When I last time bought a Canon Digital IXUS compact camera, there were basically two series available:


Digital IXUS 65    ... 70     ... 75    ... 85 IS    ... (Europe)
Powershot    SD630 ... SD1000 ... SD750 ... SD770 IS ... (US)
IXY Digital  80    ... 10     ... 90    ... 25 IS    ... (Japan)

This series was a bit smaller, more lightweight and cheaper, but the image quality was lower, i.e. the images looked like a noisy picture that has been smoothed digitally, like images from many modern mobile phones.


Digital IXUS 300  ... 400  ... 500  ... 850 IS   ... (Europe)
Powershot    S300 ... S400 ... S500 ... SD800 IS ... (US)
IXY Digital  300  ... 400  ... 500  ... 900 IS   ... (Japan)

This series was bigger, (earlier models) used CF cards instead of SD, had somewhat more features and provided much better image quality.

At least in Europe they were quite easy to tell apart, not only by looking at the size of the camera, but also because the ultra-compact ones has 2-digit model numbers.

In their current models, I don't see this distinction anymore. Does that mean it doesn't exist anymore and I can expect the same image quality from any of them?


2 Answers 2


There are but the differences have changed. At the very basic, an ultra-compact is simple a very small camera. We usually cut-off at around 1" in thickness. A compact camera is anything larger with a fixed lens up a point when it starts being a bridge camera which look like small version of a DSLR, usually a deep grip and built-in EVF is included.

Nearly all cameras, including DSLRs and Medium Format ones have adopted SDXC as memory card format now. A few still use CF or XQD but those are exceptionally and rather high-end offerings.

Originally compact digital cameras had more features, including full manual-controls. However, image quality was almost the same. Optics could be better but since they nearly all used the same sensors, there really has not much difference in image-quality. This is what has changed the most:

  • Ultra-compacts still rarely have manual-controls but some do like the Canon Powershot S120 and other S-series models. They have slightly better image-quality than other ultra-compacts because they use slightly larger 1/1.7" sensors, compared to 1/2.3" ones.
  • The remaining ultra-compacts use 1/2.3" sensors and have no manual controls. Those are now called ELPH or IXUS, depending on the market. The usually have longer zooms with dim lenses compared to the S-series.
  • Compact cameras have progressively lost manual-controls and the remaining A-series models offer limited features compared to their predecessors. They still have more buttons usually than the ELPH models, so are a little more efficient to operate.
  • Canon expanded their premium G-series to include models in every category which makes things confusing. The latest generations are built around 1" CMOS sensors which deliver much better image-quality than the ELPH, S-series, A-series and SX-series of ultra-zooms:

    • Canon G9X - Nearly ultra-compact with high image-quality but very limited controls.
    • Canon G7X - High-end compact with bright lens but no EVF.
    • Canon G5X - High-end compact with bright lens and built-in EVF.
    • Canon G3X - Weather-sealed bridge ultra-zoom without EVF.

    • Finally, there is a G1 X Mark II which is larger than the other G-series save for the G3X but includes an even larger 1.5" sensor and a mildly bright lens. It accepts an optional EVF too. This one has the highest image-quality among Canon fixed-lens cameras.


As I see it, there's still a distinction based on the model name:

  • PowerShot G-series are rather big but high-quality cameras
  • PowerShot S-series are still big but at a reduced rate compared with G-series
  • PowerShot N and ELPH series are smaller and look to me like lifestyle products where they focused on price rather than image quality.

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