Over the years, Canon's IXUS cameras have gained a sound reputation for their good-looking designs. They're often held up as an archetypal line of sleek pocket snappers, small enough to keep on you at all times for capturing the major (and not-so-major) moments in life. The IXUS 132 is no exception on that front. It's smaller than a pack of cards, squatter than most clamshell mobile phones, weighs just 133 grammes (with battery and memory card) and slips easily into a trouser or shirt pocket. In, fact, you'll soon forget you're carrying it at all. The downside of this ultra-compact design, however, is that users with larger hands may find their fingers hitting the lens, the screen, or both.
The camera's general design is pleasing. The IXUS 132 has the look of a nicely polished pebble, with a design that the IXUS range has settled into comfortably generation after generation. Apart from the zoom control ring around the shutter-release button, this camera has an almost perfectly smooth finish with practically nothing protruding. It's therefore not so easy to feel your way around the various buttons when using the camera in darker conditions. Thankfully, there aren't too many buttons to get used to and they're spread over a relatively small area. Still, it can be a little unsettling at first. One control that isn't set flush to the casing is a little switch on the rear face of the IXUS 132 for switching between "Auto" mode (green icon) and "Programme" mode (camera icon). "Programme"—or "P" mode—offers more adventurous users a wider choice of settings to play around with when shooting.
Menus are nicely designed in the Canon IXUS 132. They're easy to read, with orange and white text on an anthracite grey background. Everything is organised logically and rationally, and the graphic interface is intuitive and user-friendly. The "Menu" button offers access to camera settings such as date and time, the volume of the various beeps, standby, memory options and autofocus options. The "Func. Set" button, on the other hand, brings up photo-related settings. In "Auto" mode, you can only set the self-timer, image aspect ratio, resolution and video quality. The camera takes care of everything else, automatically recognising the kind of scene you're shooting. Switching to "P" mode lets you set the exposure mode, colour presets, white balance, ISO sensitivity, scene mode, burst mode and JPG compression (as well as adjust the various options available in "Auto" mode).
So far so good. Up to that point, the IXUS 132 has no major flaws in design or handling. In fact, everything would be just great if this sleek little compact has a slightly better screen. Although any old screen will just about do the job, a good-quality display really does make all the difference in digital photography. Unfortunately, the IXUS 132 lets the side down on this front. Although viewing angles are wide, colour reproduction is far from perfect, with most shades looking quite cool (everything looks a bit blue). Plus, blacks are too black and whites are too white. But the worst thing about this screen has got to be its resolution—230,000 dots for a 2.7" screen just isn't high enough to give you a proper idea of whether the camera has focused correctly. Most of the time, you have to view snaps on a computer screen to check whether they look sharply focused or whether they're sharp in the right places (or both). And things get even worse in low light—the display glitches and judders, and the onscreen image is riddled with grainy noise. That's a bit of a shame, and it tarnishes this style-conscious compact's otherwise sleek design.
Whether shooting with the lens at wide-angle or the maximum zoom setting, the IXUS 132 is pretty quick to focus in decent light. That's certainly a good start. This compact isn't amazingly fast to start-up, but it can snap a first shot in under two seconds, which is already better than Canon's PowerShot A4000 and IXUS 240 HS. It also comes in way ahead of the Nikon S6200 (although the Nikon is an older model).
As the light starts to fade, the autofocus gets sluggish, slowing down by a good second or so. That's still about average for this range, but in real terms it's a little slow—especially since the screen has trouble keeping up in darker conditions. Finally, a photo-to-photo turnaround time of three seconds makes the IXUS 132 a pretty slow camera when it comes to saving photos.
On the whole, this Canon compact is rather reminiscent of the Olympus SZ-14 ... except that the Olympus model has a 24x zoom whereas Canon's IXUS only has an 8x lens. That's not a particularly flattering comparison. And the 0.8 frames per second burst mode does nothing to save the day (although it does keep on shooting until the memory card gets full).
Canon's IXUS cameras are usually the firm's cooler, higher-end compacts (with the exception of the G-series expert compacts). In fact, IXUS models are often treated to the firm's fanciest technology, including BSI-CMOS sensors (although these are now the norm in most brands' 2013 compacts).
But why keep thing simple? Canon's boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred, with certain PowerShot snappers now using BSI-CMOS sensors (like the four-star SX280 HS) while others stick with ageing CCDs ... as does this particular IXUS model, as it happens. That's right—the IXUS 132 has a 16-Megapixel CCD sensor twinned with Canon's ageing Digic IV image processor.
The image already lacks sharpness at 100 ISO. Picture quality generally looks a bit soft and some magenta fringing is visible. At 200 ISO, quality drops a little but photos are still usable up to 400 ISO (although contrast does drop progressively). At 800 ISO, smoothing becomes particularly visible and grainy noise gets coarser, forming a hazy veil over the frame. This gets even stronger at 1600 ISO (the maximum ISO setting), where a slightly yellow overtone also kicks in.
For a 2013 compact, HD video in 1280 x 720 pixel resolution isn't likely to get anyone excited. The framerate of 25 fps and the surprisingly high bitrate don't save much face either. Shimmering effects and moiré are clearly visible in areas of finer detail. Blacks look very dark and dense, but that in turn keeps white, light areas looking detailed rather than overexposed. Note that sound is recorded in mono rather than stereo.