Canon's plastic PowerShot range may not be as fashionably styled as its metal-build IXUS family, but these cameras are generally better value for money while offering a fairly comprehensive feature set.
The 8Mp, 10x optical zoom Canon PowerShot SX100 IS (the suffix referring to optical ‘image stabilisation') debuts a different class of camera for Canon by being aimed squarely at families. This means larger buttons and controls alongside that big lens - equivalent to 36-360mm in 35mm film terms - ensure that it's easier to use than the typical enthusiast-targeted ‘super zooms'. It's also more affordable.
Press one of its chunky controls and the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS responds fairly quickly, ready for action in two seconds. Settings are chosen and implemented via a four-way controller on the camera back that, being neither the expected touch pad nor scroll wheel, is confusing at first. The good news is that occasions of camera shake giving rise to soft or blurred images are few and far between. The bad news is that the optical zoom is disabled when shooting TV-quality video.
More positively, although there's no hotshoe for additional flash or an optical viewfinder, Canon has provided a crisp, clear 2.5in LCD screen for shot composition and review. If you do want to utilise the flash for low-light shooting, its pop-up design helps prevent instances of ‘red eye', as the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS's bulb is further from the lens than usual.
Canon has also considered ergonomics with a good firm grip provided. The only telltale signs that the Canon PowerShot SX100 IS is a ‘budget' model, apart from the plastic, are the two non-rechargeable AAs batteries provided that allowed us a mere 100 shots before running out of juice.
Although low-light shots reveal some noise (image grain), images even at the maximum ISO 1600 setting display a clarity lacking in many rivals. With more light available, results left on default settings are impressively sharp and colours look natural.