The Canon IXUS 501 wasn't the first compact digital camera that I ever used, but it was the first one I actually bought.

The first one I shot with was a much earlier model, the IXUS V, which was owned by the student-run website at my university. Resembling a shiny metal brick, that camera was quite something. During the many years we used it, our photographers put it through hell, covering everything from drunken nights at the student union to drunken days on the river, to whatever passed for 'breaking news' in Durham's student community in the early 2000s.

The IXUS V was great, because it was tough, small(ish)2 and exceptionally easy to use, even when the user was inebriated - which we almost always were.

A good example of when the IXUS 50 came in handy - this is Davey MacManus of 'The Crimea' (one of the most underrated bands of the mid-2000s, in my opinion) who has left the stage to wander out into the audience. In slow-sync flash mode, the IXUS delivered a good, atmospheric exposure.

Yes, its screen was poor, its lens was slow, and it went through batteries like Michael Phelps goes through eggs, but we loved that camera, and it was a sad day when one of our photographers3 accidentally sat on it with the lens extended.

By the time the IXUS 50 came along in 2005, I was working part-time in a local camera store, finishing up my Masters degree. For a camera nerd, it was a great job. I got to play with all the latest gear, and get paid for doing it.4 I was attracted to the IXUS 50 because it was genuinely compact, had a good (for the time) screen, and a useful 35-105mm (equiv.) F2.8 - 4.9 optical zoom. It was pretty fast too, capable of shooting continuously at 2.1 fps. More importantly, image review was almost instantaneous, and zooming in to check focus was extremely snappy.

A small camera by anyone's standards, the IXUS 50 was truly pocketable - and that 2" screen was pretty good by 2005 standards.

It might seem on the low side now, but 5MP was plenty back in 2005, and the small size and generally excellent reliability of the IXUS 50 more than offset its limitations - chief among which was the lack of Raw mode. Raw mode was far from standard in compact cameras back then, even good ones, and was reserved for prosumer models like Canon's PowerShot G65.

Shot with the IXUS 50 in a London cafe, this is still one of my favorite portraits. I converted the original color JPEG into black and white, and despite being slightly cropped, I have a 13x19inch print of this photograph on the wall of my apartment and it looks great.

I was perfectly happy with the tradeoff, though. Because not only was the IXUS 50 much smaller than the G6 (and let's be honest - much better looking) it was also considerably less expensive. And I'm a cheapskate.

Canon IXUS 50 Sample gallery (2005)

Although I had my EOS-1D Mark II for 'serious' work (i.e., paid work) I got a lot of use out of the IXUS 50, and it ended up effectively becoming a second camera in situations where my DSLR was too clunky (or too obviously 'pro') to get a shot.

It was really handy for quick crowd shots, and occasional intimate live shows where hotshoe flashes were frowned upon (funny how nobody ever seemed to care about compacts). Flash metering has always been a Canon PowerShot strength and the IXUS 50 was a perfect camera for close-range musician portraits, especially in slow-sync flash mode. Even now, I'd take it over the scourge of today's professional music photographers: the ever-present iPhone.

Another example of the IXUS 50's excellent flash metering, which I loved for close-range portraits of musicians (this is Sam Herlihy of Hope of the States – another underrated band of the mid-2000s).

The slow shutter allows for plenty of ambient light to come in, and gives a sense of movement that an available light only shot wouldn't capture. The ghost image in this shot is someone else's flash going off during my exposure - just a happy coincidence.

Once, when my EOS-1D II's battery died, I shot an entire NME commission on the IXUS 50. Nobody noticed, as far as I know. At any rate, the shots got published and I got paid.

Mostly though, I used my IXUS 50 for what it was originally designed for: snapshot pictures of people, places and things. It was fast, reliable and small enough to keep more or less permanently in my jacket pocket, and I was careful to always work within its limitations. Looking back through my archives for this article, I've been impressed by how well the pictures I took with my IXUS 50 in the mid 2000s hold up. The first and last point-and-shoot I ever bought, it remains one of my favorite cameras. That's mine, scuffed and scratched but still working, in the picture at the top of this page.


1. The IXUS V was known as the S110 Digital ELPH in the USA, and the IXUS 50 was known (for some reason) as the PowerShot SD400 Digital ELPH. I'll be sticking to European product names in this article though, because I'm the one writing it, so I can do what I want.

2. 'The size of a pack of cigarettes' as Canon's contemporary marketing materials were keen to point out at the time. Back then, you see, it was still OK to compare things to the size of a pack of cigarettes.

3. I know exactly who did it, but I won't embarrass him by naming them here. Even if I did want to embarrass him, I'm pretty sure the guilty party doesn't read DPReview.

4. How my life has changed.

5. The PowerShot G6 was slightly larger, but rather lumpier than a pack of cigarettes. Just in case you were struggling to get a sense of its size.