Canon IXUS 240 HS £279
15th Jun 2012 | 15:00
Pocket-sized compact camera with Wi-Fi and touchscreen controls
With its 16.1MP backlit CMOS sensor and built-in Wi-Fi capability, the Canon IXUS 240 HS - known as the Canon PowerShot ELPH 320 HS in the US - is just the kind of camera you might see poking out of a shirt pocket on a Côte d'Azur beach.
It's certainly been designed with style in mind, but it's also brimming with technology, including built-in Wi-Fi for uploading photos to Twitter or Facebook, a sensor that claims to perform well in low light, and a touchscreen that does away with all the buttons you'd normally expect to see on a digital camera.
If gimmicky is your bag then you'll positively flip over the range of built-in filters and various shooting modes. For example, you can choose to shoot with a Smooth Skin filter, Fish-Eye, Soft Focus mode and many more effects that few would dream of using.
Like them or not, they're there if you need them, along with movie modes including Full HD video shooting and stereo sound, which can be invoked by pressing a red dot on the LCD screen.
Build quality and handling
The body of the Canon IXUS 240 HS is wrought from smart matt black aluminium and positively oozes high quality, apart from the cheap plastic flap hiding the USB/mini HDMI ports and the battery cover, which feels as if it wouldn't last five minutes in the hand of any self-respecting toddler.
Frankly, that's not really acceptable for a compact camera that costs £279 in the UK and $279.99 in the US, where it's called the PowerShot ELPH 320 HS. This price puts it at a similar level to the Panasonic Lumix FX80, Ricoh CX6 and Pentax Optio VS20.
All the controls except for the On/Off switch and Playback button are accessed via a 3.2-inch (8cm) LCD touchscreen that takes up the rear of the camera.
It's a bright screen but it does have two major faults: a tendency to put too much punch into the images so that highlights look burned out, and an infuriatingly insensitive touch system that forces you to jab at the screen, over and over again, just to select an option.
After five minutes of pointing and pressing you find yourself exasperated and yearning for the old days of buttons and jog-dials. This tedious aspect of the camera really does make you think twice before changing options such as metering modes or white balance.
Fortunately, most of the functions you might want to change are handled fairly well in Auto mode, but it's still a hassle when you do want to make a change.
Sensor: 1/2.3 type back-illuminated CMOS
Lens: 24 – 120 mm 5x optical zoom
LCD screen: 3.2-inch (8cm) PureColor II Touch (TFT), 16:9 aspect ratio, 461,000 dots
ISO range: AUTO, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200
Dimensions: 93.5 x 56.8 x 20.8mm (WxHxD), 145g (including battery and memory card)
When it comes to settings there are plenty of them in hidden away in a slightly Byzantine menu system. Unfortunately, the faff of trying to set them by touch and then using a finger to scroll through the options can prove a disaster with even slightly fat fingers.
Twice during one session a finger slipped and the Reset All Settings button was pressed, which was almost enough to trigger a nervous breakdown. In short this camera isn't pleasurable to use if you enjoy fiddling with settings.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment when it comes to usability is the Canon IXUS 240 HS's built-in Wi-Fi function. The software supplied with the camera has a touch of Fisher Price about it, so setting everything up should be straightforward.
Alas it wasn't for us. The camera kept disconnecting itself from our computer, and when we did manage to set up the Twitter and Facebook modules, the results were disappointing. When you upload a picture to Facebook, the image is hosted on Canon's Image Gateway website.
Unlike a smartphone that uploads your images directly to Facebook, the Canon solution merely posts a link with a preview. It's clunky and unreliable and Canon clearly needs to rethink the whole Wi-Fi deal, possibly by putting some software into the camera that can upload directly to social media sites.
The camera could also benefit from an interface that makes logging onto a wireless access point less of a tearful experience.
Taking pictures in bright sunlight can be a bit of a chore since, like many other LCDs, the Canon IXUS 240 HS's screen can be hard to see. There are five brightness levels, but the process of getting to the settings means you're unlikely to use the adjustment. An auto brightness function would probably have worked better.
When it comes to image quality, the Canon IXUS 240 HS does have a tendency to overexpose by up to half a stop, and it can easily blow the highlights. To counteract this there is an i-Contrast setting that does a fairly good job of holding details in brighter areas while still pulling out detail from the shadows.
It's also quite noticeable that the backlit CMOS sensor has an inclination to blow highlights where they appear next to darker areas. It's hardly a pleasant bokeh effect, more of a muddy smearing that looks like a soft focus filter.
That said, with a fair wind and some good light, the Canon IXUS 240 HS can turn out some cracking images, but those clunky touchscreen controls will do their best to stop you getting the most from it.
Our sensitivity (ISO) test shots reveal that the camera performs very well, holding plenty of detail all the way up to the maximum sensitivity of ISO 3200.
The 5x optical zoom with its handy range of 24-120mm is a really sharp performer, resolving plenty of detail for the sensor to capture, even in low light.
This close up shows how, even in diffused light, the Canon IXUS 240HS can clip the highlights. Notice the ribbed pattern on the bedspread where the whites are bleaching out.
The dynamic range of the Canon IXUS 240HS is challenged here, with the cat's paws and tummy bleaching out.
This shot was taken using the i-Contrast setting. The camera has done a good job of holding the sky details while keeping the shadow detail. The contrast is slightly flat as a result.
Plenty of detail in this shot of some pastries taken through a shop window. The IXUS 240HS has done a good job of setting the white balance to cope with daylight and fluorescent light sources.
The lens on this camera shows few signs of barrel distortion right through the zoom range of 24-120mm.
In this shot you can see that the camera is underexposing a little, but that the background highlights are about to blow. Dynamic range is a problem of the IXUS 240HS.
Plenty of detail and good control of the colours in this shot. The colour reproduction is fairly neutral and nuanced in tone.
Close ups are really quite rewarding. The lens on the IXUS 240HS is probably the camera's best feature.
Classic example here of the backlit CMOS sensor in the IXUS 240HS just not coping with the dynamic range in the scene.
A dull and damp day but the IXUS 240HS still manages to pack a punch and inject sufficient contrast into the image
The JPGS produced by this camera are the perfect balance between file size and detail. Zoom in on the signwriting and check the resolving power of the lens.
Lots of contrast in this shot, but once again there's a danger of the highlights burning out, thanks to a limited dynamic range.
With such a small sensor it's virtually impossible to isolate detail using depth of field, even when zooming in.
Shot with the wide-angle setting.
Shot at maximum zoom.
Sensitivity and noise
Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.
The images that this little compact camera turns out can be very good indeed, but it does struggle at times with its dynamic range, which is something that can't be cured by shooting raw, since the Canon IXUS 240 HS will only record JPEG files.
The dynamic range problem is likely to stem from the fact that Canon has crammed 16 million pixels into a tiny 1/2.3 sensor, which is a shame since the performance would probably be better with a 12MP sensor using larger photosites.
But let's leave performance to one side for a moment, because it's usability that really lets this camera down. The touchscreen is an abomination and the Wi-Fi settings could defy even Sherlock Holmes.
The responsive shutter, cracking lens and great performance at higher ISO settings are huge plus points. The build quality is also pleasing and the camera really does look rather smart.
The confusing Wi-Fi function, the convoluted menu system and the torturous touchscreen menu really made this a disappointing camera to use, especially considering its price.
The good points of the Canon IXUS 240 HS are the smart styling, the sweet lens, responsive shutter and the competent low-light performance. But unless you really must have Wi-Fi and a touchscreen, look at something else, since these gimmicks aren't worth the higher price tag.