The Canon IXUS 300 HS digital camera is somewhat confusing: the HS at the end of its name denotes neither high speed nor high sensitivity. However, it supports both high-speed video capture and has a high sensitivity lens that allows it to take photos in even very low light. Go figure.
Another oddity is that the Canon IXUS 300 HS comes in four colours and several finishes. There's a black brushed metal version that's quite grippy and a silver metal version that looks and feels quite different from it. There are also two 'exclusive' versions onsale in Jessops and John Lewis respectively, that come in white and red and are ultra-shiny. They look as though they have plastic surrounds but are also actually metal.
What is unchanged from any other Canon Ixus camera we’ve tried is the excellent build and the quality optics. When we first picked up the Canon IXUS 300 HS we were surprised by how heavy it is. At 177g, its solidity is noticeable; in some ways reassuring. There’s a large strip of flash bulb embedded at the top left on the front. Other than that the version we had for review was all black bar splashes of colour denoting the iAuto mode, playback and zoom functions.
Our first test of its mettle was in the suitably dimly lit surroundings of London’s Circus Bar, where a pair of burlesque performers twirled and whirled and performed fire-eating, sword-swallowing and acrobatic feats. A big challenge for a humble compact camera, the Canon IXUS 300 IS was nevertheless able to slip in to low-light mode and produce subtly lit but well-balanced photos that captured the atmosphere.
The performers' constant movements were a challenge for the 3.8x optical zoom, but we got some good shots. The iAuto mode here triggered a rather too bright flash, but with flash deactivated and a high manual ISO setting selected, we were able to get fuzz-free results that weren’t marred by blurring.
Video functions and special effects
We were also pleasantly surprised by the low-light abilities of the Canon IXUS 300 HS's video recording mode. Activated by a simple slider on the top of camera, this captures 720p video and has a likable low-light option so you can play back memorable footage in slow-mo – ideal for action replays. If we had to choose between the Canon's quality 720p resolution video capture and HS mode or standard speed capture but with 1080p video capture on a lesser-brand camera, we’d choose this every time.
Canon hasn't gone overboard on the number of settings and special effects you can apply to photos, but there's a fun diorama effect and some colour swap and colour accent options (the latter two also appear in the video options) that allow you to have only the primary subject in colour with saturation applied to other objects so they are less prominent. This selection colour option is particularly effective when shooting scenes with lots of distracting items that detract from the main action.
Manual settings are always accessible. With the camera button (denoting manual functions) selected on the top slider, press the central Func Set button on the back to bring up a scrollable options list. Sub-menus for each one then appear. More indepth settings and setup tools fall under the big Menu button on the lower right of the Canon IXUS 300 HS camera – ISO and compression and so on can be adjusted here.
We were fortunate to have some blistering sunshine when testing the Canon IXUS 300 HS outdoors. The result: some brightly coloured shots of sunny London days out worthy of a tourist brochure. Colours popped off the camera's 3in LCD preview screen and translated just as well to the computer screen. Rainy and overcast days didn’t stop the camera producing pleasing results – greys, blues and off-whites were also pleasingly reproduced, with a good tonal range and impressive accuracy. Importantly, we saw no sign of battery fatigue after three solid days of being out and about shooting (and reviewing onscreen) everything we beheld.
Oddly, Canon has chosen to make this a standard 4:3 aspect ratio camera but widescreen video capture is the default setting. There's a useful panorama mode and the Carl Zeiss lens also supports wide angle photography.
We really liked the fact the zoom mechanism is so smooth and quiet. Zoom in as fast as you can and it will take a moment to adjust and focus in (understandably, pushing its zoom lever back and forth aggressively leads to some jerkiness) but then goes ahead and takes super-sharp shots. Treated more gently, it’s a very rewarding camera to use. Then again, at £300 for a 10Mp compact, the Canon IXUS 300 HS is towards the top of the price range for models of this type.
Canon Ixus cameras have become a benchmark for compact cameras. The Canon IXUS 300 HS is no exception. It delivers clean and clear images and video footage across a range of shooting and light conditions and is a joy to use. With some fun functions to try out, you get to experiment with photography styles, but you don't sacrifice optic quality or manual functions for the sake of gimmicky extras. In short, a lovely camera to take you from point-and-shoot to pointedly shooting for particular effects.