Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Review

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  • Pros

    • Good shutter lag and AF performance
    • Good color rendition
    • Excellent lens performance

  • Cons

    • No viewfinder
    • Sharpening images requires post processing outside of camera

With the introduction of the Canon PowerShot SD880 IS as successor to the SD870 IS, Canon embarks on the implementation of its newest DIGIC IV processor technology into an SD product line that also includes the DIGIC IV equipped SD990 IS at present.

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

Lined up next to the SD870 that it shares many features with, the SD880 has received some of the usual follow-on camera re-works: pixel count on the sensor increases, an improved monitor, and the latest generation image processor. Bumping up pixel counts on the small sensors in compact digitals typically negatively impacts noise performance, so it was good to see that Canon has installed a slightly larger 1/2.3-inch CCD sensor in place of the 1/2.5-inch imager in the SD870. So far so good – let’s take a closer look at the SD880 and see what we find.


The SD880 comes with a 10 megapixel CCD sensor, a Canon Pure Color II 3.0 inch monitor, face detection technology, a 28mm lens at the wide end of the zoom equation, and ISO 1600 capability – features which, with the exception of the larger sensor, sound an awful lot like the feature mix for the SD870. The big difference is the inclusion of the DIGIC IV image processor and the improvements and features Canon says it brings to the 880 IS: “markedly improved” face detection and a face detection self-timer that automatically detects an increase in the number of faces and makes the appropriate adjustments.

In addition, the SD880 also gets motion detection technology that tracks moving subjects in a much larger range than before, and the new Servo AF which retains focus on a moving subject after the shutter button is pressed halfway – allowing you to wait for a certain shot without refocusing. Other improvements include Intelligent Contrast Correction, more accurate noise reduction for better image quality (even at high ISOs), and iSAPS Technology, an entirely original scene-recognition technology developed for digital cameras by Canon that uses an internal database of thousands of different photos with the DIGIC IV Image Processor to improve focus speed and accuracy, as well as exposure and white balance.

Basic hardware for the SD880 IS consists of a 4x molded glass aspheric zoom lens with a 35mm-equivalent focal range of 28 to 112mm. Here’s the view from both ends of the lens:

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Wide Angle

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

There’s also a nominal ISO 80 to 1600 range at full resolution, with ISO 3200 available at greatly reduced resolution (1600×1200 pixels). The camera is optically stabilized and accepts SD/SDHC or MMC memory media.
Canon includes a lithium-ion battery and charger, 32MB SD memory card, wrist strap, USB and AV cables and CD-ROM software with each camera.

There are four primary shooting modes:

  • Auto: The camera establishes most settings, but user can disable flash, select auto or high ISO, select macro and/or the self timer.
  • Program: The camera establishes most settings, but the user has a vastly enlarged menu of settings available, including manual ISO, continuous shooting, white balance, My Colors image manipulation, and exposure metering method/compensation. Certainly not manual controls, but the closest you’ll get with the SD880.
  • Special Scene: Permits user selection of any of 11 specific shooting modes, including portrait, foliage, snow, beach, sunset, fireworks, aquarium, underwater, indoor, kids and pets, and night snapshot. There’s also a stitch assist mode and the ISO 3200 reduced resolution shooting mode. The user may have some settings available, such as continuous shooting, flash and exposure compensation, but the camera is handling most functions, including auto ISO.
  • Movie: The camera can record movies at 640×480 or 320×240 pixel sizes at 30 fps. Maximum clip length/size is 1 hour or 4GB.

A quick clip shot at the camera’s default (320×240, 30 fps) settings shows the SD880’s movie mode in action:

Note: The video clip in the player above has been modified to fit the player. The unaltered original file can be downloaded for viewing here.

For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.

The SD880 is typical for this class of compact digital camera, resembling a deck of cards or cigarette pack in size.

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

Styling and Build Quality
While outwardly resembling its SD870 sibling, the SD880 has received some subtle contour reshaping of the metal body it shares with the older camera.

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

This site’s review of the SD870 noted some problems with the shutter button and power switch proximity; these controls have been re-worked a bit on the SD880 and I had no problems with this camera, which appears well-built and solid.

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

Ergonomics and Interface
Having dispensed with the power/shutter button concerns from the earlier camera, the SD880 presents a simple and straightforward package for the user. The body is smooth and there’s no area that promotes any sort of secure feel when holding the camera, particularly one-handed, so like most cameras of this size and shape the SD880 cries out for use of the wrist strap to avoid drops.

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

Beyond that, the camera control layout is clean, and in the shooting modes where the user has input available, virtually any of the shift-on-the-fly sorts of settings are quickly available via the external controls and without resort to internal menus. Switching between the various shooting modes is also a simple matter.

The 3.0 inch Pure Color II LCD is of 230,000 pixel composition and is adjustable for 15 levels of brightness.

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

This monitor seemed a bit better for image composition in bright, difficult outdoor lighting situations than most other monitors I’ve experienced in this class of camera, probably owing to its size. It’s still not fun to use in bright light, but in the absence of a viewfinder it could have been worse (and many cameras are). Coverage is listed by Canon as 100 percent.

The SD880 offered some pleasant surprises along with typical compact digital performance in other areas, but overall was a rather enjoyable camera to use.

Timings and Shutter Lag
The SD880 powers up and is ready to acquire focus in about a second – I was able to power up, acquire focus and capture an image in 1.8 seconds under good conditions. Shutter lag came out to about 0.03 seconds, but you’ll add a couple of tenths to that with flash enabled. AF acquisition time in good conditions ran about 0.32 seconds – there is an AF assist lamp for use in dim light where times predictably lengthen, but were still quite acceptable.

Shutter Lag (press-to-capture, pre-focused)

Camera Time (seconds)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T500 0.02
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700 0.02
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS 0.03
Canon PowerShot A1000 IS 0.04
Fujifilm FinePix F60fd 0.05

AF Acquisition (press-to-capture, no pre-focus)

Camera Time (seconds)
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700 0.23
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T500 0.40
Fujifilm FinePix F60fd 0.42
Canon PowerShot A1000 IS 0.46

Continuous shooting speed worked out to about 1.4 fps with a Lexar 133x SD card. Canon says that as the number of images increases that shooting intervals may take longer, but you can’t prove it by me – the SD880 was happily humming along at the same pace when I quit after 25 shots. DCR editor David Rasnake shot the SD880 and said the number is “infinite”. Suffice it to say the SD880 will shoot a bunch if you want it to.

Continuous Shooting

Camera Frames Framerate
Fujifilm FinePix F60fd 3 2.5 fps
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T700 10 1.6 fps
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS 1.4 fps
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T500
1.4 fps
Canon PowerShot A1000 IS 5 1.4 fps

Note: Continuous shooting framerates are based on the camera’s fastest full-resolution JPEG continuous shooting mode, using the fastest media type available (300x CF, SDHC, etc.), as tested in our studio. “Frames” notes the number of captures recorded per burst before the camera stops/slows to clear the buffer.

Even better for folks who like to shoot bursts, the SD880 has about an 0.8 second monitor blackout after the first shot in a continuous burst, but then it displays the shots virtually instantly; if you’re able to keep the camera on a moving subject after the first shot, staying with the subject after that gets decidedly easier. Unfortunately, like many cameras in the class, the SD880 appears to be establishing focus and exposure with the first shot of a group and then applying it to all the rest of the shots in a sequence. Canon’s user manual doesn’t say one way or the other, but focus and exposure settings for a distant subject carried over after panning to nearby subjects in different lighting, resulting in some missed shots.

Single shot-to-shot times (shoot, write, acquire focus and shoot) were fairly slow, running over 4 seconds with both the 133 and 60x Lexar cards.

Lens and Zoom
The 4x zoom covers a 35mm film focal range of 28-112 mm, with maximum apertures ranging from a nicely fast f/2.8 to a fairly slow f/5.8. That focal range is good for general shooting and portraits of people, but it won’t get you close to distant small subjects. In the telephoto shots that follow, the egret was awaiting a handout from a nearby fisherman and allowed me a lot closer than prudence would ordinarily dictate, while the surfer was just too far away for the long end of the lens to overcome.

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

The lens will focus from 1.6 feet to infinity in normal operation, and as close as 0.8 inches in macro. There’s a 4x digital zoom that can be disabled via internal menu.

Auto Focus
The SD880 has three AF options which can be user specified via internal menu for most shooting modes. These options are face detect, AiAF, and center. Face detect is exactly what the name implies, AiAF allows the camera to choose a focus point from nine available areas, and center is also what the name implies. The AF frame size may also be user specified as small or large.

As was mentioned in the timings section of the review, AF acquisition times were good, and using the small AF frame in center mode allows for fairly specific focus points to be established. I found the large frame took in a fair amount of area that might include subjects at greatly differing distances from the camera.

Flash performance was good as to color fidelity, although if you shoot a lot (as I did) with ISO manually set to 80 for best image quality, flash range won’t make the Canon figures. With auto ISO selected, Canon rates the flash for a range of almost 14 feet at wide angle, and about 6.6 feet at telephoto.

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

Canon also claims a recycle time “ten seconds or less” with the battery at full charge. We managed about 8.1 seconds at the longest with a fully charged battery, and times could be significantly less depending on flash output. One nice feature of the SD880 is that after taking a flash shot, you can half-push the shutter button and hold it while the flash recycles (and the lightning bolt is flashing on the monitor). As soon as the flashing icon goes steady, the camera will try to acquire focus if the shutter button is still half-pushed. The camera will not allow you to capture an image with the flash enabled while the flash is recycling, but the half-push and hold during recycling gets you going again at the soonest possible moment.

Image Stabilization
Optical image stabilization via lens shift is this PowerShot’s primary image stabilization method, but the SD880 may have another trick up its sleeve thanks to the DIGIC IV processor. The SD880 incorporates what Canon calls Motion Detection Technology, which “consolidates motion information for both the camera and the photographic subject and determines whether the subject has moved and what if any adjustments to focus or exposure needs to be made.” Canon goes on to note that, “when paired with Canon’s Optical Image Stabilization system, the motion detection system’s onboard vibration-detecting gyro senses and compensates for movement due to camera shake, even if the subject remains still.”

Canon rates the SD880 battery for about 340 shots using their method, and whatever that happens to be pretty closely matched my experience. One word of caution – the battery “fuel gauge” on the SD880 stayed full for quite a while, then dropped to two bars (instead of three) and went red (low battery) soon after.

Default images out of the SD880 were generally pleasing, with accurate color reproduction and adequate sharpness.

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

After recently reviewing the DIGIC IV equipped Canon SX10 IS, I was curious how the SD880 would perform in the auto and scene modes that newer camera users can typically be expected to gravitate toward. The SX10 IS seemed a bit predisposed to ramp up sensitivity prematurely in some scene modes to the detriment of image quality in big enlargements, but the SD880 doesn’t seem as quick to pull the trigger on boosting ISO as its ultrazoom cousin. I shot a number of the special scene modes and was pleased to see the auto ISO starting at 80 in most cases with good light.

Here are foliage shots taken in program auto mode with sensitivity manually set at ISO 80, and in the foliage scene present with auto ISO (which the camera set at ISO 80 as well). As might be expected, the scene mode is a bit richer in the green tones than the program auto image, but the best part was the camera not opting to punch up the ISO.

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Program mode

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Foliage mode

Exposure, Processing, and Color
The SD880 offers evaluative, center-weighted, and spot metering methods to determine exposure, with evaluative being the default setting. The camera did a pretty good job dealing with difficult high contrast images, such as the egret with the darker water in the background seen early on in the review: a review of the histogram for this image shows only slight highlight clipping. While the SD880 did lose some highlights in extreme contrast situations, evaluative metering proved quite reliable across a wide range of exposure situations.

The camera is equipped with an Intelligent Contrast Correction system, “which controls the compensation level in pixel units to brighten dark areas while leaving bright areas unchanged for better images where the main subject is dark, and a more natural transition” from areas of light to dark. This feature is available as an in-camera setting applied to all photos, or as a post-processing tool for in-camera retouching of existing photos.

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
ICC Auto

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

The SD880 also features Canon’s My Colors menu option, which offers the user alternatives to the default color settings – here are the default, vivid, and neutral options (sepia and black and white settings are also available).

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

White Balance
Auto white balance proved accurate across a range of lighting conditions, but was very warm under incandescent (tungsten) lighting.

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Auto White Balance, 3200K incandescent light

We had hoped that this would be one area where DIGIC IV would make some noteworthy improvements, but unfortunately this hasn’t been the case.

Lens Faults
There’s not much to dislike with this lens. A bit of barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from center of image) was present at the wide end, but performance in this regard was better than a goodly number of other cameras I’ve reviewed in this class. The telephoto end exhibited no discernible pincushion distortion (straight lines bow in towards center of image), and the edges and corners were sharper than most other cameras from the class. There is some purple fringing in high contrast boundary areas, but the effect has minimal impact on any but the biggest of enlargements.

In short, this is not the best lens I’ve reviewed in this class of camera, but it is high on the list. Very good performance overall.

Sensitivity and Noise
Performance in this arena was about par for the course, as long as no Fuji Super CCD cameras are in the mix.

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
ISO 80
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
ISO 80, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
ISO 100
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
ISO 100, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
ISO 200
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
ISO 200, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
ISO 400
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
ISO 400, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
ISO 800
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
ISO 800, 100% crop
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
ISO 1600
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
ISO 1600, 100% crop

ISO 80 and 100 are pretty good and essentially indistinguishable from each other. ISO 200 shows a bit more noise, and my impression is that 200 in this camera might be just a tiny bit noisier than some competitors, but still pretty good nevertheless. ISO 400, 800, and 1600 are predictably worse, with the drop off between ISO 400 and 800 looking like the biggest single incremental loss to my eyes: the colors are less vibrant and the image quality appreciably softens, at least in the crops. There is an ISO 3200 special scene mode available which we didn’t shoot on our standard subject, but suffice it to say the image is produced at postcard size, and even shooting a light subject, ISO 3200 showed a definite drop in quality from the 1600 shot of the same subject. High ISO is there if you need it, but why bother when even an inexpensive tripod will let you shoot stationary subjects, at least, at ISO 80 or 100 in all sorts of light.

I shot some night scenes at the Mission Inn in Riverside, CA, using the camera in program auto with manual ISO set for 80, and also in auto with auto ISO. The camera was mounted on a tripod and the self-timer with 10 second delay was used to trip the shutter. The camera opted to set ISO 400 in the auto mode, and while the small images both don’t look too bad, the enlargements show off the better quality of the ISO 80 shot. The SD880 has a decent lens – don’t hamstring it by bumping the ISO over 200!

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Auto (ISO 400)

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Program (ISO 80)

Additional Sample Images

Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Canon PowerShot SD880 IS
Canon PowerShot SD880 IS Canon PowerShot SD880 IS

Canon’s website describes the SD880 as a “trendy and slick” addition to Canon’s digital ELPH line, words which fairly scream “marketing buzz” to any but the most inexperienced of photographers. However, Canon gets a pass for the language; the SD880 might be trendy and/or slick depending on your point of view, but it is definitely a pretty neat little camera when it comes to capturing images, which is the bottom line for our purposes.

One of the best lenses in this class of camera that I’ve come across, good shutter lag and focus acquisition times, good image quality and color rendition – the SD880 has a lot going for it. The lack of manual controls points this camera directly at relative newcomers to digital photography, but program mode delivers a fair amount of user-defined setting options that, while not substituting for manual controls, still give some means to take increased control of the image capture process. A good continuous shooting rate is tempered somewhat by the locked in focus and exposure settings, but if your subject stays in the same light and general distance from the camera, you can generate some impressive strings of shots should your needs require.

If one had to carry a compact digital without manual controls or a viewfinder, one could do a lot worse than the SD880.


  • Good shutter lag and AF performance
  • Good color rendition
  • Excellent lens performance


  • No viewfinder
  • Sharpening images requires post processing outside of camera


Sensor 10.0 megapixel, 1/2.3″ CCD
Lens/Zoom 4x (28-112mm) zoom lens, f/2.8-5.8
LCD/Viewfinder 3.0″, 230K-pixel PureColor II LCD; optical viewfinder
Sensitivity ISO 80-1600
Shutter Speed 15-1/1600 seconds
Shooting Modes Auto, Manual, Program, Scene, Movie
Scene Presets

Portrait, Night Snapshot, Kids & Pets, Indoor, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Indoor, Underwater, Digital Macro, Color Accent, Color Swap, Stitch Assist

White Balance Settings Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Fluorescent H, Manual
Metering Modes Evaluative, Center, Spot
Focus Modes AiAF, Spot AF (Center or Face Detect and Track)
Drive Modes Normal, Continuous, Self Timer
Flash Modes Auto, Forced On, Forced Off, Slow Sync, Red-Eye Reduction
Self Timer Settings
10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off
Memory Formats SD, SDHC
Internal Memory
File Formats JPEG, MOV
Max. Image Size 3648×2736
Max. Video Size
640×480, 30 fps
Zoom During Video No
Battery Rechargeable Lithium-Ion
Connections USB 2.0, AV output
Additional Features Face Detection, Motion Detection, Optical Image Stabilization, DIGIC IV Processor
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