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Nikon CoolPix 880

Advanced features, and "Assisted Creative Photography" in a compact 3.3 megapixel package!

Review First Posted: 8/26/2000



Must-have e-book for this camera -- $20, Click Here!

MSRP $799 US

 

*
3.3 megapixel CCD delivering 2048 x 1536 images
*
2.5x optical zoom lens
*
Special "Scene" modes for great photos in challenging situations
*
Advanced functions borrowed from Nikon's high-end 990
 * Compact "bring along" form factor

 

Manufacturer Overview
Nikon has long been a leader in the consumer digicam market, developing an exceptionally strong following ever since they introduced their original Coolpix 900 over two years ago. From the start, Nikon's digital cameras have reflected Nikon's heritage as a camera company, with strong user interfaces and features photographers love. Now, with the introduction of the 880, they're bringing over a new concept from their film camera lineup: "Assisted Creative Photography" Say what? The idea here is that there are a lot of people out there who really like taking pictures beyond the snapshot level, but who also have no love of the intricacies of exposure compensation, f-stops, shutter speeds, flash levels, white balance, etc., etc. The 880 aims at this (large) body of photography enthusiasts, by offering special "scene" modes preset for different common photographic situations. (Examples are settings such as "beach/snow", "party", "fireworks", etc.) Each of these modes brings into play a variety of camera settings and options to configure the 880 for the specific shooting situation at hand. For instance, a beach scene would call for a small aperture, with a goodly amount of positive exposure compensation to handle the glare of the sun on the sand. We expect this approach to be very popular with people who like photographs, but not necessarily the mechanics of photography.

In other areas, the Coolpix 880 is a very strong performer as well, with many of the features and functions found on the much more expensive (and much larger) Coolpix 990 flagship. All in all, the Coolpix 880 packs a wallop in a small package with features for both the advanced photographer and "visual artist" alike.


Highlights



Executive Overview
From it's model number, you'd expect the Coolpix 880 to be a simple upgrade of the earlier Coolpix 800. In fact though, the 880 has much more in common with the top of the line 990 than the earlier 800. It presents itself as an extremely compact, feature-laden camera that can tackle just about any shooting situation. Additionally, the more extensive control layout remains well laid out and uncomplicated to use. The camera still maintains both a real image optical viewfinder and an LCD monitor display for image composition, with a very detailed LCD information display reporting a lot of exposure information, including aperture and shutter speed settings. In Playback mode, the LCD gives an equally informative readout on captured images, and offers an index display of thumbnails and a playback zoom option.

Optically, the Coolpix 880 is equipped with an 8 to 20 mm, 2.5x zoom lens (equivalent to a 38 to 95 mm lens on a 35 mm camera), made up of nine elements in eight groups (all made from environmentally friendly glass, we might add). Zoom is controlled via the W and T buttons on the back panel and two different lens apertures, ranging from f/2.8 - f/4.2 or f/7.8 - f/11.3 in the Aperture Priority and Manual exposure modes, with actual values depending on the lens zoom setting. A 4x digital zoom can be turned on and off through the settings menu and offers an incremental zoom range in 0.2x steps. The Coolpix 880 also provides a wide array of focusing options, including Continuous and Single autofocus as well as a manual control. Under the autofocus setting, you can set the desired focus area, or let the camera decide on its own (which displays a set of five possible focus targets on the LCD panel and bases focus on the object closest to the actual lens). You can also activate a focus confirmation mode, which outlines the area of the image that the camera is focused on.

Exposure-wise, you get fairly extensive control under the Manual exposure setting. When you turn the camera on, you have the option of Full Automatic, Scene, Programmed, Aperture Priority, Manual or Custom exposure modes, in addition to the Play and Setup modes. Under the Full Automatic exposure mode, the camera handles everything, from the shutter speed to the white balance. The Scene exposure mode lets you choose from a variety of preset "scene types," such as Beach, Portrait, etc., where the camera automatically adjusts the exposure to handle specific lighting situations. Programmed mode puts the camera in charge of shutter speed and aperture, but gives you increased exposure control over ISO, white balance, focus, etc. Aperture Priority gives you the same amount of exposure control, only you can adjust the lens aperture setting while the camera chooses the appropriate shutter speed. Manual gives you total control over everything, which is something we really like. Shutter speeds are adjustable from eight to 1/1,000 seconds (with a bulb setting for longer exposures) and you have two choices of aperture, varying slightly with lens focal length as described above. Finally, the Custom exposure mode works along the same lines as Manual mode, only you get to determine a series of exposure presets for shooting in the same conditions frequently. The camera remembers all the settings for each preset, allowing you to recall them quickly.

The Coolpix 880 continues with Nikon's other outstanding features like Auto Bracketing, the Best Shot Selector, and a variety of continuous shooting modes. In addition to the Continuous and Multi-Shot 16 shooting modes, the 880 also offers an Ultra High-Speed Continuous (approximately 30 frames per second with a total of 80 QVGA shots) and a Movie mode (up to 40 seconds of QVGA sized images at 15 frames per second). There's also a VGA Sequence mode which captures approximately two frames per second as long as the shutter button is held down. We also enjoyed the extensive white balance menu (Auto, Preset, Fine, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent and Speedlight) and the variety of metering options (the famous 256 Matrix mode, Center-Weighted, Spot and Spot AF Area). The camera also provides several image enhancement tools, including the ability to alter the in-camera sharpening, increase or decrease the contrast and brightness, or turn the image into monochrome black and white.

The Coolpix 880 uses CompactFlash for image storage and runs off of a rechargeable Nikon EN-EL1 lithium-ion battery (charger included) or a 2CR5 lithium battery. The camera supports both USB and standard serial connections (using a dual purpose port), for quick connection to a PC or Mac. There's also an NTSC video cable (European models ship with PAL) for connecting to a television set.

We've always liked Nikon's Coolpix line, and we have to say that the 880 is a welcome addition to the family. The Coolpix 880 gives you as much control as you want, with the luxury of putting the camera in charge of everything as well. It's well suited as a "bring along" camera for photo enthusiasts, yet easy to use for the non-photographer. - And it takes great pictures to boot!


Design
The Nikon Coolpix 880 features similar styling to the previous 800 model, but with a much more compact size and a much larger offering of external control buttons and dials. Measuring approximately 3.8 x 2.0 x 2.9 inches (9.64 x 5.08 x 7.36 cm), the Coolpix 880 should fit into most shirt pockets, and the accompanying wrist strap makes the camera even more portable.



The front of the camera features the flash, optical viewfinder window, Red-Eye reduction lamp and the lens. When the camera is powered on, and the mode dial is set to any of the capture modes, the lens extends about an inch from the camera body. It likewise retracts when the camera is powered off. The lens is protected by a removable plastic lens cap, which features a small strap to attach it to the camera (and keep you from worrying about losing it). Also part of the camera front is a somewhat bulky hand grip, compliments of the battery compartment just beneath it. The grip, coupled with the thumb rest on the back panel of the camera, provides a nice, firm hold on the camera body, which feels very natural.



The left side of the camera, viewed from the back, features only the video out terminal.



On the opposite side of the camera, the digital I/O and DC power jacks live beneath flexible rubber flaps, which quickly fold out of the way when you're connecting cables. The wrist strap attachment eyelet is also located on this side of the camera.



The camera's top panel holds a small, black and white LCD display panel, which reports most of the camera's settings (and allows you to work without the LCD monitor). The shutter button, power switch and mode dial are also located on the top panel.



The majority of the camera controls can be found on the back panel, including the large color LCD monitor, optical viewfinder and CompactFlash slot. A variety of control buttons line the top edge of the LCD monitor, and a rocker toggle button rests to the right of the monitor, with the zoom controls in the top right corner. The CompactFlash slot is protected by a hinged, plastic door which slides out to open.



The bottom panel of the camera holds the battery compartment and plastic tripod mount. Given the small size of the camera body, we won't complain too much about the close proximity of the battery compartment to the tripod mount, which makes battery changes while using a tripod a little bit of a hassle. We can't help but notice this, due to the extensive amount of studio work we do, but the Coolpix 880 is clearly meant for portability, so we don't think this will be an issue to most users. The battery compartment is covered by another hinged plastic door, this time with a button to unlock the compartment before sliding the door open.


Viewfinder
The Coolpix 880 boasts both a real-image optical viewfinder and a color LCD monitor for composing images. A central autofocus target and some telephoto crop marks help you align shots within the optical viewfinder, which zooms along with the lens. Two LEDs to the left of the viewfinder eyepiece clue you in to the camera's status, with one LED indicating when the flash is ready and the other notifying you when autofocus is set. Nikon estimates that the optical viewfinder represents about 80 percent frame accuracy. In our own testing, we measured the optical viewfinder accuracy at 85% in telephoto and 82% in telephoto. This is on the lower edge of average among digicams we've tested, and we'd generally like to see the optical viewfinder a bit more accurate, although most digicams come in somewhere around 85%.

Also on the back panel of the camera is the 1.8 inch, low temperature, polysilicon, TFT color LCD monitor. The information display reports a number of camera settings, including the shutter speed and aperture. It also reports the number of available exposures and the quality settings. The display is controlled by the Monitor button, which cancels the information display with the first press, the entire image display with the second press, and then brings back both displays when pressed a third time. LCD hue and brightness can be adjusted through the camera's Setup menu, which is immediately displayed by turning the mode dial to the Setup position. Nikon estimates the LCD monitor as showing about 97 percent frame accuracy,which almost exactly matched our measurements of 98% at telephoto and 97% in wide angle.

In Playback mode, the LCD monitor can display up to nine thumbnail images on the screen, as well as zoom into captured images for an enlarged view. There's also a histogram function that shows the distribution of tones throughout the image and a three page information display that reports the camera settings that the captured image was shot under.

One thing we really liked about the Coolpix 880 was the unusual amount of exposure information that's (optionally) provided on the LCD screen in either playback or Quick Review modes. In either mode, pressing the "info" button (dual-purpose with the landscape/macro/self-timer button) cycles through no less than 5 screens of information covering all aspects of the exposure, including aperture, shutter speed, ISO setting, white balance, active focus zone, and an especially useful and well-implemented histogram/hot spot display. Overall, one of the best information displays we've yet seen in a digicam. Especially useful is the way the histogram display highlights any areas of the image that are blown out, pushed to pure white. (Good exposure control with digicams is all about avoiding losing detail in the strongest highlights. For advanced photographers, the combination of histogram display and "blown highlights" indication is invaluable.)


Optics
The Coolpix 880 is equipped with a 2.5x, 8 to 20 mm lens (equivalent to a 38 to 95 mm lens on a 35 mm camera) which telescopes outward from the camera body when the camera is powered on and is protected by a removable plastic lens cap (complete with a retainer strap). As you'd expect, the lens retracts back into the camera when powered off. The glass lens consists of nine elements in seven groups, all made of optical glass. Nikon also specifies that the lens features the protective Nikon Super Integrated Coating to improve contrast and reduce flare. Focus ranges from 1.3 feet (40 cm) to infinity in normal shooting mode and from 1.6 inches to 1.3 feet (4 to 40 cm) in macro mode. Apertures can be manually adjusted to f/2.8-f/4.2 or f/7.8-f/11.3 (available values depending on the zoom setting). A digital telephoto function can be turned on and off via the settings menu, with available enlargement up to 4x in 0.2x increments. We always feel obligated to point out that digital telephoto generally results in a lower image with softer resolution, since the camera is simply enlarging the center area of the CCD instead of employing a true optical zoom.

One area in which the Coolpix 880 has obviously borrowed from the advanced technology of the high-end 990 is its autofocus system. Focus on the Coolpix 880 can be automatically or manually controlled, with the TTL autofocus system using a contrast detection method. Through the Record menu, you have fairly extensive control over how the camera focuses and what part of the subject it bases the focus on (AF lock). Under the Focus option in the Record menu, the AF Area Mode lets you control where the camera determines the focus. The Auto setting employs five autofocus target areas, which are shown on the LCD monitor, and sets the focus for the subject closest to one of those areas. When the shutter button is halfway pressed, the dominant focus target shows red. The Manual option allows you to manually select which of the five target areas you would like the camera to focus on, using the rocker toggle button to select the target. The Off setting simply turns off four of the focus targets, and tells the camera to base autofocus on the center of the image. Through the same Focus menu option, you can also select whether the autofocus system continuously adjusts the focus, or whether it only adjusts focus once the shutter button has been halfway pressed. Also under the same Focus menu option is the ability to set the Focus Confirmation. What this does is outline the area of the image that's in focus once the shutter button is halfway pressed. This shows up on the LCD monitor as a darker image with the "outlined" area being the brightest highlight. You can set this confirmation to occur with either manual focus or autofocus. Manual focus mode is entered by pressing the Focus button in conjunction with either the Wide or Tele zoom buttons. Using this combination, you can choose from 48 preset distances from 0.13 feet (0.04 m) to infinity. Additionally, the focus button on the back panel of the camera not only puts the camera into macro or self-timer mode, but also has an infinity focus setting which fixes focus for distant subjects.

The Coolpix 880's lens features a series of filter threads on the outside edge of the lens, which accommodate a variety of accessory lens conversion kits including a selection of wide angle, telephoto, fisheye and slide copy adapters. (Note though, that you also need an adapter tube to go between the body threads of the 880 and the threads of the auxiliary lenses themselves.)

Exposure
Exposure control on the Coolpix 880 is fairly extensive. While you're limited to only two aperture options, it seems ideal for a traditional point & shoot user looking for better results in challenging situations. Not only do you get the benefit of a full manual exposure mode, but you get a nice selection of "Scene" modes, which set up the camera for specific shooting environments. There's also the full automatic, programmed and custom exposure modes as well. The Full Automatic exposure mode is relatively self-explanatory, in that the camera controls the aperture and shutter speed settings, along with everything else except the flash and the image quality and size settings. Under the Programmed Auto exposure mode, the camera sets the shutter speed and aperture values, but unlike the Full Automatic mode, you have control over ISO, white balance, contrast, brightness, sharpening, exposure compensation, etc. The Aperture Priority setting provides similar exposure control, with the addition of the aperture value, which can be set to f/2.8-f/4.2 or f/7.8-f/11.3 (depending on the optical zoom setting). With Manual exposure mode, you get the same level of control, this time with the ability to set both aperture and shutter speed (from eight to 1/1,000 seconds and a Bulb setting). The Custom mode simply means that you can set a variety of exposure settings and them save them as a "mode" to be used again under the same shooting conditions. For example, if you take a lot of pictures with the same lighting conditions, you might want to save a set of exposure settings to be used whenever you shoot in that environment.

The Scene mode is pretty unique among digicams in our experience, embodying Nikon's concept of "Assisted Creative Photography." Nikon has created a menu of preset "scenes" for you to choose from, which set up the camera to photograph specific shooting environments. Preset scenes include Portrait, Party/Indoor, Night Portrait, Beach/Snow, Landscape, Sunset, Night Landscape, Fireworks Show, Sparkler Close-Up, Copy (for text or drawings) and Back Light (for backlit subjects). These modes relieve users from needing deep understanding of exposure dynamics, and let them focus instead on capturing the moment. If you can distinguish the basic scene type you're dealing with (pretty easy, in situations like Beach/Snow vs Party/Indoor), your chances of getting a good photo are greatly increased.

Exposure compensation on the Coolpix 880 is controlled by a button on the back panel, and is adjustable from -2.0 to +2.0 EV in 1/3 EV increments. The setting is unavailable in Manual exposure mode, and automatically reverts back to 0.0 EV when a new mode is entered or when the camera is turned off. The camera's self-timer can be set to count down from three or 10 seconds before firing the shutter, and the mode is controlled by the focus button on the back panel. ISO is manually adjustable through the Record menu while shooting in the Programmed, Aperture Priority, Manual or Custom modes, with fixed options of Automatic, 100, 200 and 400 ISO available. In all other shooting modes, the ISO is automatically controlled based on the existing light level. White balance options can also be selected through the Record menu, with settings of Auto, Preset, Fine, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Cloudy and Speedlight (Flash). With the exception of the Preset option, the majority of the white balance settings are relatively self-explanatory. The Preset option lets you manually set the white value by placing a white card in front of the camera and then telling the camera to balance the white value to the existing light. All of the white balance settings can be fine tuned by pulling down a submenu after making the selection, which allows you to raise or lower the white balance and thereby make the image cooler or warmer. This ability to modify the default white balance settings for common exposure conditions is both very unusual in our experience, and exceptionally useful: Very often, we've found that a camera's standard white balance setups would result in images with either warm or cool casts that we'd like to eliminate. With the "fine tuning" capability of the 880's white balance settings, the 880 provides an unprecedented level of control. We imagine it will take a little experimentation to learn just which settings best suit your own preferences, but once you arrive at a preferred configuration, the straightforward menu system makes it easy to find it again. This is a great feature that we'd like to see on digicams from other manufacturers! - Anyone listening out there?

Finally, you can also adjust the camera's metering method, choosing either Matrix, Spot, Center-Weighted or Spot AF Area. Matrix metering measures the exposure in 256 areas of the frame and then evaluates those values to determine the proper exposure for the entire image. Spot metering simply takes a reading from the very center of the image. Center-Weighted metering measures a small area around the center of the image, and Spot AF Area measures the light in the current autofocus target area (either in the center or from one of the five target areas, and established through the Focus menu option). Again, this is an unusually sophisticated system, generally not found in consumer-level cameras.

Once an image is captured, it is briefly displayed on the LCD monitor with options to pause the recording or delete the image. The Pause function halts the image recording for 20 seconds, after which, if not deleted, the image is automatically recorded. This review function can be turned on or off through the Setup menu in Setup mode, and the Coolpix 880 will allow you to fire the shutter while the image is still on the screen. (Nice feature!) The camera's Quick Review mode provides a more substantial image review. Once the Quick Review button is pressed, the image last captured is displayed in the top left corner of the LCD monitor. The same image can be displayed full screen by pressing the button again, and several of the basic Playback menu functions (such as delete and image information) are accessible. We like being able to check on the last image without having to switch over into Playback mode, as it allows you to check your shot a little more quickly than otherwise.

Flash
The Coolpix 880's built-in Speedlight flash features five operating modes: Auto, Cancel (off), Anytime Flash (fill), Slow Sync and Redeye Reduction. The Auto setting puts the camera in charge of when to fire the flash, based on the existing lighting conditions. The Cancel setting merely turns the flash off, so that it never fires. The Anytime setting fires the flash with every exposure, regardless of the light level. Slow Sync combines the flash with a slow shutter speed, best for night subjects, and the Redeye Reduction setting emits a small pre-flash before firing the full flash to reduce the Redeye Effect. Nikon estimates the Coolpix 880's flash range from 1.4 to 12.2 feet (0.4 to 3.7 m) in normal mode and from 8.0 inches to 8.2 feet (0.2 to 2.5 m) in macro mode.

Continuous Photography
The Coolpix 880 offers a Continuous menu, for shooting consecutive and sequenced images with the Single, Continuous, Multi-Shot 16, VGA Sequence, Ultra HS and Movie options. The 880 can take up to three photographs in two seconds in the Continuous Shooting mode, depending on the quality setting and amount of image information. The camera continues to fire the shutter as long as the shutter button is held down, until the memory card is full. Note that this mode is unavailable with the Hi (uncompressed TIFF) quality setting. Under the Multi-Shot 16 mode, the camera takes 16 consecutive thumbnail images and combines them into one large 2048 x 1536 image. VGA Sequence takes a series of 640 x 480 photographs at approximately two frames per second, for as long as the shutter button is held down, great for capturing moving subjects. The Ultra HS mode takes 70 320 x 240 photographs each time the shutter button is pressed, shooting at approximately 30 frames per second. Finally, the Movie mode records up to 40 second movies without sound in the QuickTime format, at the 320 x 240 image size.

Best Shot Selection
This is one of our favorite Nikon features: To compensate for slight camera movements when shooting without a tripod, the Best Shot Selection function takes up to 10 shots as long as the shutter button is pressed. The camera then compares the images and saves the sharpest photo to the memory card. This feature is best used when shooting in macro mode or with a telephoto converter, or in dark conditions, when even the slightest camera movement can affect the final image. It is not recommended for moving subjects, as the movement is usually too great.

Image Adjustment
The Image Adjustment menu allows you to increase or decrease the image brightness and contrast, as well as lighten or darken the image. You can also choose a black and white setting for shooting monochrome images. (Note that this is quite different than the usual exposure compensation adjustment, in that it affects primarily the midtones of the image, rather than the highlight or shadow values. Again, a very useful feature that we'd like to see on more digicams.

Image Sharpening
Under the Image Sharpening menu, you can alter the amount of in-camera sharpening or leave the camera in charge. The Auto setting adjusts the sharpness around the edges in the image and the intensity level varies depending on image content. You can also choose between the High, Normal and Low sharpening settings, or turn image sharpening off completely.

Auto Exposure Bracketing
This feature allows you to take several photographs with a variety of exposure compensation values, when you're not exactly sure how to properly set the exposure. Auto Exposure Bracketing varies the exposure by 1/3 EV over a series of five images, adjusting the exposure to +2/3, +1/3, 0.0, -1/3 and -2/3 EV values. While shooting in this mode, the amount of exposure variance appears in the lower left corner of the LCD monitor.


Shutter Lag/Cycle Times
When you press the shutter release on a camera, there's usually a lag time before the shutter actually fires. This time is to allow the autofocus and autoexposure mechanisms time to do their work, and can amount to a fairly long delay in some situations. Since this number is almost never reported on, and can significantly affect the picture taking experience, we now routinely measure it. The table below details the results of our testing of the Coolpix 880.

Coolpix 880 Zoom Timings
Operation
Time (secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
5.22
Start with lens retracted. Time is delay until first shot captured.
Shutdown
2.55
Time until lens is retracted, camera is powered down. (No pending image processing though.)
Play to Record, first shot
2.45
Time is delay until first shot captured.
Record to play (max res)
2.45
Low res display first, then "fills in" with high res image
Shutter lag, full autofocus
0.74
A bit faster than average
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.23
A bit faster than average



The shutter lag times are a bit faster than average, while the power-on time is about typical. (This latter due to the need for the lens to telescope out into its operating position.)

Capture Mode
Interval/
fps
No. of
frames
Single-shot, 2048x1536
1.7 sec
5
Continuous Mode, 2048x1536
1.05 fps
3
VGA Sequence
5.12 fps
9
16-Shot Mode (512x328)
2.0 fps
16
Ultra High-Speed Mode (320x240)
32 fps
70
Movie Mode
30 fps
19.5 secs w/incl 8MB card, 40 secs max



Cycle times are quite fast, surprisingly close to the top of the 3 megapixel field.


Operation and User Interface
We found the user interface on the Coolpix 880 very straightforward and simple to navigate. The LCD menu system is set up similarly to other Nikon digicams, so we lost no time figuring out the menu screens. Each of the control buttons are clearly marked and well laid-out. The camera's small size makes one-handed operation feasible for small and medium sized hands, although larger hands may have trouble maneuvering the controls single-handedly. Overall, we found the interface very user-friendly and quick to grasp without spending too much time reading the manual.


Shutter Button: Surrounded by the power dial on the camera's top panel, this button sets focus and exposure when halfway pressed, and fires the shutter when fully pressed.


Power Dial: Resting on top of the camera, this notched dial turns the camera on and off, triggering the lens to extend forward or retract back into the camera body.


Mode Dial: Located on the very right side of the top panel, this dial controls the camera's operating mode:



Zoom Buttons: Situated on the top right corner of the back panel, these buttons (marked with a "W" and a "T") control the optical and digital zoom (when enabled). In Playback mode, these buttons also control the digital enlargement of captured images.


+/- (Delete) Button: Positioned above the very top left corner of the LCD panel, this button controls the exposure compensation from -2.0 to +2.0 EV in 1/3 EV increments (in all exposure modes except for Manual) by pressing this button and using the up and down arrow keys. In Aperture Priority, Manual and Custom exposure modes, holding down this button while pressing the arrow buttons on the rocker toggle button sets the shutter speed and/or aperture values. In the Programmed, Aperture Priority, Manual and Custom exposure modes, pressing this button with either of the zoom controls adjusts the ISO variable. In Playback mode, as well as in Quick Review mode, this button deletes selected images.


Focus (Information) Button: Directly to the right of the +/- button, this button controls the camera's focus and self-timer mode in all exposure modes. Pressed once, focus is set to infinity for far away subjects. Pressed a second time, the focus is set to the macro range. A third press enables the camera's self-timer, which counts down from three or 10 seconds before firing the shutter. In Programmed, Aperture Priority, Manual and Custom modes, this button controls manual focus when pressed in conjunction with either the Wide or Tele zoom buttons. In Playback and Quick Review modes, this button pulls up a three page information display about the currently selected image.


Flash (Multi-Display) Button: On the right side of the Focus button, the Flash button controls the flash mode while shooting in most of the exposure modes. Pressing the button sequentially cycles through the Auto, Cancel, Anytime, Slow Sync and Redeye Reduction modes. In Playback and Quick Review modes, this button displays up to nine thumbnail images on the screen at one time.


Quick Review (Movie Playback) Button: Located above the top right corner of the LCD display, this button activates the Quick Review function in any record mode. In Playback mode, this button starts and stops the movie playback.


Menu Button: Situated to the right of the Quick Review button, this button displays and hides the settings menus in the Record and Playback modes. It also displays the second page of a menu.


Rocker Toggle Button: Residing in the center of the back panel, this silver button features four arrows (one in each cardinal direction) and a center indentation. This button is used to adjust camera settings in conjunction with the other control buttons, as well as to navigate through menu screens. In Playback mode, the left and right arrows scroll through captured images, and when utilizing playback zoom, all four arrows scroll around within an enlarged image.


Monitor Button: Positioned below the rocker toggle button, this button controls the LCD monitor display. One press cancels the information display. A second press cancels the image display. The third press recalls both image and information displays to the screen.


Battery Compartment "Push" Button: Centered snugly in the battery compartment door, this button unlocks the door and allows it to be slid forward and open.


Camera Modes and Menus

Setup Mode: Accessed by turning the mode dial to the "Setup" position, this mode instantly calls up the Setup menu, which controls the camera's basic settings. Below are the available menu options:


Custom Mode: This mode is marked on the mode dial by the letters "CSM," and lets you establish custom shooting modes for specific shooting situations. You have control over aperture and shutter speed, and all of the camera's exposure variables. Pressing the menu button brings up the Record menu, the same menu offered in the Manual, Aperture Priority and Programmed exposure modes, listed in detail below under the "Programmed" section.

Manual Mode: Noted on the mode dial with the letter "M," this mode gives you control over both aperture and shutter speed, as well as all of the other exposure variables that the Coolpix 880 has to offer. See the Programmed section below for the detailed listing of the settings menu for this mode.

Aperture Priority Mode: In this mode, marked on the mode dial with an "A," you have control over the lens aperture setting while the camera selects the appropriate shutter speed. As with the Custom and Manual exposure modes, you have control over the remaining exposure options, with the same menu options detailed under the Programmed mode listing below.

Programmed Mode: The letter "P" indicates this mode on the mode dial, in which the user has control over the majority of the camera's exposure options with the exception of aperture and shutter speed. This mode shares the same settings menu with the Custom, Manual and Aperture Priority modes, and offers the following options:


Scene Mode: This mode is marked on the mode dial simply with the word "Scene," and allows you to choose between a series of preset shooting modes for specific shooting situations. The camera controls all the exposure settings, with the exception of the flash and exposure compensation (depending on the preset selected). Pressing the Menu button displays the following settings menu:


Full Auto Mode: In this mode, the camera has total control over the exposure, with the exception of the flash and exposure compensation settings. Full Auto mode is marked on the mode dial with a green camera symbol and the word "Auto." There is no settings menu for this mode.

Playback Mode: Noted on the mode dial with the traditional green playback symbol, this mode allows you to review captured images and movies, as well as manage them. You can also view up to nine thumbnail images on a screen at one time and enlarge captured images for a close-up view. The Menu button pulls up the following Playback settings menu:



Image Storage and Interface
The Coolpix 880 uses CompactFlash memory cards for image storage, and includes an eight megabyte card in the package. We suspect that most users will immediately want to purchase a larger card though, such as the 32 and 64 megabyte cards which are becoming much more affordable. The CompactFlash slot's location in the hand grip is extremely convenient for changing memory cards while mounted to a tripod, and the slot is protected by a hinged, plastic door that slides easily in and out of place. Like the 990 model, the Coolpix 880 includes a folder arrangement that helps users organize images in the camera, a sequential frame counter option to avoid problems with overwriting files when copying them to your computer, some powerful in-camera tonal adjustment controls and the much appreciated Best Shot Selector option that automatically chooses the least blurry image, when shooting under difficult conditions.

Captured images can be individually write protected through the Playback mode settings menu. Write protected files are only immune to accidental deletion, not card reformatting. Images can also be hidden through the Playback menu. File formats include several levels of compressed JPEG files as well as an uncompressed TIFF mode (Hi quality setting). The control buttons on the back panel of the camera also allow quick access to the Delete function as well as the image information display and the nine image index display mode.

The table below shows the approximate number of images, and their compression ratios, for a 16 megabyte card.

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
Uncompressed
TIFF
Fine
Normal
Economy
High Resolution Images 0 5 10 20
Approx.
Compression
1:1 6:1 12:1 24:1
Standard Resolution Images N/A 40 38 73
Approx.
Compression
N/A 6:1 11:1 22:1
Low Resolution Images N/A 49 90 165
Approx.
Compression
N/A 6:1 11:1 19:1



The Coolpix 880 uses a fast USB interface to connect to your computer. This interface is fast enough that you really don't need to purchase an external card reader to transfer photos to your computer. We timed the 880 transferring a 9.1 megabyte uncompressed TIFF file to our (slightly aging) 350 MHz Pentium II computer in 34.5 seconds, a transfer rate of 270 KBytes per second. You can thus transfer all the images from the included 8 megabyte card in a bit under 30 seconds, or from a 16 megabyte card in about a minute.


Video Out
The US version of the Coolpix 880 includes a video out jack and connection cable, offering NTSC-formatted video output. European models support PAL timing, since there is an option to select either NTSC or PAL in the Setup menu. Connecting the video output provides a signal to an external device, without disabling the internal LCD display screen. All images that would normally appear on the LCD are also routed to the external video display so that the television screen becomes an enlarged version of the LCD monitor and can be used both for image playback and composition.



Power

This is one of the few beefs we have about the Coolpix 880: It ships with a 2CR5 lithium battery, but no rechargeable or charger. The 2CR5 will last for perhaps a couple of days of shooting, after which you'll need to go out and buy a new one for $10-20. Yikes! This is totally unworkable as a power option, except as a backup to a rechargeable. (Lithium primary cells are great for power backup, as they hold their power for years on the shelf.) Nikon sells an "optional" EN-EL1 lithium-ion rechargeable battery and charger in a kit for $99.90, and this really has to be considered a mandatory part of the camera. No two ways around it, this isn't a cheap camera (it definitely has the features to justify it though), but we really deplore the practice of leaving out an "optional" rechargeable battery that actually turns out to be mandatory. Thus, when looking at the price of the Coolpix 880 relative to other models, you absolutely have to factor in the roughly $100 extra that the battery/charger will cost you.

The Coolpix 880's battery (of whatever type) is housed inside the hand grip. An external AC adapter (which functions as part of the battery charger) plugs into the DC port on the side of the camera, which is covered by a small, flexible rubber flap. We should note here that the ability to switch the autofocus mode from Continuous to Single saves considerable battery power, as does the ability to almost completely rely on the top status display panel for normal camera operation and shut the LCD display off. There's also an Auto Off feature with allows you to set the camera to turn itself off after 30 seconds or anywhere from one to 30 minutes of inactivity.

Operating Mode
Power Drain
Capture Mode, w/LCD
440 mA
Capture Mode, no LCD
30 mA
Half-pressed shutter w/LCD
440 mA
Half-pressed w/o LCD
280 mA
Memory Write (transient)
440 mA
Flash Recharge (transient)
900 mA
Image Playback
320 mA



These power figures are somewhat lower than we've commonly found on 3 megapixel digicams. We don't have a specification for the total power capacity of the special LiIon battery the 880 uses, but we'd guess that battery life will be pretty good. Nevertheless, our recommendation to always buy at least one extra battery for your digicam still holds.

Another consequence of the LiIon battery technology is that the 880 requires a higher voltage on its external power jack to operate. This means that most of the NiMH-based external power packs out there won't power the 880 in the field. Fortunately, Maha makes a LiIon external "PowerBank" (shown above) that will power the 880 just fine. For about $60, this unit will power the 880 for a total of 4-5 hours in continuous capture mode with the LCD operating, when used in together with the internal battery. (!) This is a fantastic run time, just what you'd need for all-day intensive shooting. One note - Maha makes both NiMH and LiIon versions of the PowerBank, make sure you get the LiIon model for the 880. (Model number MH-DPB140LI.) You can order these online from Thomas-Distributing. Highly recommended!


Included Software

Learn what the manual left out -
How to *use* your camera.

Camera manuals are (sometimes) fine for knowing which button does what, but where do you go to learn how and when to use the various features? Dennis Curtin's "Shortcourses" books and CDs are the answer. (Cheap for what you get, too.) Order the Shortcourses manual for the camera reviewed in this article.
The Coolpix 880 ships with a pretty complete software package that is (kudos to Nikon!) fully compatible with both PC and Mac platforms. The basic software package for downloading images and controlling the camera is Nikon View version 3.1. Genuine Fractals Print Pro lets you print your photos at surprisingly large sizes without suffering undue pixellation. Canto Software's Cumulus 5.0 LE is an excellent image organizer, while IPIX Wizard helps stitch images together into panoramas. Finally, Software Architect's Great Photo offers easy one-click image enhancement, as well as simplified creative controls.



Test Results
In keeping with our standard policy, our comments here are rather condensed, summarizing our key findings. For a full commentary on each of the test images, see the Coolpix 880's "pictures" page.

As with all Imaging Resource camera tests, we encourage you to let your own eyes be the judge of how well the devices performed. Explore the images on the pictures page, to see how well the Coolpix 880 performed, and how its images compare to other cameras you may be considering buying.

Overall, the Coolpix 880 performed very well, with excellent color balance even in difficult lighting situations, such as the very high contrast Outdoor Portrait and the dimly lit Indoor Portrait. We chose to shoot with the manual white balance setting during the majority of our testing, since it did a nice job of matching a variety of light sources (although we also achieved good results by utilizing the Coolpix 880's white balance fine tuning adjustments in the various preset modes, and auto white balance worked well under average lighting). Color balance looked very good and bright in the large color blocks of our Davebox test target, and the subtle tonal variations of the Q60 target were visible up to the "B" range, which is commendable. Overall, the Coolpix 880 did a great job with color balance, with its white balance system handling some of our most difficult tests very well. Our one criticism of the 880's color handling was it's somewhat weak rendering of bright yellows.

The Coolpix 880 turned in an excellent performance on the resolution test. Its images were crisp and sharp, with a "visual" resolution that really appears to extend beyond the theoretical "Nyquist" limit. (Geek term) Visually, the 880 shows 750-800 lines per picture height of resolution in both vertical and horizontal directions, with clear detail extending all the way to 1000 lines. Virtually no color aliasing is present at any spatial frequency in the test target. Very impressive! The tables below show our usual series of size and quality combinations.

The Coolpix 880 does a very good job at low light levels. In fact, it's an indication of how fast digicam technology is progressing that we rate it merely "very good": Six months ago, we would have called it "amazing." The low light performance seems to scale pretty consistently with the ISO setting: At ISO 100, we obtained dim but usable images at light levels of 1/8 foot candles (1.3 lux), good ones at 1/4 foot candle, and bright, clean ones at 1/2 foot candles. At ISO 200, we got usable pictures at 1/8 foot candles, and bright but somewhat noisy ones at 1/4. At the ISO 400 setting, we got a usable but very noisy image at 1/16 foot candle, a bright but noisy one at 1/8, and a surprisingly good one at 1/4 foot candle, with surprisingly little noise. All the low light shots were characterized by excellent color balance, a relative rarity in our experience. Since typical outdoor city night scenes under average street lighting correspond to about 1 foot candle of illumination (11 lux), the Coolpix 880 should have no problem with typical after-dark photography: If you can see reasonably easily, its likely that your Coolpix 880 will also.

We found the Coolpix 880's optical viewfinder to be pretty tight, showing approximately 82 to 85 percent accuracy at wide angle and telephoto settings. (Note that we've changed our nomenclature on this to better reflect what you see when looking into the viewfinder. We previously would have referred to the Coolpix 880's viewfinder as "loose.") These numbers were consistent across all three image sizes. The LCD monitor proved to be much more accurate, showing approximately 97 percent accuracy at wide angle, and about 98 percent at telephoto (also the same at all three image sizes). Since we generally prefer LCD monitors to be as close to 100 percent accuracy as possible, the Coolpix 880 does an excellent job in this category.

The Coolpix 880 turned in an excellent performance in the macro category, capturing a minimum area of only 1.55 x 1.16 inches (39.38 x 29.54 mm). Color balance, detail, and sharpness are all very good. The 880's built-in flash unfortunately won't throttle down far enough for such close work, producing a rather washed out image. Otherwise, it does a reasonably good job of illuminating this tiny test area.

Overall, the Coolpix 880 turns in an excellent performance for its 3.3 megapixel class, providing excellent exposure control and nice image quality. Given the its excellent performance in the low light and macro categories, and its very accurate white balance system, we think the Coolpix 880 will handle most shooting situations amateur photographers encounter with very little trouble.


Conclusion
The Coolpix 880 is an excellent addition to the already proven Coolpix line. We see it as either an excellent "bring along" camera for the confirmed photography enthusiast. Perhaps its biggest audience though, will be among those wanting extended picture-taking capability without the need to master the intricacies of exposure and lighting. We think Nikon's concept of "Assisted Creative Photography" will find many happy users among people with a creative vision for great pictures, if not the technical dexterity to execute it in the conventional manually controlled camera world. At the same time, the 880 provides most of the creative control that advanced users crave. Something for everyone and great pictures, in a compact package. Highly recommended! (Except for the deplorable requirement of an "optional" $100 battery/charger, that really isn't optional at all.)


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