Design and Handling

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Although it's unmistakably a PowerShot, the TX1 is like no other Canon camera. It's roughly the same shape and size as most of the other IXUS / ELPH models, but that's where the similarity ends. The new vertical design with flip-out LCD means that comparisons with camcorders are inevitable. The TX1 isn't the only 'hybrid' model on the market that uses this 'pistol grip' design - Sanyo and Panasonic both offer superficially similar designs, but it is considerably classier and more solid than these competitors. Despite the limited real estate on the back Canon has managed to squeeze a fair number of buttons into the upper third, meaning you get direct access to focus, flash, drive and ISO, plus a customizable button on the top that can be configured to control, amongst other things, white balance. Like the S3IS the TX1 has separate movie and stills capture buttons (the movie button is on the rear just below the zoom, the stills button is on the top of the camera).

It's worth mentioning that the TX1's build and finish oozes quality - this is one of those luxurious gadgets that you can't put down. It's slightly heavier (around 260g / 9.2oz) than you'd expect of such a small camera, and this - combined with the smooth metal body and chrome details - gives the TX1 a satisfyingly substantial quality.

Sexy looks aside, in use the design is nothing short of a disaster, and has the unique ability to make you feel like you have too many fingers on your right hand. Once you've mastered not blocking the lens the challenge is to take a picture without jolting the camera, change settings without dropping it, or use it to take a vertically orientated picture at all. It's better if you use two hands, but not a lot.

Key body elements

Although the various body elements have been moved around, there's nothing here that won't be familiar to any user of a recent PowerShot compact.

The TX1 is powered by a small NB-4L Li-Ion battery back (760mAh) that sits under a rather flimsy plastic hinged door. The battery is good for around 160 shots (CIPA standard testing) - pretty poor for a 2007 camera (even an ultra compact one). We found that in normal use (when shooting a mix of stills and videos and using the screen for playback) even this figure was optimistic.
A separate plastic door on the rear covers the SD card slot. The TX1 is compatible with newer SDHC cards (for capacities over 2GB) as well as standard SD, MMC and MMC plus.
The rear controls are pretty standard 2007 PowerShot fare. The four-way controller is used to navigate menus and scroll through images. In record mode it also gives direct access to burst mode/self timer, macro/infinity focus, flash mode and ISO, which is nice.
The main mode dial sits on the side of the camera and has just four positions: Play, Record-auto, Record-M (more options available) and Scene (where you'll find the various subject-based modes for still photography). The curve of the dial runs across the rear of the camera to house the thumb-operated zoom control.
The 10x optical lens sits inside the body behind a flat metal lens cap ready to pop out almost instantaneously when you press the power button. Once extended the lens doesn't come out any further (all zooming is internal). Incidentally it's a two-speed zoom (depending on how far you push the zoom lever).
Directly above the lens is the flash (or 'red-eye-maker' as we like to call it). It's not the most powerful flash we've ever seen (reaching just over six and a half feet at the wide end of the zoom / Auto ISO), but it's perfectly good for typical social snaps. Being so close to the lens red-eye is an issue, but the post-shot red-eye removal tool soon sorts that out.
The articulated LCD swings out from the body and rotates through 270° for those down-low macro or 'over the heads of the crowd' high shots. It's amazing how small a 1.8-inch screen looks these days, though it is bright, sharp and smooth (despite having only 114,000 pixels).
The main shutter release (for stills) sits on the top of the camera, near the front, a position that takes some getting used to (and makes taking vertically-orientated shots fiendishly awkward). In a welcome move Canon has made the direct print button customizable, so it can at least do something useful for the 99.9% of the time you're not actually connected to a printer. It also acts as an instant 'ISO boost' in record mode.

Controls & Menus

Canon's menu and on-screen display system has - despite minor appearance tweaks here and there - remained admirably consistent across camera ranges and generations. The only real change is the welcome inclusion of shutter speed and aperture information on-screen and - a nice touch - the display of the ISO being used in auto ISO mode.

Pressing the DISP button alternates between two display options - basic (focus rectangle only) or advanced (shown here); the actual information displayed varies according to the mode you're in and any manual settings you've made. Optional grid and 3:2 overlays are available via the record menu. Half press the shutter and the camera will set the focus and exposure, indicating the focus point chosen (in AiAF / face detect mode), plus the shutter speed and aperture chosen by the AE (auto exposure) system. In auto ISO mode you also get a clear display of the ISO setting being used, which is a nice touch.
Users of previous PowerShots will be perfectly at home with the record mode FUNC menu, which offers fast access to a wide range of controls over shooting and image parameters including metering, white balance, AE compensation and file size / quality (stills and movies). There's also extensive tonal control available via the 'MyColors' menu. In scene mode you get a simpler FUNC menu with a fairly limited set of subject modes to choose from (Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Aquarium, Indoor, Night Snapshot).
The record mode menu is where less commonly changed options (including image stabilization mode) are found. By default the direct print button is used to activate an 'ISO shift' option - if the currently set ISO results in a slow shutter speed the light in the button flashes; press it whilst the shutter is half-pressed and the ISO is boosted to lift the shutter speed. This requires almost super-human finger dexterity unless you are holding the camera with both hands. A menu option allows you to further customize the print button (most usefully to control AE compensation or white balance).
The setup menu - here you'll find basic camera settings and card formatting. There is also a direct print menu (not shown). One of the three alternative play mode views includes a histogram display and exposure information.
The usual options for viewing thumbnails (3x3) and magnifying (up to 10x) are available. The play menu offers the usual range of options, including protecting, rotating and deleting images, removing red-eye and adding color effects - plus a sound recorder.
You can now apply 'My Colors' effects to saved images, which is much better than committing to it at the point you take the picture. Images can be categorized, though I can't really see much point in all honesty.