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Canon Digital IXUS 870IS / PowerShot SD 880IS ELPH Gordon Laing, November 2008
   
 

Canon IXUS 870IS / PowerShot SD 880IS verdict

The Canon Digital IXUS 870IS / PowerShot SD 880IS ELPH is a very classy compact which builds upon the success of its predecessor. The individual improvements may be relatively minor when viewed alone, but as a whole add up to a well-featured compact which performs confidently and delivers good-looking results under a variety of conditions.

The lens may have only received a small boost to extend it from a 3.8x to 4x range, but at least the 28mm wide angle coverage and effective optical stabilisation are still present. Bizarrely, the IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS remains one of the few compacts in Canon’s current range with 28mm wide angle capabilities, and we’re glad to find it here as it allows you to more easily capture expansive landscapes, large buildings, cramped interiors or simply big group shots when you can’t step back any further. Note to Canon’s planning department – more models with 28mm coverage please, and also enable the optical zoom while filming, even if we can hear the motor.




Canon IXUS 870IS / PowerShot SD 880IS


The slightly redesigned body and controls are an improvement, with the IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS looking slim without compromising comfort, and the new physical wheel on the back working much more easily than the touch-sensitive control of its predecessor.

The 3in screen may be the same size with the same 230k resolution as before, but looks brighter and more vibrant in use; indeed it’s one of the best-looking 3in / 230k screens we’ve seen to date. The user interface may not have changed from its predecessor, but since this already presented quick and easy means to adjust popular settings, we’re not complaining – and it’s even easier to operate now thanks to the new control wheel. Another useful option – albeit also inherited from the older model – is the focus-check review which shows an enlarged portion of the active focus point immediately after you’ve taken a photo – great for checking the expressions of faces in portraits and group shots.

 
Canon IXUS 870IS / PowerShot SD 880IS - rear view
 
 

Probably the biggest single improvement is the presence of Canon’s latest DIGIC 4 processor which brings several benefits. First is the modern H.264 codec for video, which maintains the same quality as before but with a reduction in file size of around 30%, although sadly there’s no HD nor even widescreen video options. The face detection is also improved, now recognising almost complete profiles, and the new face self-timer option (which waits for a new person to appear and settle in the scene before taking the photo) is a considerate addition. The new Servo AF mode also managed to track on-coming subjects, although the modest 1.4fps continuous shooting eliminates action sequences. The general handling of the camera did feel quicker and more responsive though.

DIGIC 4 also promises superior noise reduction, although we didn’t notice any perceptible difference between the IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS and its predecessor in this regard. The jump from 8 to 10 Megapixels also doesn’t make much difference in terms of real-life detail.

As far as downsides are concerned, it’s a shame there’s no HD video recording, despite the presence of an image processor which could at least handle the real-time encoding. Continuous shooting is effectively useless at 1.4fps and there’s still no live histogram either. Like most compacts there’s no manual control, and while we have no complaints over Canon’s automatic performance, it’s worth noting several rival models now offer more sophisticated options with intelligent scene recognition. Indeed it’s revealing that Panasonic’s slightly older Lumix FX35 addresses most of these downsides. So before our final wrap-up, how does the IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS compare to the competition.

Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35

 
 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35
 
 

Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-FX35 is one of the best compacts of 2008 and like the IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS, offers excellent build quality and a slick user interface with quick and easy access to settings. The FX35 does however boast several key advantages over the IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS. For starters while both offer 4x optically-stabilised zooms with wide angle coverage, the FX35’s is particularly wide, starting at an equivalent of 25mm to the Canon’s 28mm. This gives it unusually wide angle coverage and is an advantage if you’re regularly faced with very large landscapes, buildings or group shots.

The FX35 may not feature Canon’s modern H.264 video compression, but does boast HD movies in the 720p format, and even its standard definition mode offers a widescreen option. The FX35 also has one of the most sophisticated Auto modes on the market with a number of effective technologies including scene recognition. It also offers quicker continuous shooting than the Canon with up to three frames at full resolution taken at 2.5fps, or a 2 Megapixel mode which shoots at 6fps. Finally, the FX35 is also a little shorter than the Canon, giving it a much smaller appearance without compromising comfort or handling. Oh, and there’s a live histogram option too.

It sounds like a slam-dunk for the Panasonic, but the IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS has some advantages too. The image quality was a little punchier without going over-the-top in processing. Its screen is larger at 3in to the Panasonic’s 2.5in, and looks great in use. The rear control wheel is a quick and satisfyingly tactile was to scroll through options and the camera feels slightly more responsive in general. The face-detect self timer and Servo AF options are also nice to have.

Ultimately though the FX35 out-features the Canon and since the FX37’s announcement in July 2008, prices on this only slightly older model (announced in January 2008) have fallen to a very competitive level. As such the FX35 represents great value right now and despite a slightly enhanced successor, still remains a well-featured rival to the new Canon.

As always though, much of the choice between them boils down to which looks and feels best to you in person. They’re both great compacts, capable of delivering similar quality, and come Highly Recommended. See our Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX35 review for more details, or if you’d prefer to spend a little extra for a version with a longer 5x zoom and AF tracking, check out the latest prices on the new Lumix FX37 (USA) / Lumix FX37 (UK).

Compared to Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T77

 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T77
 
 

Sony’s Cyber-shot DSC-T77 is the gadget-packed successor to last year’s popular T70, and a key rival to the IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS. Both are 10 Megapixel cameras with 4x optically-stabilised zoom ranges and 3in screens, but from there the Sony is a completely different beast.

For starters it’s much slimmer at just 15mm thick to the Canon’s 24mm, while also featuring a stylish front panel which slides up and down both to protect the lens and power the camera on and off. Round the back is a 3in screen, but unlike the Canon it’s widescreen in shape and touch-sensitive. Beyond the power, zoom and shutter release controls, the T77’s entire operation is performed by tapping various icons on the screen.

The T77 additionally features smile recognition which can delay taking a photo until the subject looks sufficiently happy, along with a new scene recognition option which automatically switches between eight presets. It also offers a live histogram while composing if desired.

In the Canon’s favour is a wider and more useful optical zoom range of 28-112mm to the Sony’s 35-140mm. Its screen may not be touch-sensitive but with a 4:3 aspect ratio it matches the shape of its sensor and looks much bigger and brighter in use – not to mention with far fewer visible fingerprints. Canon’s user interface and general handling also feels much quicker than the T77.

Much of the T77’s appeal comes down to its slim dimensions and touchscreen. Some will fall in love at first sight (and tap), while others will find it hard to hold and often infuriating to operate. If you fall into the former camp, it’s well worth considering. Look out for our full review coming soon.

Canon IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS final verdict

Canon’s IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS is a very enjoyable compact to use in practice. It feels good, handles quickly and takes great looking images with the minimum of fuss. Quite simply it’s very intuitive and works well without ever getting in the way of your photo taking. This may seem like an obvious requirement for a camera, but we tested the IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS alongside several other compacts and found it one of the easiest and most preferable in general use.

The core features of a 4x stabilised lens with wide angle coverage, a great-looking 3in screen, quick handling with intuitive controls, and reliable picture-taking make it an easy compact to recommend.

But the competition hasn’t stood still. Most notably, Panasonic is producing some excellent compacts these days, with its slightly older and cheaper FX35 boasting wider coverage, HD movie recording and scene recognition over the Canon. In the meantime, the company’s latest FX37 adds AF tracking and extends the zoom range to 5x while keeping the 25mm coverage for roughly the same price as the Canon. These are key rivals for the IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS and should be carefully compared in person to see not just which feature-set better suits you, but also which model looks and feels best in your hands.

If you end up preferring the Canon though, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re in the market for a quality compact and don’t require manual controls, the IXUS 870IS / SD 880IS comes Highly Recommended.

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Good points
28mm coverage and stabilisation.
Quality 3in screen and user interface.
Good face detection and focus check.
H.264-encoded movies, but still VGA.

Bad points
Little or no manual control.
Modest continuous shooting of 1.4fps.
No live histogram.
No HD movie mode.



Scores

(relative to 2008 compacts)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

18 / 20
17 / 20
16 / 20
17 / 20
18 / 20

86%

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All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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