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Canon Powershot SD880 IS (IXUS 870 IS)
10.0MP | 28-112mm (4X) ZOOM | $250 US / £200 UK

The SD880 IS sits near the top of Canon's SD/Ixus range of small, style-orientated cameras - there are higher pixel count models available, but this one instead offers a wide-angle lens that, for most people, will be more useful, and certainly wins points here. Its lofty position in the model range is reflected in its premium price though the feature set is, in typical Canon fashion, surprisingly conservative; with 'only' ten million pixels (on the smallest sensor here), and little of the latest gadgety frippery such as HD movie recording or touch screen operation. What you do get is a useful 28-112mm (equiv.) zoom range in a truly pocketable package, optical image stabilization and a large 3.0 inch screen plus a decent level of control and Canon's superb, easy to master user interface.

  • 10.0 effective Megapixels
  • 28-112mm equiv lens with 4x Optical zoom and 4x Digital zoom
  • 3.0 inch LCD with 230,000 dot resolution
  • Dual Image Stabilizer
  • ISO sensitivity up to 1600
  • 4 shooting modes, 16 Scene Modes including Program Mode
  • Multi-Control Dial
  • DIGIC IV Processor for enhanced Face Detection with Face Selector button
  • In-camera Editing
  • 32 MB memory card supplied
  • Print/Share button with ID Photo print Option
  • Available in Gold and Silver
  • Optional accessories available, including Waterproof Case and Selphy Photo Printer

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Overview

The SD880 IS (or Ixus 870 IS if you insist on living outside the US) instantly feels like a quality piece of kit. It's a weighty camera made of metal and well-chosen plastics that give off an air of solidity. The design is a rather more adventurous than we're used to seeing in the SD/Ixus range, featuring curves, triangles and more trapezoids (or trapeziums for those who insist on calling this model the Ixus 870 IS) than any other camera we can think of. The geometric adventures don't stop it being a pleasant camera to use, though, with large, simple buttons that are unlikely to confuse anyone. The camera's four-way controller is surrounded by a dial, rather than doubling as one, which minimizes the chances of you turning the dial when you wanted to press a button, or vice-versa.

The use interface is entirely consistent with other contemporary Canons (and very similar to older ones), giving access to a short, but sensibly selected, set of common shooting settings via the 'Func' menu and keeping everything else in a well-arranged main menu. The dial around the four-way controller is a little too easily nudged, making it a bit too easy to find yourself trying to take a portrait in firework mode, for example. We like the idea of ISO 3200 being a distinct mode (it separates it from settings you might want to use on a regular basis, and also means users who don't read the manual may live blissfully unaware that it even exists), though we were less impressed by the fact that using ISO 3200 prevents the selection of exposure compensation.

Key Features

The SD880 IS isn't as small as the cameras we tested in our 'Slim camera' roundup, but it's a fraction smaller than most of the models we've lined it up against here. There's a tiny thumb grip, patterned like broken ice, just next to the screen and exactly where your hand falls. The buttons are large, clear and don't get in the way when you hold the camera.
As well as a four-way controller (with direct access to ISO sensitivity), the SD880 IS has a dial that runs around its outside. It's predominantly used for changing modes and scrolling through images in playback mode. We like that it's separate from the four-way controller but are still a little concerned about how easily its knocked when you're trying to do something else.
The buttons on the back of the SD880 IS are very large and easy to operate. They're also kept clear of areas you might want to rest your fingers when gripping the camera. Those interesting raised triangles provide a good, grippy surface for your thumb to rest on.
The Canon's lens provides it with one of the best focal length ranges in this test. Like most of the cameras here, it starts at a very handy 28mm equivalent and ventures on to a not unreasonable 112mm equiv. It's also image stabilized, which should up your 'keeper' quotient.
Yup, it's that familiar Canon look-and-feel. Exposure compensation and White Balance (two of the key factors in ensuring your images accurately reflect the scene you were shooting) are both easily accessed via the 'Func' menu.

Image quality and performance

The SD880 IS is a fairly snappy performer, with consistently quick autofocus and very low shutter lag. Its shot-to-shot time is a little more pedestrian, taking around 2 seconds between shots (in single shot shooting mode), but improving to around 1.4 frames-per-second in continuous shooting mode. The flash recycle times are about that you'd expect for a Lithium-Ion powered camera: they slow the shooting rate considerably and even more so if you turn red-eye reduction on, but the resulting pace isn't terrible (about 2.5 second per shot).

Despite (or perhaps as a result of) having the lowest nominal resolution in this group the SD880 IS produced some of the best results across the board, with sharp, detailed results at lower ISO settings and surprisingly good output higher up the scale. Exposure and focus are generally very reliable (though we did see some highlight clipping in strong sunlight), and the lens seems to perform well across the zoom range, with just a little corner softness at the widest (28mm equiv.) setting. The only significant problem is fairly strong red/purple fringing at high contrast edges, but even this wasn't a major issue at normal print sizes. Color is excellent; vivid without being over the top, and overall we doubt the typical user would find much to complain about.

Yes there's a touch of softness when viewed at 100% (at a pixel level) and some very mild smearing of shadow detail, but at ISO 80 the SD880's ten megapixels easily match the higher resolution cameras in this group. Color, contrast, white balance and sharpness are all surprisingly good for a pocket camera.

Canon's relatively lighthanded approach to noise reduction means that higher ISO shots retain more detail than some other cameras in this group, but they are, it has to be said, pretty grainy even at small print sizes.

Summary

Where many manufacturers play around with different interfaces and designs from generation to generation, Canon has always preferred a more evolutionary approach, fine tuning and tweaking here and there but rarely making any radical changes to the fundamental design and operation of its compacts. This means that the PowerShot range has a maturity that's missing from many of its competitors, and the SD880 IS, like most of its stablemates, just feels 'sorted'.

It's nicely designed, well built, responsive, easy to use and offers reliable point and shoot operation with few focus, exposure or color errors. The image quality is better than several of the higher pixel count models here, and though you can't expect miracles at higher ISO settings on a compact, we liked the fact that Canon hasn't sacrificed all detail to produce the cleanest possible result. The useful 28-112mm range, optical image stabilization and decent feature set mean that the SD880 IS offers an attractive, easily pocketable, carry anywhere camera.

  • We like: Easy to use, useful feature set, great screen, good image quality

  • We don't like: Selection dial easy to knock in use, high ISO noise
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