DCRP Review: Nikon Coolpix 880
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: Sunday, October 1, 2000
Last Updated: Sunday, October 1, 2000

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The Nikon Coolpix 880 is often referred to as the "baby" Coolpix 990. After all, it does have the same 3.34 Mpixel CCD and almost the exact same functionality, but for less money ($799, street priced under $700). The most noticeable difference between the 880 and 990 is the body -- the 880 has a body that reminds some of the Olympus C-2000/3000 series, while the 990 has its trademark swiveling lens. The lenses are also different -- the Coolpix 880 has a 2.5X optical zoom, while the 990 boasts a 3X optical zoom. The Coolpix 880 may be the baby in the family, but it's got lots of grownup features.

What's in the Box?

The Coolpix 880 has a good bundle included with the camera:

  • The 3.34 Mpixel Nikon Coolpix 880 camera
  • 8MB CompactFlash card
  • One 2CR5 lithium battery (non-rechargeable)
  • Wrist strap
  • Lens cap w/strap
  • USB cable
  • Video cable
  • CD-ROM featuring NikonView 3.0 software
  • User guide, Fast Track Guide, Menu Guide

I'm not a big fan of non-rechargeable batteries, and even less of one when they're not of the AA variety. The included 2CR5 lithium battery may last a while, but as soon as it's gone, you've got to buy another one of these expensive batteries. Here's a better idea: pick up Nikon's EN-EL1 Li-ion rechargeable battery ($45) and EH-21 AC adapter/battery charger ($65) instead. It's too bad it adds another $100 onto the price of the camera. They should include it for the $800 price tag of this camera.

Camera shown with 2CR5 battery, lens cap, and hand strap

On a happier note, Nikon includes a sturdy lens cap with a strap so it won't fall off. If you turn on the camera without taking off the lens cap, a message on the LCD reminds you to take it off.

There is no serial support available on this camera - USB only.

Nikon supplies a Lexar 8MB CompactFlash card with the Coolpix 880 -- definitely too small for a 3 Megapixel camera. You'll want to pick up a larger card right away - I'd recommend at least 64MB.

I've discussed the NikonView software before, and I'm not going to repeat it here - check out the Coolpix 990 v. Olympus C-3030Z review for more on this.

Nikon's manuals are just okay -- there's a lot of information here, but it could be better organized.

Look and Feel

The Coolpix 880's body reminded more than one person of the Olympus C-2000/3000Z, and I can see that too. Once big difference is that the camera is more compact, but more buttons jammed together. Luckily, these buttons all serve useful functions that save a trip to the menus in many cases.

The camera fits pretty well in your hands, and can be used with only your right hand if you desire. The body is made from a sturdy-looking plastic which looks like it will hold up well. Its dimensions are 3.9 x 3.1 x 2.0 inches, and it weighs in at 9.7 ounces empty.

Taking a look at the front of the camera (see the top picture), you can see the NIKKOR Zoom lens (8-20mm, equivalent to 38-95mm). This lens can use Nikon's various adapters (wide angle, telephoto, fisheye), but you'll need to purchase a step-down ring first.

Now onto the back of the CP880. The 1.8" LCD display is excellent -- very smooth and bright. You can adjust the brightness via the setup menu if need be. Of course, as with any LCD, once your in bright daylight, it becomes difficult to use. Nose smudging will be a problem when you use the optical viewfinder.

The buttons just above the LCD work in both the record and playback modes. In record mode, they are: exposure settings (exposure compensation, shutter speed/aperture, ISO), landscape/macro/self-timer (you can do a macro shot with self-timer), flash settings, and Quick Play. In playback mode: delete, info, thumbnail mode, movie playback.

Quick Play mode

The Quick Play mode is unique to the Coolpix 880. When you hit this button, a little window pops up in the LCD, showing the photo you just took. You can scroll through your photos here, just like in playback mode. Hitting Quick Play again puts you in full playback mode where you can do the usual play mode stuff.

The buttons to the right of the LCD are for invoking the menu, navigating the menu, and turning the LCD on and off.

Just northeast of those buttons are the zoom controls. They don't give as much "feedback" as I'd like, but they do control the zoom smoothly.

The optical viewfinder covers 80% of the frame, and it lacks diopter correction for those of us with glasses.

Looking now at the top of the camera: the LCD info display is standard issue, here showing metering (lower left), quality, flash, battery, and shots remaining.

To the right of that is the shutter release and power button. I accidentally shut the power off a few times, so be careful.

Below and right of that is the mode wheel, which has more options that the Coolpix 990's does. Here you've got:

  • Setup
  • CSM (custom)
  • Manual
  • Aperture Priority
  • Program Mode
  • Scene Mode
  • Auto Mode
  • Playback Mode

A few of these are new and need further explanation. The first is CSM mode, which is essentially a "create you own" mode. You can choose all kinds of settings, from exposure to flash to focus, and save them here for easy retrieval. In CSM mode, you actually choose between M, A, and P modes, so it's kind of a mode instead a mode. Confused?

Manual mode lets you set both the aperture (f2.8 or f7.8) and shutter speed (8 sec - 1/1000 sec). Aperture priority lets you choose the aperture (same choices), and the camera decides the shutter speed for you. In Program mode, the camera chooses both of those options. A "bulb" mode is also available, where the camera keep the shutter open for up to 60 seconds, as long as you keep the shutter release held down. Nikon recommends a tripod and a remote shutter release for bulb mode.

Auto mode is very much like Program mode, except that you can't enter the menu system. This is the ultra point-and-shoot mode.

Scene mode

A mode that is new to the Coolpix line is the scene mode, first done by Casio (and still done better). Here, you can choose between various situations, and the camera will choose the best settings for you. The scenes available on the Coolpix 880 include:

  • Portrait
  • Party/indoor
  • Night portrait
  • Beach/snow
  • Landscape
  • Sunset
  • Night landscape
  • Fireworks show (why didn't they have this back on July 4?)
  • Closeup
  • Copy
  • Back Light

The only one of these I tested was night landscape, and it did a good job. Of course, if you delve in to the manual settings, you can do this too -- but if you don't want to deal with it, scene mode is for you.

Here's a look at one side of the camera, which sports the video out port.

And now, the other side, which has these two port, as well as the CompactFlash slot. The port on the top is for USB, and the one of the bottom for power.

Here's a closer look at the CompactFlash slot, which is under a sturdy plastic door. Unfortunately, just like the Coolpix 990, this camera doesn't support CompactFlash Type II, which means no Microdrive. A little button below the card easily ejects the card, without launching it across the room.

And finally, the bottom of the Coolpix 880. Down here we see the battery compartment (left), and the tripod mount (center). The tripod mount appears to be metal.

Using the Coolpix 880

I'm going to discuss record mode (with the movie function) and playback mode in this section.

Record Mode

The Coolpix 880 takes about four seconds to extend the lens and "boot up" before you can start taking photos. Shot-to-shot speed is also in the four second range. It takes probably half a second for the camera to focus when you first depress the shutter release, and another half second for the picture to be taken. It's definitely not as fast as the Coolpix 990, but then again I wouldn't expect that for $200 less.

The menus are extensive, and give you complete control over all the cameras functions. Here's a rundown of everything you can change:

  • White balance (Auto, manual, sunlight, incandescent, fluorescent, cloudy, speedlight) - in many cases, there are fine adjustments for each of these.
  • Metering (matrix, spot, center-weighted, Spot AF Area) - in Spot AF Area, the camera only measures the light where the camera is currently focused.
  • Continuous shooting (single, continuous, Multi-shot 16, VGA sequence, Ultra HS, Movie) -- more on this below
  • Best Shot selector (on/off) - this will take multiple photos as long as you keep the shutter release button down, and it will pick the best one.
  • Lens - for using lens adapters
  • Image adjustment (Auto, normal, more contrast, less contrast, lighten image, darken image, black and white)
  • Image sharpening (auto, high, normal, low, off)
  • Quality/Size (hi, fine, normal, basic / full, XGA, VGA) - "Hi" here is the uncompressed TIFF mode
  • Sensitivity (auto, 100, 200, 400) - you can also change this using the buttons on the back of the camera
  • Exposure options (AE lock, Auto bracketing, exposure compensation) - all useful options
  • Focus options (AF Area Mode, Auto-Focus mode, Focus Confirmation) - AF Area Mode lets you pick the spot in the photo where the camera focuses. Focus Confirmation visually shows you what the camera is focusing on.
  • Other setup functions (folders, card format, date/time)

A glimpse at the menus in record mode

The Coolpix 880 gives you a number of choices for continuous shooting mode, most of which I've covered in previous reviews. Here are your choices in detail:

  • Continuous - three photos every two seconds while the shutter release is held down
  • Multi-Shot 16 - takes 16 images and puts them into a collage.
  • VGA sequence - takes 2 photos/second at 640x480
  • Ultra HS - takes 70 photos at 320 x 240 and dumps them into a separate "folder" on the memory card
  • Movie - record a Quicktime movie for up to 40 seconds at 320 x 240 with no sound.

You can see some samples of a few of these on the Coolpix 950 gallery page from May 1999 (has it been that long?).

Click to view Quicktime movie (warning: 9MB)

Speaking of movie mode, above you'll find a sample. I must say that Sony spoils you with their movie mode-- the sound and video quality is great, though only for 15 seconds. While you can record an impressive 40 seconds of Quicktime video on the Coolpix 880, it'll be silent, since there's no microphone on the camera.

Macro mode is impressive on this camera (it is a Coolpix after all). You can get as close as 1.6" (4 cm) on this camera. In the shot above, I was able to get decent white balance by using the manual WB mode.

Good weather made for a nice shot from Twin Peaks. While it could be sharper (using the camera's sharpening menu, or Photoshop), there aren't any mysterious stars in the sky that the camera created. Since the camera gives you full control over aperture and shutter speed, you can really experiment to make these shots work. Since it's usually pretty cold up there, there's little time for that.

Overall, the photo quality was exceptional. Don't take my word for it-- check out the gallery and decide for yourself.

Playback Mode

While it's not the fastest playback mode out there, I still regard Nikon's as one of the best. You get every option imaginable, and it's all easy to figure out.

The playback mode covers all the basics

The usual options are all there (thumbnails, DPOF print marking, zoom & scroll, etc), so I'll focus on what stands out.

The first thing that I love about Nikon's playback mode is the amount of information they provide about a picture. From the basic info (above, left), you can hit a button and scroll through 4 more pages of information, including exposure info, image properties, focus area, and even a histogram (above, right). The Coolpix 880 writes this data into a file on the memory card (INFO.TXT) -- here's what was written in that file for the photo shown above.

CAMERA : E880V1.0
SHUTTER : 1/3sec
EXP +/- : 0.0
FOCAL LENGTH : f13.9mm(X1.0)
DATE : 2000.10.01 21:42

Another nice feature which other camera manufacturers seem to skip over is the ability to delete a group of photos. On all cameras you can delete one, or all photos. But what about 4 or 5? Nikon makes it easy to do this with just a few buttons.

A few final notes on playback mode: when you scroll between photos, you are first given a low res version of the photo, and then the high res version is drawn over it. It takes less than a second to go between between a photo and a new low res photo, and about 5 seconds between two high res photos.

You can zoom into a photo by a factor of 4, and scroll around in them once you've done so. While it's not as smooth as Casio or Canon's implementations, it's certainly very useable.

How Does it Compare?

So as you can hopefully see now, the Coolpix 880 isn't much of a "baby brother" at all to the Coolpix 990 -- it's almost a twin. The major differences are: the lens, slower processing and less buffer memory, and no support for external flashes. The CP880 does have some tricks that the 990 doesn't, like scene and CSM modes. All in all, if you're looking for a camera with all the manual controls you desire, but don't want to break the bank, then the Coolpix 880 is for you!

What I liked:

  • Every manual control you can think of
  • Uncompressed TIFF mode
  • Well-designed controls and menus
  • Great playback mode
  • Excellent macro shots
  • USB support

What needs work:

  • Rechargeable batteries add another $100 to cost of camera
  • No sound in movies
  • No CompactFlash Type II

The closest competitor to the Coolpix 880 is undoubtedly the Olympus C-3000Z, which is a scaled down version of the excellent C-3030Z. Some other cameras worth looking at include the Sony DSC-S70, Kodak DC4800, Toshiba PDR-M70, Casio QV-3000EX, Epson PhotoPC 3000Z, and the upcoming Canon PowerShot G1 (crowded field, eh?).

As always, I recommend a trip down to your local reseller to try these cameras yourself before you make any purchases.

Photo Gallery

So how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the sample photos in our photo gallery!

Want a second opinion? How about three or four?

Everyone else has already had their fun with the Coolpix 880: Steve's Digicams, Imaging Resource, and DP Review.

Jeff welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to jakeller@pair.com.

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