that they are far more use as guinea pig bedding, fancy dress costumes, wastepaper lining or other, equally vital roles. They are certainly not there to be read. This, combined with the fact that I only got the camera 12 hours before leaving the country, means that everything I learnt about this camera was through pressing buttons and seeing what happened.
Having had a Canon camera before, I was able to transfer my previous knowledge easily and found that the menu system is pretty intuitive. With only a few buttons, it's pretty easy to follow and select options. In addition, at times of extreme tiredness or mid-hill-climb, the auto function is really good, managing this picture of a gorgeous lake near Gunnison, Colorado, without me touching a thing. Can't get water much stiller than that. The Canon IXUS 80 IS also offers a lot of options for enhancing various colours. Below are two photos I took immediately after one another of exactly the same thing. It was our first sighting of some fairly threatening, steep looking mountains. The only difference between them is that 'Vivid Blue' was selected in the Manual settings for the one on the right.
And there you go. On the left, no mountains, and on the right, an imposingly large vertical wall has appeared from nowhere. Bearing in mind we'd just cycled 600 miles across Kansas, which as America goes is fairly flat, it was a tad intimidating. I know which photo I'd rather be cycling towards anyway! Admittedly, neither is worth keeping as a photo and the only reason they were still on my memory card at the end of the trip was purely sentimental value. However, I was rather surprised to find that these settings actually worked.
In fact the settings worked really well in general. This little camera can take some absolutely brilliant photos with a very small amount of input from the camera operator (and good job too as my knowledge of cameras could fit on a postcard). Even massive scenes such as Monument Valley came out fantastically with a little fiddling with the exposure and 'Vivid Red' settings.
This was taken about two thirds of the way through our trip on a day excursion south especially to see them. Well worth it should you be in the area, as they are a completely surreal experience. I had always thought that film directors made up or at least enhanced the backdrops in American Films until I went out there and saw this kind of thing myself. This is the classic postcard view of the two mittens and a butte. The Canon IXUS 80 IS did struggle a bit with the utter vastness otherwise known as the Grand Canyon, but then from what I saw, even the postcards in the gift shop had problems with that, so it's pretty understandable. Even so, it didn't do a bad job at all with this one probably being the best of the bunch taken on quite a quick exposure.
I have to thank the 'infinity' setting for this particular photo. Somewhat impressively, you can still make out the rock strata on the south rim 27 miles away. Even the first spike in the image is 4 miles from where I'm standing! This was our second day off, about 40 days into the trip and we saw the best views by far. The scenery was so big that my head had problems processing it, never mind the poor little IXUS 80 IS. You can vary the exposure a bit to suit your minor whims, so whilst major adjustments are the forte of bigger, so-called better cameras, the Canon IXUS 80 IS is easily good enough to get a wide range of shots.
Due to the heat and the fact that we'd elected to cycle east to west against the prevailing wind, we were awake and cycling by 5-6am every morning. Whoopee. Having said that, when we crossed into Mountain Time in Kansas, we did get some rather spectacular sunrises over our shoulder, that made up for the early starts.
These three photos are of exactly the same thing, with different exposures. Personally I prefer the middle one as the top one looks a bit unrealistic.
This was one of the times that the temperature affected the camera a bit. Setting off so early in the morning meant that the temperature was often pretty close to freezing before rising up to 35°C in the day. The lens occasionally suffered from condensation, causing very blurred photos early in the morning, but this probably could have been avoided had it been taken care of a little better, and not just lobbed into a camelbak.
The Canon IXUS 80 IS also has a function for lightening and darkening skin tone. I didn't actually try out this function, but maybe I should have done in this photo. Her face is cut out or she'd kill me, but check out the tan lines! This photo was actually taken in Lake Tahoe, California after sixty days of wearing sleeveless tops - so I think she can be forgiven.
The only settings I couldn't seem to make work were the various lighting settings. The Canon IXUS 80 IS didn't seem to cope too well with fluorescent lighting although it did pretty well at night, with a good flash (when you haven't got your finger over the top of it 3 times in a row that is...). Taking photos with this camera is a dream. Just hold the button down and green boxes pop up surrounding what it thinks you're focusing on. If it has chosen the wrong subject simply release and press again and the Canon IXUS 80 IS has another go. This can go on until you feel it has made a good stab at the target. This pre-focusing also allows action shots to be taken, something we perhaps overused slightly with numerous 80's sitcom style photos. This photo was actually taken in San Francisco after we'd just crossed the Golden Gate bridge and went back to the nearest beach to dip the wheels in the Pacific ocean.
In summary, the Canon IXUS 80 IS performed absolutely brilliantly. For as little as £134.00, it is brilliant value for money and did exactly what I asked of it on the trip. For such a tiny little thing, I was very impressed with the powerful photos it could kick out. As far as I'm concerned, the Canon IXUS 80 IS comes very highly recommended.