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DCRP Review: Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Digital ELPH  
   

Front of the Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: December 22, 2008
Last Updated: January 3, 2012

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The Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Digital ELPH ($299) is an ultra-compact camera packing a wide-angle 4X zoom lens, a large 3-inch LCD display, optical image stabilization, and a VGA movie mode. It replaces the PowerShot SD870 IS, with these notable new features:

  • 10.0 effective Megapixel CCD (versus 8.0MP on the SD870)
  • Slightly more zoom power (4X vs 3.8X)
  • Uses new DIGIC 4 processor
  • Improved battery life
  • Redeye can be removed as a photo is taken
  • Movie mode uses more efficient H.264 codec, allowing for longer recording times

Trying to figure out the differences between Canon's Digital ELPHs can be challenging. The model numbers make little-to-no sense, and comparing the ELPH to the IXUS (European) model names can give you a headache. That's why I put together this "family tree" of both the ELPH and IXUS lineup for you:


View ELPH names | View IXUS names

Make sense? I sure hope so.

I have another chart prepared, this one comparing the features and specs on all the current models (using their ELPH names):

Feature

PowerShot SD1100

PowerShot SD770 PowerShot SD790 PowerShot SD880 PowerShot SD890 PowerShot SD990
Street price
(at time of posting)
$171 $210 $222 $260 $283 $348
Resolution 8.0 MP 10.0 MP 10.0 MP 10.0 MP 10.0 MP 14.7 MP
Optical zoom 3X 3X 3X 4X 5X 3.7X
Lens max. aperture F2.8 - F4.9 F2.8 - F4.9 F2.8 - F4.9 F2.8 - F5.8 F3.2 - F5.7 F2.8 - F5.8
Focal length (35 mm equiv.) 38 - 114 mm 35 - 105 mm 35 - 105 mm 28 - 112 mm 37 - 185 mm 36 - 133 mm
Image stabilization Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
LCD size 2.5" 2.5" 3.0" 3.0" 2.5" 2.5"
LCD resolution 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels 230,000 pixels
Optical viewfinder Yes Yes No No Yes Yes
Flash range (Auto ISO) 0.3 - 3.5 m (W)
0.3 - 3.0 m (T)
0.3 - 3.5 m (W)
0.3 - 2.0 m (T)
0.3 - 3.5 m (W)
0.3 - 2.0 m (T)
0.3 - 4.2 m (W)
0.3 - 2.0 m (T)
0.3 - 3.5 m (W)
0.3 - 2.0 m (T)
0.5 - 4.6 m (W)
0.5 - 2.4 m (T)
Manual controls White balance White balance White balance White balance White balance White balance, shutter speed, aperture, focus
Auto ISO Shift No No No No Yes No
Movie codec used M-JPEG M-JPEG M-JPEG H.264 M-JPEG H.264
Max movie recording time (high quality) 32 mins 32 mins 32 mins 47 mins 32 mins 47 mins
Battery used NB-4L NB-6L NB-5L NB-5L NB-5L NB-5L
Battery life (CIPA standard) 240 shots 300 shots 330 shots 310 shots 320 shots 280 shots
Dimensions (W x H x D) 3.4 x 2.2 x 0.9 in 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.8 in 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.8 in 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in 3.8 x 2.3 x 1.1 in 3.8 x 2.5 x 1.1 in
Weight 125 g 130 g 155 g 155 g 155 g 160 g
Available colors Blue, pink, silver, brown, gold Silver, black Silver Silver, gold Silver Silver, black, red

If you're still confused after all that, let me give you a quick bottom line: the PowerShot SD880 is the one with the wide-angle lens and 3-inch LCD. See, that was easy.

Okay, enough charts -- let's start our review of the PowerShot SD880 now!

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What's in the Box?

The PowerShot SD880 IS Digital ELPH has an average bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:

  • The 10.0 effective Megapixel PowerShot SD880 IS digital camera
  • 32MB Secure Digital memory card
  • NB-5L lithium-ion battery
  • Battery charger
  • Wrist strap
  • USB cable
  • A/V cable
  • CD-ROM featuring Canon Digital Camera Solution
  • 163 page camera manual (printed)

Canon includes a 32MB Secure Digital memory card with the PowerShot SD880 IS. That holds a grand total of six photos at the highest quality setting, so you'll want to pick up a larger card right away, in the event that you don't have one already. The SD880 supports a plethora of memory card formats, including SD, SDHC, MMC, MMCplus, and HC MMCplus -- I'd stick with the first two. I'd recommend starting out with a 2GB card, and it's worth spending a little bit more for a high speed card, though there's no need to go overboard.

The SD880 uses the same NB-5L lithium-ion rechargeable battery as most of the other cameras in the Digital ELPH lineup. This battery holds 4.1 Wh of energy, which is decent for an ultra-compact camera. Here's how that translates into battery life:

Camera Battery life, LCD on
(CIPA standard)
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS */** 310 shots
Casio Exilim EX-Z300 */** 300 shots
Fuji FinePix J150w */** 150 shots
GE E1050 ** 200 shots
Kodak EasyShare M1093 IS * 220 shots
Nikon Coolpix S610 */** 290 shots
Olympus FE-350 Wide ** 170 shots
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 */** 310 shots
Samsung TL34 HD */** 200 shots
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170 */** 390 shots

* Has image stabilization
** Has a wide-angle lens

Battery life numbers are provided by the camera manufacturers

If I was ignoring Sony cameras, the PowerShot SD880 would have the best battery life in its class. Unfortunately for the SD880, I'm not, so it will have to take second place instead. In the group as a whole, the SD880's numbers are above average.

I do want to mention the usual issues about the proprietary batteries used by the SD880 and every camera on the above list. They're expensive (an extra will cost you at least $42), and you can't use an off-the-shelf battery in an emergency. That's life, though, as you just can't fit AA batteries into a camera this size.

When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. This is my favorite kind of charger -- it plugs directly into the wall. Expect to wait just over two hours for the NB-5L to be fully charged.

Canon PowerShot SD880 in the hand

As with all ultra-compact cameras, the SD880 has a built-in lens cover, so there's no lens cap to deal with.

Being a compact point-and-shoot camera, you shouldn't be too surprised to hear that there aren't many accessories for the SD880. Here's all four of them:

Accessory Model # Price * Description
Underwater case WP-DC26 From $165 Take your SD880 up to 40 meters under the sea
High power flash HF-DC1 From $94 Gives you more flash power and less redeye; attaches via the tripod mount and fires when the onboard flash does
AC adapter ACK-DC30 From $47 Power the camera without wasting your batteries
Deluxe soft case PSC-55 From $20 Protect your camera from the elements
* Prices were accurate when review was published

Let's move onto software now.


CameraWindow in Mac OS X

Canon includes version 37 of their Digital Camera Solution Disk with the PowerShot SD880. The first part of the Browser software that you'll probably encounter is Camera Window (pictured above), which is used to download photos from your camera.


ImageBrowser in Mac OS X

Once that's done you'll find yourself in either ImageBrowser or ZoomBrowser, which are for Mac and Windows, respectively. The Browser software lets you view, organize, e-mail, and print your photos. If you categorized any photos on the camera (more on this later), then this information is transferred into the Browser software.


ImageBrowser edit window in Mac OS X

Double-click on a thumbnail and you'll bring up the edit window. Editing functions include trimming, redeye removal, and the ability to adjust levels, color, brightness, sharpness, and the tone curve. There's also an auto adjustment option for those who want a quick fix.


PhotoStitch in Mac OS X

A separate program called PhotoStitch can combine photos you've taken side-by-side into a single panorama. Using the camera's Stitch Assist feature helps line up photos properly, so you'll get the best results possible when you get into PhotoStitch.

The PowerShot SD880 includes one of the "newer" generations of Canon manuals. It's more user-friendly than those included with prior models, with a handy "what do you want to do?" section at the beginning, and fewer confusing tables and notes on each page. While the manual isn't perfect, it should answer almost any question that may come up about the SD880. Separate manuals covering software installation and direct printing are also included. Documentation for the software bundle is installed onto your Mac or PC.

Look and Feel

The PowerShot SD880 IS Digital ELPH is a compact (but not super-tiny) and very stylish camera. It's made mostly of metal (with some plastic thrown in for good measure), and feels very solid in your hands. The tripod mount is metal, and the various doors on the camera body feel fairly sturdy. While the camera is easy to hold, I found that my thumb sits right on the four-way controller / scroll wheel, which can lead to trouble. The buttons on the back of the SD880 are surprisingly large for a camera in this class.


Image courtesy of Canon USA

You can't sell an ultra-compact camera in ONE color these days. Canon still plays it safe, offering only two colors for the PowerShot SD880: silver and gold.

Now, here's how the PowerShot SD880 IS compares to other cameras in its class, in terms of size and weight:

Camera Dimensions (W x H x D, excluding protrusions) Volume (bulk) Mass (empty)
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.3 cu in. 155 g
Casio Exilim EX-Z300 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.9 cu in. 131 g
Fujifilm FinePix J150w 3.6 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.5 cu in. 146 g
GE E1050 3.6 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.1 cu in. 145 g
Kodak EasyShare M1093 IS 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 6.8 cu in. 135 g
Nikon Coolpix S610 3.7 x 2.2 x 0.9 in. 7.3 cu in. 125 g
Olympus FE-350 Wide 3.8 x 2.2 x 1.0 in. 8.4 cu in. 138 g
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.7 cu in. 132 g
Samsung TL34HD 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.8 in. 6.8 cu in. 138 g
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170 3.7 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 7.7 cu in. 142 g

The PowerShot SD880 isn't the largest camera in the group, but it is the heaviest. Even so, it's small and light enough to go where ever you do, whether it's in a pocket or small camera case.

Alright, let's tour the camera now, beginning with the front view!

Front of the Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

The nicest feature on the PowerShot SD880 is its wide-angle lens. This F2.8-5.8, 4X zoom lens has a bit more zoom power than the 3.8X lens on its predecessor. The focal range is 5 - 20 mm, which is equivalent to 28 - 112 mm. The lens is a bit slow at the telephoto end (in terms of maximum aperture), but that's fairly common for cameras in this class. As you can probably guess, the lens is not threaded, and conversion lenses are not supported.

Inside that lens is Canon's venerable optical image stabilization system. Sensors inside the camera detect the tiny movements of your hands that can blur your photos, especially in low light situations. The camera shifts a lens element to compensate for this motion, resulting in a higher likelihood of a sharp photo. Image stabilizers cannot "freeze" a moving subject, nor will they let you take 1 second handheld photos, but believe me, it's better than nothing. Want to see the IS system in action? Have a look at this:


Image stabilization off


Image stabilization on

Both of the above photos were taken at a shutter speed of 1/2 second -- quite slow. As you can see, the shot with the image stabilizer turned on (and set to "shoot only") is noticeably sharper than the one without IS. You can also use image stabilization in movie mode, as illustrated in this brief video clip.

To the upper-right of the lens is the SD880's built-in flash. Just looking at the flash made me think "this thing is tiny, it's not going to be powerful", but the SD880's flash range is competitive with other ultra-compact cameras. The working range of the flash is 0.3 - 4.2 m at wide-angle and 0.3 - 2.0 m at telephoto (both at Auto ISO). Should you want more flash power, and less of a chance of redeye, you can pick up the external slave flash that I mentioned earlier.

The only other item of note on the front of the PowerShot SD880 is its AF-assist lamp, located to the upper-left of the lens. The camera uses this lamp as a focusing aid in low light situations. The light is also used for redeye reduction, and to serve as a visual countdown for the self-timer.

The first thing you'll notice on the back of the PowerShot SD880 is its large 3-inch LCD display. Canon has designed the camera in such a way that your fingers aren't sitting on the screen, though they'll be sitting on buttons instead. The screen uses Canon's Pure Color II technology (which seems to mean that it has a scratch resistant, anti-reflective coating), and has the usual 230,000 pixels of resolution. I found the screen to be sharp, and easy to see in bright outdoor light. Low light viewing was very good as well -- the image on the screen brightens automatically in those situations.

As you can see, there's no optical viewfinder on the PowerShot SD880 IS. Whether that's a bad thing is up to you. If you want a viewfinder, you'll have to switch to a camera with a smaller LCD.


You'll see this menu when you're connected to a Mac or PC

Now let's talk about the buttons located to the right of the LCD. The one at the top is called the Print/Share button. This button has several functions, depending on what you're doing with the camera. In record mode, it normally does nothing, but you can change that if you wish (more details on this later). If you're connected to a Mac or PC, it will allow you to select photos to transfer to the computer. Finally, if you're hooked into a PictBridge-enabled printer, you'll use it to print a photo.

The next button down enters playback mode. Under that is is the combination four-way controller and scroll wheel. The scroll wheel is used for menu navigation, quickly reviewing photos, and adjusting the shooting mode. It has a nice "notchy" feel, unlike the one on the PowerShot SX10 that I just reviewed. The four-way controller does many of the same things, and it can also be used for the following:

  • Up - ISO (Auto, Hi Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600) + Jump (Quickly move through photos in playback mode)
  • Down - Drive (Single-shot, continuous, face self-timer, self-timer) + Delete photo
  • Left - Focus (Normal, macro, infinity)
  • Right - Flash (Auto, flash on, flash off)
  • Center - Function menu + Set

What's the difference between those two Auto ISO modes? Simply put, the Hi Auto will use higher sensitivities than regular Auto.

Several of the options in the drive menu warrant further discussion. In continuous shooting mode, the camera can keep shooting at 1.4 frames/second until the memory card fills up -- as advertised. A high speed memory card is recommended for best performance in this mode. The LCD keeps up well with the action, so you should be able to track a moving subject.

The SD880 has several self-timer options. You can use the usual 2 or 10 second options, or you go custom and select the delay and how many photos are taken. The face self-timer is new to the PowerShot SD880, and it will wait until another person enters the frame (and their face is detected) before taking one to ten photos in a row.


Function menu

Pressing the center button on the four-way controller options up the Function menu, which has these options:

  • Exposure compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
  • Long shutter mode (1 - 15 secs) - press the Display button when exposure compensation is selected to activate this option
  • White balance (Auto, daylight, cloudy, tungsten, fluorescent, fluorescent H, underwater, custom) - see below
  • My Colors (Off, vivid, neutral, sepia, black & white, positive film, lighter skin tone, darker skin tone, vivid blue, vivid green, vivid red, custom color) - see below
  • Metering mode (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
  • Image quality (see chart later in review)
  • Resolution (see chart later in review)

There are just two manual controls on the PowerShot SD880. The first is the long shutter speed mode, which lets you select a speed from 1 to 15 seconds. This is a must for the long-exposures like the night scene later in the review.

The PowerShot SD880's custom white balance option lets you use a white or gray card, for accurate color in any lighting. This will come in handy when you're shooting in unusual lighting conditions, like I do in many of the test shots later in the review.


Saturation is one of the settings you can adjust with the custom My Colors option

The My Colors feature should be self-explanatory, save for the custom option. This one lets you manually adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation, as well as red/green/blue/skin tone levels.

The last two buttons on the back of the camera are for entering the menu system, and for toggling the information shown on the LCD display.

Top of the Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

The first things to see on the top of the SD880 are the mode switch, and the microphone located just to its left. The mode switch moves you between movie, scene, and regular still shooting. The available scene modes on the camera (which you select with the scroll wheel) include portrait, night snapshot, kids & pets, indoor, sunset, foliage, snow, beach, fireworks, aquarium, underwater, and ISO 3200. As always, I recommend passing on the high sensitivity mode, as the resulting photos are short on both detail and resolution.

In the scene menu you'll also find a digital macro (which locks the lens at wide-angle and lets you use the digital zoom to get closer), color accent and color swap, and Stitch Assist modes. Color accent lets you select a color in the frame to keep -- everything else becomes black and white. Color swap does exactly as it sounds -- you swap one color in a photo for another. The Stitch Assist feature lets you line up photos side-by-side, for later stitching into a single panoramic image.

Next the mode switch we find the power and shutter release buttons, with the speaker on the far right of the photo. The shutter release button has the zoom controller wrapped around it, and it moves the lens from wide-angle to telephoto in 1.2 seconds. I counted ten steps in the SD880's 4X zoom range. For whatever reason, Canon has decided not to display the current zoom setting on the LCD, which is frustrating.

Side of the Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

Nothing to see here.

Side of the Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

On this side of the camera you'll find the SD880's sole I/O port. This mini USB port handles both USB and A/V output. As you'd expect, the PowerShot SD880 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard. In case you're wondering where the optional AC adapter plugs in: you insert the DC coupler into the battery slot, and feed the power cord through a hole in the compartment door.

The lens is at the full telephoto position here.

Bottom of the Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

On the bottom of the PowerShot SD880 IS you'll find the metal tripod mount (hidden in this photo) plus the battery/memory card compartment. The door over the memory card slot is fairly sturdy, though it lacks any kind of locking mechanism. As you can probably tell, you won't be able to get at the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod.

The included NB-5L battery can be seen at right.

Using the Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Digital ELPH

Record Mode

The PowerShot SD880 IS starts up very quickly, taking less than 0.7 seconds to prepare for shooting.


No live histograms here

The SD880 is pretty quick in the focusing department, too. Wide-angle/good light focus times ranged from 0.2 to 0.4 seconds, while at telephoto (and in more difficult situations) you'll wait for between 0.6 - 0.8 seconds. Low light focusing was solid, with focus delays staying under one second in most situations.`

I did not find shutter lag to be a problem, even at the slower shutter speeds at which it can occur.

Shot-to-shot times range from around 1.5 seconds without the flash (not bad) and 3 seconds with it (not great).

You can delete the photo you just took by pressing "down" on the four-way controller.

Now, here's a look at the image size and quality choices available on the PowerShot SD880 IS:

Resolution Quality Approx. file size # Images on 32MB card
(included)
# images on 2GB card (optional)
Large
3648 x 2736
Superfine 4.2 MB 6 440
Fine 2.5 MB 11 744
Normal 1.2 MB 23 1544
Wide (16:9)
3648 x 2048
Superfine 3.2 MB 8 588
Fine 1.9 MB 15 996
Normal 918 KB 31 2044
Medium 1
2816 x 2112
Superfine 2.7 MB 10 704
Fine 1.6 MB 17 1168
Normal 780 KB 37 2412
Medium 2
2272 x 1704
Superfine 2.0 MB 14 948
Fine 1.1 MB 26 1700
Normal 556 KB 52 3356
Medium 3
1600 x 1200
Superfine 1002 KB 29 1884
Fine 558 KB 52 3356
Normal 278 KB 99 6360
Small
640 x 480
Superfine 249 KB 111 7108
Fine 150 KB 171 10988
Normal 84 KB 270 17268

And that's why you need to buy a large memory card along with the camera. This shouldn't be a major surprise, but the SD880 does not support the RAW or TIFF image formats.

Images are named IMG_xxxx.JPG, where x = 0001 - 9999. The file numbering is maintained even if you replace and/or format memory cards.

Now, onto the menus!

The PowerShot SD880 uses the standard Canon menu system. It's attractive, responsive, and easy-to-use. Keep in mind that some of these options are not available in the automatic and scene modes. With that out of the way, here's the complete list of items in the record menu:

  • AF frame (Face Detect, AiAF, Center) - see below
  • AF frame size (Normal, small) - see below
  • AF-point zoom (on/off) - see below
  • AF servo (on/off) - see below
  • Digital Zoom (Off, 1.4X, 2.3X, Standard) - see below
  • Flash settings
    • Slow synchro (on/off)
    • Redeye correction (on/off) - whether the redeye reduction tool is used automatically when you take a flash photo
    • Redeye lamp (on/off) - whether the AF-assist lamp is used to prevent redeye
  • i-Contrast (Auto, off)
  • Drive settings
    • Face self-timer (1-10 shots)
    • Custom self-timer delay (0-10, 15, 20, 30 secs)
    • Custom self-timer shots (1-10)
  • AF-assist beam (on/off)
  • Review (Off, 2-10 seconds, hold) - post-shot review
  • Review info (Off, detailed, focus check) - see below
  • Save original (on/off) - whether the original image is saved when using the Color Swap and Color Accent features
  • Auto category (on/off) - whether photos taken in certain scene modes have a category assigned automatically
  • Display overlay (Off, gridlines, 3:2 guide, both)
  • IS mode (Continuous, shoot only, panning, off) - see below
  • Date stamp (Off, date, date & time) - see below
  • Set Print/Share button (Off, face select & track, exposure compensation, white balance, custom WB, redeye correction, digital teleconverter, i-Contrast, gridlines, movie mode, display off, play sound effect) - define what this button does in record mode


The camera locked onto three of the six faces

There are three focus modes on the PowerShot SD880. The first one is Face Detection, a feature which you'll find on pretty much every camera in 2008. The camera will detect up to nine faces in the frame, making sure that the exposure (flash included), focus, and white balance is correct for each. You can also select a "primary" face (by using the Print/Share button), and the camera will track that face as it moves around the frame. I don't know what the deal is, but Canon's DIGIC 4 cameras have been really fussy with my face detection test. It finds faces just find, but when you press the shutter release halfway, it only locks onto two or three of them. It does work on real human subjects (as opposed to a photo on the computer screen) quite well, though.


The two focus point sizes

The other focus modes are AiAF (9-point) and center-point AF. If you're using center-point AF, you can select the size of the focus point: normal or small. New to the PowerShot SD880 is a Servo AF mode, which will track a subject as they move around the frame.

The AF-point zoom feature, new to Canon cameras this year, enlarges the focus point when you halfway-press the shutter release. In face detection mode, it digitally enlarges the "main" subject (presumably so you can make sure they're smiling), while in center-point mode it enlarges the middle of the frame.

I want to briefly explain the digital zoom options on the PowerShot SD880 IS. Canon calls the 1.4X and 2.3X options a "digital tele-converter" -- it's basically just fixed digital zoom. The Standard option is what you'll find on every camera -- it just enlarges the center of the frame digitally. When you use this mode, the camera's Safety Zoom feature warns you when you pass the point where image quality is degraded. When you're shooting at the highest resolution that starts as soon as digital zoom kicks in, but if you're using a lower resolution you can use it for a little while before that happens. For example, at the M2 resolution, you get 5.6X of total zoom, while at M3 you get 9.1X.

i-Contrast off i-Contrast on

The i-Contrast feature is another new option on the PowerShot SD880. As its name implies, it improves overall contrast in your photo. You can have the feature run as a photo is taken, or after-the-fact in playback mode. I wasn't planning on using the above photo to show off this feature, but after I saw the results without i-Contrast (it's off by default), I decided to turn it on. The difference is staggering -- the sky isn't blown out anymore, and the overall image is just a whole lot nicer. It didn't really brighten the shadows, but I think you'll agree that it was worth using here. Since features like this do slow down camera performance a bit, I'd recommend using i-Contrast on a case-by-case basis.

What are those IS modes all about? Continuous IS activates the image stabilizer as soon as you halfway-press the shutter release, which helps you compose your shot without camera shake. Shoot only mode activates the IS system when the photo is actually taken, which is more effective at stopping blur than the previous mode. Panning mode only compensates for up and down motion, which is desirable when you're panning the camera side-to-side. Finally, you can just shut the whole image stabilization system off, which is a good idea if the camera is on a tripod.

The PowerShot SD880 is the first Canon camera I've tested that lets you print the date and/or time on your photos at any resolution. Prior models could do it, but only if you were using a special low resolution "postcard mode"). It's about time.

The setup menu can be found in both the record and playback menus. It has these options:

  • Mute (on/off) - turns off all the beeps
  • Volume
    • Startup volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Operation volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Self-timer volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Shutter volume (Off, 1-5)
    • Playback volume (Off, 1-5)
  • LCD brightness (-7 to +7)
  • Power saving
    • Auto power down (on/off)
    • Display off (10, 20, 30 sec, 1-3 min)
  • Time zone (Home, world)
  • Date/time (set)
  • Clock display (0-10, 20, 30, secs, 1, 2, 3 min) - the camera can double as a clock; this is how long it's displayed for
  • Card format
  • File number reset (on/off) - maintain file numbering
  • Create folder
    • Create new folder - on the memory card
    • Auto create (Off, daily, weekly, monthly) - this new features will automatically create new folders on the memory card at set intervals
  • Auto rotate (on/off) - camera will automatically rotate portrait photos on the LCD
  • Lens retract (1 min, 0 secs) - how quickly the lens retracts when you switch to playback mode
  • Language
  • Video system (NTSC, PAL)
  • Print Method (Auto, PictBridge)
  • Reset all - back to defaults

A separate "My Camera" menu lets you customize the startup screen and various sounds that the camera emits. And that's about all I want to say about menus, so let's move on to our photo tests now!

It's really hard to find fault with the PowerShot SD880's performance in our macro test photo. Colors are nice and vivid (and accurate, too), and the subject has the smooth (but still detailed) appearance that has become a trademark of Canon's cameras. I don't see any evidence of noise or noise reduction artifacting here. About the only thing I can find to complain about is a minute amount of cyan fringing on the left side of Mickey's head.

In macro mode, you can be just 2 cm away from your subject at wide-angle, and 30 cm at full telephoto. There's also the digital macro mode that I mentioned earlier, but I have no idea why you'd actually use that.

The night shot didn't turn out quite as nicely as the macro shot. The lens doesn't have as much telephoto power as other cameras I review, so this view is a little more distant than you may be used to seeing here. The SD880 brought in enough light, and you'll want to use the long shutter speed option to get at the shutter speeds needed for photos like this. The buildings are fairly sharp near the center of the frame, but things get softer as you move toward the edges (particularly the left side). You can see noise reduction at work here, eating away at details on some of the buildings. Even so, there's enough left for a midsize or large print. The SD880 does suffer from fringing, though the color is cyan, rather than the purple that you typically see.

Now, let's use that same scene and crank the ISO sensitivity up a bit. I can only take this test to ISO 400, since I cannot select the faster shutter speeds needed for proper exposure past that point.


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

There's a bit more noise reduction artifacting at ISO 100, but it shouldn't make a difference in most case. Detail loss is more evident at ISO 200, reducing your print sizes to small or perhaps midsize. I'd save ISO 400 for emergencies only, as there's quite a bit of detail smudging here. As for the higher sensitivities, I wouldn't even touch them.

Look for our studio ISO test in a bit.

There's mild barrel distortion at the wide-angle end of the PowerShot SD880's lens -- less than I expected. You can see what this does in real life by looking at the photo on the right side of this photo. While I didn't find vignetting (dark corners) to be a problem, you will encounter some blurring around the edges of the frame. This blurring is quite common on ultra-compact cameras.

The PowerShot SD880 has two ways of reducing redeye. It can use the AF-assist lamp to shrink your subject's pupils, and it can also digitally remove any redeye that it finds. Unfortunately, it never found any eyes in my test photos, so I had to go into playback mode and remove the redeye there.

As you can see, the redeye removal tool in playback mode works just fine, though I had to manually select the eyes first. In theory you should get this result by using redeye correction in record mode, but that assumes that the camera is able to recognize your eyes.

Now it's time for our second ISO test, which illustrates how the SD880 performs at high ISOs in normal lighting. Since the lighting is consistent in this test, you can compare it with other cameras that I've recently reviewed. The crops below give you a quick idea as to how the image quality looks at each setting, though I recommend viewing the full size images if you can.


ISO 80

ISO 100

ISO 200


ISO 400


ISO 800

ISO 1600

There's very little difference between the photos taken at ISO 80, 100, and 200, though you will notice softness in the lower-left corner. While noise levels increase a bit at ISO 400, the image is still quite clean, and suitable for midsize and large prints. Details start to vanish at ISO 800, which is as high as I'd take the PowerShot SD880. That's because at ISO 1600 there's quite a bit of noise, plus a drop in color saturation.

Overall, the PowerShot SD880 IS produced very good quality photos for an ultra-compact camera, though there is room for improvement. Exposure was generally spot-on, though there was some highlight clipping here and there. Canon definitely uses more noise reduction than they used to, and you can see it even at ISO 80, eating away at details and giving the sky a slightly mottled appearance. Still, this shouldn't be an issue for the typical SD880 buyer. As the tests above illustrated, you can shoot at ISO 200 in low light and ISO 400 in good light without losing much detail. The SD880 does have its share of blurring around the edges of the frames, which again is very common on ultra-compact cameras. Purple fringing popped up occasionally, though it was fairly minor for the most part.

Now, I invite you to have a look at our photo gallery. View the full size images, and maybe print a few of them if you can. Then you should be able to decide if the PowerShot SD880's photo quality meets your expectations?

Movie Mode

The PowerShot SD880 uses a different movie codec than its predecessor. Instead of using the memory card-eating M-JPEG, Canon now uses the more efficient H.264 codec. The camera records video at 640 x 480 (30 fps) with sound, until you hit the 4GB file size limit. It used to take 32 minutes to hit the 4GB limit, but with the new codec it takes closer to 48 minutes.

For slightly longer movies, you can drop the resolution to 320 x 240 (30 fps), though the recording will stop after an hour. A high speed memory card is highly recommended for movie recording on the SD880.

As is often the case, you cannot use the zoom lens while you're recording a movie. The image stabilizer is available, as is the digital zoom.

The Color Swap and Color Accent features are available in movie mode, should you want them.

Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the highest quality setting:


Click to play movie (14.7 MB, 640 x 480, 30 fps, QuickTime format)
Can't view it? Download QuickTime.

Playback Mode

The PowerShot SD880 has a very nice playback mode. Basic features include slideshows, image protection, DPOF print marking, voice captions, thumbnail view, and zoom & scroll. This last feature will enlarge the image by as much as ten times, and then scroll around. This is good for checking for proper focus, open eyes, and more. Speaking of eyes, the Focus Check feature is available here, too: it automatically enlarges faces (or just the focus point) so you can make sure everyone's smiling.

Photos can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. You can remove redeye, and brighten the dark areas of your photos with i-Contrast, as well. If you want to use the My Colors features I mentioned earlier, you can do that as well.

If you've got a movie opened, you can trim unwanted footage off of the beginning or end of the clip.


Selecting a category

Photos that were taken in certain scene modes are automatically categorized, but if you want to do it manually, just use the My Category option. The available categories include people, scenery, events, custom 1/2/3, and to-do. Your selection is transferred to your computer along with the photo.

Moving through photos with the scroll wheel... ... and the Jump button

There are several ways to move through photos on the camera. Naturally, you can just press left or right on the four-way controller. You can also turn the scroll wheel, which gives you the screen you see on the left above. Another option is to use the Jump feature, which lets you move ahead by date, category, file type (still or movie), or just by 10 or 100 photos.

The PowerShot SD880 can also be used to record audio, and that tool is located in the playback menu. You can record up to two hours of continuous audio, with three quality settings to choose from.

By default you won't get much information about your photo while in playback mode. But press the Display button and you'll get more info, including a histogram.

The PowerShot SD880 IS moves between images almost instantly, with your choice of two snazzy transitions. Like most of Canon's other cameras, when you rotate the camera 90 degrees, the photo on the LCD rotates too.

How Does it Compare?

The Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Digital ELPH is a solid choice for those wanting a wide-angle lens and large LCD in a compact package. The SD880 is the only Digital ELPH with a wide-angle lens, and it offers plenty of point-and-shoot features to go along with it. Like most of the cameras in its class, it could use some improvement in the image quality department, but for the typical point-and-shooter, the SD880's issues are fairly minor. Overall, though, the PowerShot SD880 IS has a lot more positives than negatives, and it earns my recommendation.

The PowerShot SD880 IS (unfortunately referred to as the Digital IXUS 870 IS in some countries) is a compact (but not super-tiny camera) made mostly of metal. It's very well put together, with a sturdy door over the memory card/battery compartment and a metal tripod mount. The camera is available in traditional silver as well as a tasteful gold finish. Canon has designed the camera in such a way that your fingers stay off of the LCD display. However, I found my thumb resting on the scroll wheel/four-way controller instead, which can lead to trouble. The feature that separates the SD880 from the other Digital ELPH models is its 4X, 28 - 112 mm zoom lens. If you take photos where you want to fit as much into the frame as possible, then you'll appreciate this wide-angle lens. Something you'll also like is the camera's optical image stabilizer, which effectively reduces the effects of "camera shake" in both stills and videos. On the back of the camera is a nice 3-inch LCD display with 230,000 pixels worth of resolution. The screen is sharp, and easy to see both outdoors and in low light. Like all compact cameras with a big LCD, the SD880 lacks an optical viewfinder.

With a few exceptions, the SD880 is a point-and-shoot camera. You'll find automatic, scene, and a panorama-assist modes on the SD880, covering virtually any shooting situation (though there's no sports mode). The camera is easy to operate, with an attractive and responsive menu system. Like nearly all cameras these days, the SD880 offers a face detection feature which works fairly well (though it doesn't seem to like my test), and the new face self-timer feature is a handy one. Redeye can be removed when a photo is taken (though this too didn't seem to like my test photos), or after the fact in playback mode. While I probably wouldn't use it on every shot, the i-Contrast feature can help reduce blown out highlights in your photos. The only manual controls on the camera are for slow shutter speeds and for custom white balance. If you want more control, you'll have to step up to the PowerShot SD990. The movie mode on the PowerShot SD880 has been tweaked a bit since the SD870. It now uses a more efficient codec, allowing for nearly 48 minutes of continuous VGA video recording.

Camera performance was very good in most respects. The PowerShot SD880 is ready to shoot in just 0.7 seconds. It focuses quickly, whether at wide-angle or telephoto. Even in low light, focus times rarely exceeded one second. Shutter lag wasn't a problem, and shot-to-shot delays were minor. The exception is if you're using the flash, which results in a roughly 3 second delay before you can take another photo. After a photo is taken, you have the option to see the faces of your subjects (or just the focus point) enlarged. When equipped with a high speed memory card, the SD880 is capable of taking an unlimited number of photos at 1.4 frames/second in its continuous shooting mode. The SD880's battery life is well above average for its class.

While it could use some improvement in a few areas, overall the PowerShot SD880 produces nice photo quality for the point-and-shoot crowd. Photos were generally well-exposed, though there's occasional highlight clipping. Colors are both accurate and vivid. Sharpness is great in the center of the image, though things soften noticeably around the edges (which is quite common on ultra-compact cameras like this). The camera doesn't have much of a noise problem until the ISO nears its upper limits, but that's because of the noise reduction that Canon's using. You'll see the effects of this noise reduction at ISO 80, but it won't keep you from making midsize or large prints until you pass ISO 200 in low light, and ISO 400 in good light. The SD880 keeps purple fringing under control, though you will spot some cyan-colored fringing here and there. If you're not using the camera's redeye correction feature, then you'll undoubtedly have to deal with this annoyance. However, if you turn it on and it recognizes your eyes (it didn't for me), then it shouldn't be a problem. You can always remove redeye using the tool in playback mode -- having it done automatically is just a lot more convenient.

I've got just a few other things to mention before I wrap things up. Probably the most annoying thing on the camera (aside from my photo quality issues) is the fact that the current zoom setting is not displayed on the LCD. Seems kind of useful to me! You will be unable to access the memory card while the SD880 is on a tripod. Speaking of which, the included memory card is pretty small for a 10 Megapixel camera.

If you're looking for a compact and stylish camera with a big LCD and a wide-angle lens, then the PowerShot SD880 IS Digital ELPH should be high on your list. It's not perfect, but the PowerShot SD880 is certainly better than the majority of the competition, which makes it easy to recommend.

What I liked:

  • Good photo quality
  • Stylish, compact metal body; comes in silver and gold
  • 4X, wide-angle lens
  • Optical image stabilization
  • Fast startup time; snappy performance overall
  • Nice 3-inch LCD display; great outdoor and low light visibility
  • Face detection and handy face detection self-timer features
  • Auto redeye reduction feature (assuming it recognizes your eyes)
  • i-Contrast feature reduces blown highlights
  • Full-featured playback mode
  • Can record nearly 48 minutes of continuous VGA video
  • Battery life is well above average
  • Optional underwater case

What I didn't care for:

  • More noise reduction than older Powershots, especially in low light (though this won't affect most people)
  • Images are soft around the edges
  • Flash recharging could be faster
  • Current zoom setting not shown on LCD
  • No optical viewfinder
  • More manual controls would be nice
  • Can't swap memory cards while using a tripod
  • Bundled memory card on the small side

Some other compact cameras with wide-angle lenses include the Casio Exilim EX-Z300, Fuji FinePix J150w, GE E1050, Nikon Coolpix S610, Olympus FE-350 Wide, Panasonic Lumix DMC-FS20, Samsung TL34 HD, and the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-W170.

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try out the PowerShot SD880 IS and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the photos turned out in our gallery!

Feedback & Discussion

To discuss this review with other DCRP readers, please visit our forums.

If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.