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Canon SD880 IS Overview

by Mike Pasini
Initial Test: 12/01/08
Review: 06/18/09

Canon's PowerShot SD880 IS digital camera replaces the company's previous PowerShot SD870 IS model, and updates the chassis with an edgier style. The Canon SD880 also reduces the body height and thickness ever so slightly. Under that pretty skin, the Canon SD880 uses a slightly larger 1/2.3-inch CCD image sensor, and simultaneously boosts resolution from eight to 10 megapixels, along with upgrading the previous model's DIGIC III processor to a DIGIC 4 type that allows for servo AF tracking.

The Canon SD880's zoom lens is just slightly expanded to a 4x zoom from the 3.8x optical zoom in the SD870. The added magnification power is all found at the telephoto end, with the overall range varying from a useful 28mm wide-angle to a moderate 112mm telephoto. As with its predecessor, the Canon SD880 IS includes true optical image stabilization to help combat image blurring due to camera shake. Maximum aperture is f/2.8 to a rather dim f/5.8 across the zoom range. As well as the previously mentioned AF tracking, the Canon SD880 IS's autofocus system now has improved face detection capability. Canon says the camera will now recognize faces at most angles, and has included a Face Detection self timer which automatically takes a photo two seconds after an additional face enters the scene. The Canon PowerShot SD880 IS's LCD display has identical size and resolution to that in the previous camera: it's a 3.0-inch design with 230,000 dots, but Canon also claims higher contrast.

The standard ISO sensitivity range offered by the Canon SD880 IS is unchanged from the SD870, with a minimum of ISO 100 through to a maximum of ISO 1,600. A new high sensitivity scene mode allows this to be boosted to a maximum of ISO 3,200, however. Available PowerShot SD880 shutter speeds are unchanged, ranging from 1/1,600 to 15 seconds. Metering modes are unchanged -- evaluative, center-weighted and spot all being offered. Likewise, the Canon SD880 is much like the SD870 in that it offers only a program mode, with no options for aperture- or shutter-priority shooting, let alone a fully manual mode. Flash range when set to Auto ISO is rated at 1 - 13.8 feet (30cm - 4.2m) at wide angle, and 1 - 6.6 feet (30cm - 2m) at telephoto. There are sixteen scene modes, and the Canon SD880 also offers a new Intelligent Contrast Correction function.

Where the SD870 offered Motion JPEG AVI movies, the Canon SD880 opts for H.264 MOV instead -- a newer format which generally offers significantly improved compression (and hence smaller file sizes) for equivalent video quality. As with the previous camera, sound is recorded along with movie clips. The Canon PowerShot SD880 is unchanged from its predecessor in storing its images and movies on Secure Digital cards, and includes a not-very-generous 32MB card in the product bundle. The Canon SD880 also offers both NTSC / PAL video and USB 2.0 High Speed computer connectivity, like its predecessor. Power is likewise unchanged, coming from a proprietary NB-5L lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

The Canon PowerShot SD880 IS will ship in the USA from October 2008, priced at US$300 or less.

 

Canon SD880 IS User Report

by Mike Pasini

It's love at first sight with an ELPH. And Canon's PowerShot SD880 IS will make your heart skip more than a beat, not only with its very attractive shell but with the best button layout ever seen on a PowerShot. Oh, and the photos aren't bad either. You won't regret a long-term relationship with this ELPH.

Look and Feel. ELPHs are designed to stand up on their short end, rather than lounge along the long side like other digicams. The Canon SD880 IS has a nice flare at the top that helps you grip the little thing a bit more securely. That combination of function and style makes the Canon SD880 IS even more attractive than its fellow ELPHs.

It's also a little bit slimmer, though nowhere near as slim as Sony and Casio wafer-thin ultracompacts. But the Canon SD880 will slip into a pocket or purse without a problem and includes a tasteful black wrist strap to retrieve and secure it. The shell is metal with a metal tripod socket, but if it were ours, we'd tuck the Canon SD880 into a small soft case like Canon's $20 PSC-55.

The back side of the Canon SD880 IS is almost as pleasing to look at as the front. Like most digicams not parading as bargain cameras, it has a 3.0-inch LCD that's a pleasure to look at even in direct sunlight. Type on the menus is sharp, clear and large. And images in Playback mode look great.

But the real beauty of the Canon SD880's back side is the button layout. Gone are the tiny round pinheads surrounding the Control Dial that pass for buttons on other cameras. In their place are big, asymmetrical buttons that follow the curve of the short edge of the camera body. They're a delight to press, too.

The only problem is that they don't leave a lot of room between the LCD and themselves. There is a little grip area on the Canon SD880 for your thumb indicated by some raised triangles, but it made one companion complain that the camera is too small.

Controls. I'm thrilled to report that pressing the Canon SD880's Playback button turns on the camera without extending the 4x zoom lens. That isn't always the case, but it should be. To turn the Canon SD880 on in Record mode, a triangular button partly obscured by the large Shutter button does the job.

I really like the Canon SD880's large Shutter button. And the black Zoom ring surrounding it is my preferred zoom control (buttons on the back don't cut it).

But the Mode switch is something of a disappointment, particularly for older photographers. The red legend is silkscreened on the dark brown back panel making it very hard to read. There are only three positions, though, so you can memorize them: Movie, Scene, and Still.

The rest of the controls are on the back panel.

The Canon SD880's central Control Dial has Canon's familiar Func./Set button in the middle surrounded by a four-way navigator whose arrow positions (from noon) control ISO/rotation, Flash modes, Drive modes, Focus modes (Macro or Normal). The dial is also surrounded by a knurled ring that makes scrolling child's play.

The two buttons above the Control Dial are the Print/Share button and the Playback button below it. You can assign several functions to the Canon SD880's Print/Share button: Face Select, EV, White Balance, Custom White Balance, Red-Eye, Digital Telecoverter, i-Contrast, Display Overlay, Movie Mode, Display Off, and Play Sound Effect.

Below the Canon SD880's Control Dial is the Menu button for major camera settings in any mode and the Display button to control how much information (if any) appears on the LCD.

Lens. The lens is a full 4x zoom ranging from 28mm to 112mm in 35mm equivalents. Digital zoom is also 4x, giving you a 16x range. Macro focusing gets as close as 0.8 inch at wide angle and was one of the true joys we had shooting with the Canon SD880 IS.

Aperture, despite the Canon SD880's larger sensor, was no larger than f/2.8 at wide angle and f/5.8 at telephoto. Shutter speed options run from 15 to 1/1,600 second. And noise reduction kicks in automatically when you set the shutter for exposures of 1.3 second and greater.

The lab found wide angle slightly soft, particularly in the corners, but this is common in small digicams. In fact, the Canon SD880 IS has perhaps a bit less of it than its competitors. And the same can be said for its barrel distortion at wide angle. Telephoto showed none.

You might see some chromatic aberration in prints 8x10 inches and larger, but otherwise you won't be bothered by it. It's there, as it is on almost every digicam, but not excessive on the Canon SD880.

The "IS" in Canon SD880 IS stands for image-stabilized, meaning the camera will compensate for some camera shake. That's a big help when shooting telephoto (particularly when using digital zoom) but it's also a great way to avoid shooting flash, giving you more shots in low light than a non-stabilized lens.

Modes. The Canon SD880 powers on in either Record or Playback mode, depending on which button you press. And switching modes is as simple as pressing either the Shutter button or the Playback button with the camera already on.

Shooting modes are either one of the big disappointments or great consolations of an ELPH, depending on how into photography you are. It's a disappointment if you expect any kind of manual control over the Canon SD880's aperture and shutter speed. It's a consolation if you don't want to know what that's all about.

And yet there are two automatic modes: Auto and Program AE. Auto greatly restricts the options available on the Canon SD880. ISO, for example, can only be set to Auto or Hi, not any specific setting. And Continuous Release mode is not available. Nor are things like White Balance or Exposure Compensation (EV). All of these are available to fiddle with in Program AE.

The Canon SD880 IS includes several Scene modes: Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, ISO 3,200, Indoor, Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot), Color Accent, Color Swap, Digital Macro, and Stitch Assist.

It shoots movies in H.264 format and monaural audio. Movies can be either 640x480 or 320x240, both at 30 frames per second. Zoom is restricted to the silent digital zoom but you can set the optical zoom before recording.

Menu. The Canon SD880 IS's functions are controlled with two menus, as is the case with all PowerShot cameras. The Function menu sets Exposure Compensation, Long shutter, White Balance, My Colors, Metering mode, Compression, and Resolution. All other functions, which affect general camera behavior, are set via the Menu, accessed from the Menu button.

Storage. The Canon SD880 IS stores images on SD and SDHC cards. Though it ships with a 32MB SD card, you'll want at least a 2GB or 4GB card for practical use. An Eye-Fi card turns the Canon SD880 IS into a WiFi camera and can even add GPS tagging to it.

Canon estimates that a 2GB card will store 749 large images at the highest resolution. The same card will record 23 minutes 49 seconds of 640x480 broadcast-quality video.

Battery. The Canon SD880 IS is powered by an NB-5L lithium-ion battery. An AC adapter kit is also available. Canon estimates battery capacity at 310 shots with the LCD on (the only way to use the Canon SD880 IS) using CIPA standards (which shoot 50% flash shots).

In the Box. The Canon PowerShot SD880 IS ships with the following items in the box:

Shooting. ELPHs are fun to shoot with. You just turn them on and fire the Shutter button, maybe tweaking composition by nudging the Zoom ring one way or the other. That's all you have to do, really.

Simple as they are to use, they are complex little boxes with a lot of sophistication built in. You don't see it, but you enjoy the benefits of it. Face Detection is one example. Some schemes only recognize faces looking at them, depending on the triangle of the eyes and nose to identify a face. But Canon claims it can find a face that's not looking at the camera.

But the Canon SD880 IS takes Face Detection technology even further. Tired of setting the self-timer and dashing around the camera to get into the scene? The Canon SD880 IS's Face Self-Timer waits for you. It recognizes your face and won't fire the Shutter until you're in the scene.

The Canon SD880 will also recognize any face you tell it is the key one in a group, cycling through the faces it recognizes until you press the Print/Share button (when registered to this function) to follow a particular face.

Getting good contrast in a scene is one of those things that usually works well but for the longest time digicams have had a hard time with bright subjects or subjects where the lighting is coming from behind. The i-Contrast function is available when shooting or can be applied to a captured image in Playback mode to adjust contrast automatically.

My biggest problem with the Canon SD880 IS was focusing. It failed to find focus when I shot the avocado plant in the gallery but I didn't use Macro mode, thinking I was far enough away. Even in Macro mode, though, the Canon SD880 IS struggled to find focus on the Lilies of the Field. I just could not force the camera to focus on the part of that shot I wanted.

Other macro shots came out very well, though, perhaps because they were less confusing. The poppies and the carpenter's pencil show just what fun you can have shooing macro with the Canon SD880 IS.

And even some of our mistakes were a lot of fun. I shot a friend who brought over a pizza and some chicken soup at way too slow a shutter speed to freeze him as he ducked out of the frame. But the image still appeals to me.

Not so much the fire alarm image, though. It's so saturated that it looks unreal. That same quality, however, is probably what makes the flowers so attractive. And most of us shoot more flowers than fire alarms.

For the rest of the sample images I'm talking about, see the Gallery section. See below for our image analysis and conclusion.

 

Canon SD880 IS Lens Quality


Wide: Sharp at center
Wide: Slightly soft upper left
Tele: Sharp in center
Tele: Sharp upper left corner

Sharpness: The lens is slightly soft at wide-angle, and there is some minor softening in the corners, both aspects quite common among small digital camera lenses. Compared to others in this class, this lens has less softening than most. At telephoto, the lens is very sharp across the frame.


Wide: Very slight barrel distortion (0.4%); hardly noticeable.
Tele: No visible distortion.

Geometric Distortion: Barrel distortion at wide-angle is actually quite low, and barely noticeable (about 0.4%). And at telephoto, there's no perceptible distortion of any kind. Very good performance for a wide-angle zoom.


Wide: Moderate
Tele: Moderate

Chromatic Aberration: Chromatic aberration at wide-angle is moderate, and fairly bright. At telephoto, distortion is also moderate, but less noticeable because pixels aren't as bright.


Standard Macro
Macro with Flash

Macro: The Canon PowerShot SD880 IS' Macro mode captures a sharp image, with only slight blurring at the very edges of the frame. There's also a small amount of visible chromatic aberration along the print lines of the dollar bill. Minimum coverage area is 1.17 x 0.87 inches (30 x 22 mm). The camera's flash is blocked by the lens at this close range, resulting in strong overexposure in the top left corner and dark shadows in the lower right.


 

Canon SD880 IS Image Quality


Color: Color is generally good, with slight oversaturation in strong reds. Some yellows have a greenish tint, and cyan is more blue, but overall results are pleasing. When it comes to skin tones, the PowerShot SD880 IS produces slight pink tints in the lighter tones, while darker tones are a little light and warm.


80
100
200
400
800
1,600
3,200

ISO: Noise and Detail: Noise is minimal up to ISO 400, and noise suppression holds onto detail up to about ISO 200, then it begins to trade detail for less noise. ISO 800 shots are good, controlling chroma noise quite well, but getting softer. ISO 1,600 and 3,200 shots are very soft indeed. See Printed results below for how this translates when printed at different sizes on paper.


Wide: Bright
(13.8 ft., ISO 320)
Tele: Bright
(6.6 ft., ISO 250)
Flash: At ISO 100 and wide-angle, the Canon SD880's flash exposes well to about nine feet. Canon's own test calls for a range of 13.8 feet, exposed in Auto ISO mode, which raises the ISO to 320. At ISO 100 and telephoto, the flash starts out dim at six feet and gets worse from there.

Our manufacturer-specified testing upholds Canon's claim of 13.8 feet, though it raises the ISO to 320. The telephoto test also produced good results at the rated 6.6 feet, though again, the camera raised the ISO to 250.


Auto WB: Slightly yellow
Incandescent WB: Pink cast
Manual WB: Pretty good

Incandescent: Auto white balance handles our tungsten lighting test much better than Incandescent mode, with the latter rendering a very strong pink image. The Manual option produced good results.


Printed: Images from the Canon SD880 IS at ISO 80 printed well at up to 16x20 inches. Certain details are somewhat soft at this size when examined up close, but it's really quite an amazing performance from a pocket digital camera. ISO 200 and 400 images look better at 11x14 inches, but that's pretty impressive too. ISO 800 images show some graininess in the shadows, but very little chroma noise when printed at 8x10, again impressive. ISO 1,600 images are okay at 5x7, but better at 4x6. ISO 3,200 images are soft even at 4x6, and not worth printing.


 

Canon SD880 IS Performance


Shutter lag: Shutter lag numbers are very good, with the Canon SD880 performing a full autofocus and capturing a shot in 0.43 second at wide-angle, and 0.47 second at telephoto. Prefocus speed is a very fast 0.079 second.


Cycle time: Single-shot cycle time is 1.92 seconds between shots, and 0.71 between shots in continuous mode, capturing 1.41 frames per second. Not bad.


Flash Recycle: The flash takes 6.8 seconds to recycle, a little longer than average, but not surprising considering the Canon SD880's small size.


 

Conclusion

In sum, the Canon SD880 IS is a lot of fun and looks good, too. The new, large controls on the back panel make it a pleasure to use and the new design easy to handle.

The LCD was surprisingly usable in direct sunlight thanks to a new coating that reduces glare and increases contrast. And the wide angle zoom that now extends a full 4x into telephoto range will be appreciated whether you're trying to fit everyone in the room into the picture or get close to some distant landmark.

The Canon SD880's image quality minimizes the issues common to this format while delivering a sharp image in low light thanks to Canon's optical image stabilization. The larger sensor and Canon's noise suppression technology make shooting at higher ISOs less disappointing than it has been in this pocket format.

Disappointments are few. The lack of an HD movie format competes with the lack of any kind of manual control. But there's some cool face detection technology that doesn't take a great effort to enjoy.

You may fall in love with the Canon SD880 IS at first sight because it's a beautiful ELPH. But its image quality is what will turn that infatuation into a long-term relationship. And that's what makes the Canon SD880 a Dave's Pick.