Canon SD880 IS Digital Elph
At a Glance
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Compact Camera
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Superb design, excellent picture quality and a wide-angle lens make the SD880 IS a divine travel companion.
Once again, Canon has upped the ante on point-and-shoot cameras. Not only is the SD880 IS Digital Elph stylish, durable, and exceptionally easy to use, it also takes great pictures and provides 28mm of wide-angle bliss. (The SD880's focal range is 28mm to 112mm; the lower the first number is, the wider the angle of view that the camera can capture.)
That wide-angle capability should strike a chord with anyone who's combed camera catalogues in search of the perfect point-and-shoot--28mm is a rare trait indeed. Even the pricier SD990 IS, Canon's other new addition to the Digital Elph series, offers only 36mm on the wide end.
With a street price of about $270, the SD880's primary wide-angle competitors are the Nikon Coolpix S600 and S610, as well as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX37. The specs on those cameras and on the SD880 IS are nearly identical, but one significant difference is focal range: the Lumix's 25mm-to-125mm lens is wider and longer than the 28mm-to-112mm lenses of both those Nikon models and the Canon SD880. If this nudges you toward the Lumix, remember that the Lumix's LCD screen is half an inch smaller than the SD880's big, bright 3-inch display.
So what are other reasons for going with the Canon? First, although the SD880 is slightly bigger than all but the Coolpix S610, I find it the most comfortable to hold. Its controls are also the most logically placed: It's easy to keep a firm, single-handed grip on the camera, even while thumbing the buttons on the back. The SD880 also has a rear dial (new to the Elph series) that lets you scroll through menu options with lightning speed, and I find the SD880's menus to be the most intuitive compared with those on its competitors.
In the PC World Test Center's subjective tests, this camera's image quality and battery life both received a rating of Very Good. The SD880 IS's image quality was particularly outstanding in terms of color accuracy, exposure, and sharpness, which all earned Very Good ratings. Distortion was a mild weak spot, although the SD880 IS still managed a Good score from our jury testers.
In battery life, the rechargeable lithium ion battery lasted 310 shots on a single charge, earning, as noted, a Very Good rating (many of the other point-and-shoot cameras in our recent tests lasted 280 shots or less).
The SD880's innards are equally impressive: It boasts Canon's new Digic 4 processor which--along with faster processing speeds, more accurate white balance, and better image quality--enabled Canon to add features known as Servo AF (continuous focus tracking for moving subjects) and i-Contrast. The latter, which can be applied during shooting or in playback mode, lets you see more detail in shadowy areas than with any of the earlier Elphs.
On the downside, you don't get an optical viewfinder, although these days that's a standard omission in order to make room for larger LCD screens. The SD880 also lacks manual focus and aperture settings, but it does have 13 slow shutter speed choices (between one and 15 seconds) and exposure compensation. Finally, note that the SD880 is bigger than its competitors and definitely too heavy for a shirt pocket. For me, this isn't an issue, as it fits in my hand perfectly and in my jeans pocket just fine.
All told, the SD880 is one of the best point-and-shoot cameras I've seen in its price range. If you don't mind the extra ounces and the lack of manual functions (it is a point-and-shoot, after all), you'll be smitten with this camera.