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Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Review

Highs

  • Great point-and-shoot; nice wide-angle zoom; attractive design and feel; optical image stabilization

Rating

Our Score 8.5
User Score 9

Lows

  • Few manual adjustments; noisy above ISO 400; pokey frame rates
If you're looking for a very good point-and-shoot for under $300 buy the Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Digital ELPH.

Summary

Aim-and-forget cameras rule—especially this time of year! We’re all for the myriad tweaks available on D-SLRs, but there’s something very comforting about a camera that simply takes very good snapshots—all you have to do is put it in Auto, zoom and press the shutter. The 10-megapixel Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Digital ELPH is just such a camera and long-time DT readers know we’re big fans of Canon’s better point-and-shoots. And this one has a 3-inch LCD, a nice 28-112mm lens, optical image stabilization and an enhanced processor. With the holidays rolling in, with friends and family on the horizon, what better way to save memories than with some cool snapshots? Now is the SD880 the perfect holiday gift to grab those images? You’ll know shortly…

Features and Design

Available in silver or gold finish, the SD880 IS has the classic curvy lines of Canon ELPHs. The rounded edges set in apart from the zillions of Altoids tin-shaped digicams. On the front is a raised Canon logo which is nice and subtle while the camera’s full name is here as well. Nothing too blatant but you can’t miss it. The lens is surrounded by a metallic ring that looks very slick. Other than that you’ll find a small flash and a self-timer/AF Assist lamp. The lens is a favorite of ours—a 4x optical zoom with a 35mm equivalent of 28-112mm. You give up a bit on the telephoto end but the 28mm wide angle is a real joy. With it you can take wider family shots and great landscapes. Cityscapes look really special with buildings jutting to the sky, the list goes on. As you can tell, we strongly prefer the wide-angle option. Definitely check it out the next time you walk past a row of cameras at your local retailer to see why we’re big boosters of this feature.

The rear of the camera has been redesigned from last year’s 8-megapixel SD870 IS which has a similar feature set (4x wide-angle zoom, OIS). The 4-way controller, jog wheel and major function buttons are now all conveniently labeled, placed on the far right and given a curvy shape to fit the ELPH zeitgeist. The buttons may look different but they’re the same as you’ll find on any point-and-shoot: Direct Print with Canon printers, Playback, Menu and Display. The 4-way controller gives you access to ISO, flash, burst/self-timer, and landscape/macro. Surrounding the controller is a notched jog wheel you turn to move through menu options. An icon even appears on the LCD letting you know what you can change by turning the wheel (move through scene modes and so on). It’s very nicely done. To the left is the 3-inch LCD screen rated 230K pixels. Although not a huge number, the overall quality with its enhanced contrast is excellent and we had no problems framing subjects under a wide range of lighting conditions.

The camera is very compact measuring 3.69 x 2.24 x .93 (WHD, in inches) and weighs 7 ounces with battery and card. Basically you can take this with you anywhere which is a very good thing.

The top of the SD880 IS is straightforward. You’ll find the speaker, shutter button surrounded by the wide/tele zoom ring, a good-sized on/off key and a slider switch to move between camera, scene and movie modes. The camera only takes 640×480 clips at 30 fps (VHS) using the H.264 codec. And be careful! There’s a single pinhole mic to capture sound here so make sure your fingers don’t cover it up.

On the right side is a compartment for the USB-out while on the bottom is a metal tripod mount and the well that holds the rechargeable battery (310 shots per CIPA testing) and optional SD/SDHC cards.

All in all, the SD880 IS a very nicely designed, non-intimidating and thought-out camera.

What’s In the Box

The camera bundle is a good one. You get the camera (natch), battery/charger, USB and A/V cables, wrist strap, a pocket-sized 164-page owner’s manual, Direct Print and Software Starter user guides and a software CD-ROM. The disk (ver. 37) has ZoomBrowser EX 6.2, PhotoStitch 3.1 and EOS Utility 1.1a for PC and ImageBrowser 6.2, PhotoStitch 3.2 and EOS Utility 1.1 for Mac. These programs help you organize images, edit and make panoramas. We don’t know why but Canon also supplies a 32MB SD card yet they do. We know it’s for someone who doesn’t have an SD card and opens this as a present on Christmas morning and wants to take a few shots. Realistically how many people are sans SD card at home—or a dozen?

After charging the battery and loading a 2GB SD card, it was time to start shooting.

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Image Courtesy of Canon

Performance and Use

Since the SD880 IS is a 10MP camera, it grabs 3658×2736 pixel images which are more than enough for solid 8.5×11 prints. We started off at maximum file size using the least amount of compression (Super Fine). The camera was initially set to Auto with optical image stabilization, grid lines and Face Detection engaged. From there we moved to the various scene modes and the few manual options available.

During a walk around Manhattan, it was fun stashing the camera in a jacket pocket, then quickly taking it out for a series of photos. The SD880 is just a bit more than a handful and it’s a pleasure to use. Given there are hardly any tweaky adjustments available, this is really an aim-and-forget model.

That said if you really want to make adjustments, you can move into Program (P) mode and adjust exposure compensation, ISO and white balance. Canon’s My Colors is also available to make shots more Vivid, black-and-white, sepia and so on. The words aperture and shutter speed are not in this camera’s lexicon. It’s first and foremost an automatic camera and—like we mentioned up top—that’s not such a bad thing.

The camera comes to life in around a second as the zoom extends. With grid lines we kept our horizons straight—especially at the widest-angle setting (28mm). The camera also focused quickly even in low-light situations. Since this is a point-and-shoot you can forget about super-fast shot-to-shot times. Canon states 1.4 frames per second and this is close to our results. Use the flash and you’ll wait a bit more as the camera recycles. This is not a major drawback in most situations but just don’t expect D-SLR performance of 3 fps.

The SD880 features DIGIC 4, Canon’s newest processing chip that’s also found in the G10 and EOS 50D among others. Along with a decent frame rate—the older DIGIC III powered the 8MP SD870 at 1.3 fps—the chip enables better focusing of moving subjects (Servo AF) and enhances Face Detection so it works on almost any angle. We tried FD on a poster with close to 20 faces on it and it definitely freaked the camera out (it’ll handle 9) but it dealt with most of them. More importantly, it also worked very well on humans with smiling faces. This is one digicam feature that’s really come into its own and has powerful real world benefits.

The processor also powers Intelligent Contrast (i-Contrast) which brings out details in shadowy areas. i-Contrast can even be used to post process shots. We used is on a cat’s profile that was half in sun, half in shade. In playback, just enter i-Contrast mode and select the amount of processing from Auto to High, then use the zoom feature to check the results on the 3-inch LCD. Once you like it, hit Set and a new file is saved. It can be quite helpful but you really won’t be able to tell exactly how good a job it does until you examine the images on a monitor. Still it’s a nice tool to have at your fingertips.

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Image Courtesy of Canon

Photo Testing

Now it was time to download the photos and make a batch of 8.5×11 full-bleed prints. There were no surprises—the SD880 IS did what it was supposed to do—turn out crisp, accurate photographs. A light snowfall had dusted some evergreens and the prints were just the right shade of color dabbled with white snow framed by a bright blue sky. Close-ups of red bayberries were spot on as well. With My Colors we also took shots in Vivid and it added pop in some situations but red fabrics took on a smeary, unreal look; use these tools judiciously. As noted earlier, Face Detection worked extremely well for groups of friends. We were very happy with the vast majority of shots taken with the camera. All is not perfect with the SD880—since it is a compact digicam using a small imaging sensor, digital noise is an issue at ISO 400 and above. You might get a decent 5×7 at 400 but 800 and 1600 are really filled with noisy dots. Stick to lower ISOs unless really necessary. The video—at only 640×480 pixels—is acceptable, nothing more and the tiny mic picks up rustling of your fingers around the camera. And there’s no optical zoom when you’re in the movie mode which is on oversight.

Conclusion

We’re constantly asked which digital camera to purchase—especially this time of year. If you’re looking for a very good point-and-shoot for under $300 buy the Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Digital ELPH. At around $275 in the real world this is one holiday gift that won’t break the bank and you’ll be very pleased with the results.

Pros:

• Fine and dandy point-and-shoot
• Nice wide-angle zoom
• Attractive design and feel
• Effective optical image stabilization

Cons:

• Few manual adjustments
• Noisy at ISO 400 and above
• Somewhat pokey frame rate
• No optical zoom in movie mode
• No safety net viewfinder

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