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Canon Civil War – SD880IS vs SD990IS – part one

Sizing up the Competitors

SD880IS and SD990IS retail boxes

These are Canon’s brand-new Digital ELPH ultra-compact point and shoot cameras, currently top of the line in each of their convoluted-naming-scheme classes. While I could list all of each camera’s specs, I won’t because their feature sets are essentially the same. (Feel free to read up on them on Canon’s website: SD880IS, SD990IS.) Like in war, it’s the differences that are the heart of matter.

Here is what each packs in its armory, aka spec deviations:


  • SD880IS – 10.0 Megapixel, 1/2.3-inch sensor type Charge Coupled Device (CCD)
  • SD990IS – 14.7 Megapixel, 1/1.7 inch … CCD
  • Be sure to check out Justin’s comment regarding what these numbers actually translate to (the short of it is that the SD990IS leads with a slightly higher concentration of MP/Sensor size.) Thanks Justin!

Lens and Focus:

  • SD880IS – Wide Angle Lens 5.0-20.0mm f/2.8-5.8 (35mm film equivalent: 28-112mm)
  • Macro: 0.8 in.-1.6 ft./2-50cm (W), 1.0-1.6 ft./30-50cm (T)
    Digital Macro: 0.8 in. – 1.6 ft./2-50cm (W)
  • SD990IS – 7.7-28.5mm f/2.8-5.8 (35mm film equivalent: 36-133mm)
  • Macro: 2.0 in.-1.6 ft./5-50cm (W), 1.3-1.6 ft./40-50cm (T)
    Digital Macro: 2.0 in. – 1.6 ft./5-50cm (W)
  • BOTH – Normal: 1.6 ft./50cm-infinity

Canon SD880 and SD990 front shot


  • SD880IS – No optical viewfinder, 3″ LCD, 230K pixels
  • SD990IS – Optical viewfinder and 2.5″ LCD, 230K pixels

Shooting Modes:

  • SD880IS – N/A
  • SD990IS – Manual, Quick
  • BOTH – Auto, P(rogram), Special Scene (Portrait, Foliage, Snow, Beach, Sunset, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, ISO 3200, Indoor, Kids & Pets, Night Snapshot), Color Accent, Color Swap, Digital Macro, Stitch Assist), Movie


  • SD880IS – 4x Optical/4x Digital/16x Combined
  • SD990IS – 3.7x Optical/4x Digital/15x Combined

Canon SD880 and SD990 back shot

Flash Power/Range:

  • SD880IS – 1.0-13.8 ft./30cm-4.2m (W), 1.0-6.6 ft./30cm-2.0m (T)
  • SD990IS – 1.6-15 ft./50cm-4.6m (W), 1.6-7.9 ft./50cm-2.4m (T)

Continuous Shooting Speed:

  • SD880IS – 1.4fps
  • SD990IS – 1.3fps

Shooting Capacity (shots per charge:)

  • SD880IS – Still Image: approx. 310 shots (LCD screen on*)
  • SD990IS – Still Image: approx. 280 shots/700 shots (LCD off)

Weight and Dimensions:

  • SD880IS – 3.69 x 2.24 x 0.93 in./93.8 x 56.8 x 23.6mm; Approx. 5.47 oz./155g (camera body only)
  • SD990IS – 3.81 x 2.45 x 1.10 in./96.7 x 62.2 x 27.9mm; Approx. 5.64 oz./160g (camera body only)

Canon SD880 and SD990 top shot

The SD990IS is about 50-100 $USD more; I purchased the SD880IS for ~$200 and the SD990IS for ~$300. (approx. Dec. 15 ’08)

Essentially the SD880IS has it all, at 1/3rd the price. The wide-angle lens is certainly fun and oft sought after. Not having an optical view finder is a detriment however, as it can be used to gain steadier shots (use your head) and gain additional battery life. Additionally, the SD990IS has a couple of shooting modes (namely *manual*) some people will require. The dramatic sounding 4.7 sounding megapixel contrast is a toss up; chances are we won’t see the loss unless we’re blowing up our photos, poster size. Lastly, macro focus appears, according to the spec, superior with the SD880IS but I sense that is not the whole story.

The war continues: Canon Civil War part two, through the eyes of the Combatants

p.s. please excuse the pics in this post as they were taken with my elderly PowerShot S50.

here’s a couple high-quality versions of the bodies:
SD880IS front, courtsey

SD990IS, courtsey


  1. They say that given two cameras with the same number of megapixels, a larger CCD generally results in better pictures because it means larger individual photoreceptors and less noise (at any light level). This partly explains the quality of photos coming out of the DSLR class of cameras.

    I wanted to dig into the CCD specs a little deeper since it’s clear that these cameras do not contain 1×2.3″ or 1×1.7″ sensors. According to Digital Photography Review, the SD990’s sensor size is 7.60×5.70mm and the SD880’s sensor is actually a smaller 6.16×4.62mm. Of course these two cameras do not have the same number of megapixels. Realizing this, they calculated a pixel density for both cameras, with the SD990 at 34 MP/cm² and the SD880 at 35 MP/cm². Surprisingly the SD990 eeks out a slight lead here.

    I still vote for the 880 (for the big screen and the wide angle lens), but I’d be curious to read in one of your upcoming posts about what the 990’s “manual” mode offers that the 880 doesn’t have.

    Posted on 23-Dec-08 at 9:02 am | Permalink
  2. By contrast, my Ricoh GR Digital II has a 10 megapixel 7.36×5.52mm CCD which works out to a 25 MP/cm² pixel density.

    The Sigma DP1, much-maligned, but the first large sensor point and shoot on the market has a funky 4.6 megapixel 20.7×13.8mm Foveon CMOS sensor with a pixel density of 1.6 MP/cm².

    Posted on 23-Dec-08 at 9:16 am | Permalink
  3. @Justin thanks for that indepth info!

    (I was about to make this calculation myself after your first comment when I noticed one was still in the mod-queue.)

    I plan to focus my next entry on usability of the two, especially what sort of advantages the sd990is’ manual mode may have.

    Gotta say, I am definitely leaning towards the 880… but man is that black slick looking and I did use the viewfinder on my S50 a lot. The deciding factor will probably come down to which can take a better macro photo – specs seem to dictate the 880, but we shall see.

    Posted on 23-Dec-08 at 2:43 pm | Permalink
  4. bob

    huge 880vs990 thread

    “The 990 images are *much* less noisy even at the same ISO. ”

    “There’s no question that IQ is better on the 990 indoors. ”

    “that is the same kind of noise/distortion I got with my 880…really hated it. Unacceptable in my opinion.”

    “14.7Mp tiny sensor beats 10Mp Pinhead sensor by quite a margin there for NR / noise at 100% . go one stage further and reduce the 990 to 10Mp and re-sharpen and it’ll wipe the floor with the 10Mp camera .. this was my argument for the A650 over the A720 before any handling, build, battery life or any of the other numerous practicality improvements the 650 offered came into play..”

    “Yes, I’m leaning toward the 990. Most of my shots will be indoors with challenging light conditions. The 990 clearly handled this better than the 880.”

    Posted on 24-Dec-08 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

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