We don't really know what the folks at Canon have been up to in their cost cutting department, but they seem to be doing it right with more affordable cameras off the production line every year. The new IXUS 80 IS (known as the SD1100 in the USA), is a great newcomer and undoubtedly one of their better value models to date. While last year's IXUS 70 introduced itself as the slimmest member of the IXUS family, a different agenda was on the table for the 80 IS that debuted at the Singapore IT Show in March 2008, bringing a dash of color to the lineup along with some handy new features.
The build of the 80 IS is reminiscent of their higher end compacts like the 950 IS, with a distinct chrome bezel around the lens accompanied by a more curvaceous chassis. Aesthetically speaking, the 80 IS comes with a choice of 5 hues and while the one we got was caramel and looked suspiciously like champagne gold, we personally found the deeper blue and brown colors slightly more attractive. Though the new design is obviously subject to personal taste, the 80 IS does make a good number of improvements to the overall ergonomics. A nice little divot at the front for the forefinger makes it easier to hold and the curvy corners definitely fit our hands better, which is a good start for an upgrade.
Looks aside, the new 80 IS has all its buttons in the same place as the older IXUS 70, which is great because good things shouldn't be messed with. Though not as slim as its predecessor with an added 3mm depth, the reason for doing so is apparent due to the addition of an optical Image Stabilizer that requires more allowance to shift the elements around together with a motion detector. Surprisingly, there was no added baggage to the 80 IS, leaving us fairly impressed.
The 80 IS retains similar menu selections, save for some new options for the stabilization mode and other small additions like a tinier focusing square and a second one for a close-up focus check. Useful as it might be, the camera's contrast detection focusing engine works sufficiently fast and efficient for the close-up focus check to be turned off completely, especially since there are no manual focusing modes to speak of.
Similar to Canon's recent lineup, the IXUS 80 IS follows suit with a decent absolute resolution of about 15 on both the vertical and horizontal axis with no major image quality issues. The only marked difference you'll see on the 80 IS is the tiny 0.9-megapixel boost as compared to its 70 predecessor. True to its Digic III processor's performance, colors are warm and saturated, and on top of that, the automatic white balance does a fantastic job under florescent light and a decent one with incandescent. Overall edge to edge sharpness of the images is good for a compact camera without any terribly dramatic aberrations. More importantly, the flash exposure system on the 80 IS fared much better than its higher end 950IS sibling, which had the occasional tendency to overexpose images a tad.
As the new entry-level model in the already popular IXUS family, the 80 IS is almost perfect, especially with its S$429 price tag representing a new lower price point coupled with added features and a form factor that's negligibly larger than its non-image stabilized predecessor. What we didn't particularly like though was the lack of any actual resolution improvement on this new model despite the higher megapixel count. Though you might be out of luck if you're upgrading to capture granny's frown lines in greater detail, the 80 IS still has the perfect ingredients one looks for in an effective and easy to use point-and-shoot compact digital camera.