In a war this close, choosing the victor is far less fun than waging the battles themselves. I say this because it was a tough call and regardless of outcome, have thoroughly enjoyed both of these memory-capture devices.
Aesthetics and usage
While I generally prefer the color black to silver, I can’t get over the awkward wannabe-sports-car shape of the SD990IS. Further adding insult to injury is that those odd contours lead to a physically clumsy holding position. The thumb has no home like it does on the SD880IS. Holding the 880 feels far more natural. Insignificant as it may sound, this small difference has led me to generally enjoy using the 880 more than the 990.
Even so, the SD990′s optical viewfinder will inevitably be missed by SD880 users, and the quick-shot mode which makes specific use of, is very cool.
The SD880′s wide angle lens is fun – useful in both indoor and outdoor situations, simply a great feature I wish the 990 had an option for.
Manual-mode on the SD990 is as it is on all Canon camera’s – useful if you read the manual and/or are particularly meticulous about photography. The SD880′s program-mode offers a few manual options such as exposure time. I figure, if you’re the type to really tweak, you probably have or are in the market for a D-SLR camera.
Win: SD880IS (but very close)
Overall photo quality
So do the additional 4.7MP spec-advantage of the SD990IS equate to better pictures? Absolutely – the SD990IS has superior IQ and a bigger sensor (however slight) than the SD880IS. This is apparent in the clearer less noise better focused pictures in every shooting environment. Noise is the single largest complaint of the SD880IS and after taking some 200 photos with both cameras, I can see why.
Photo file sizes (.JPG only used, in auto-mode) are also advantage SD990 – at 9MP/Large which is comparable to the SD880′s 10MP setting, files – in general – are almost ½ as big as the 880. With the larger file size there is no discernible quality advantage. At full resolution, a typical 14.7MP 990′s image file range from 3.5 to 5.5MB depending on settings.
Which to choose?!
From the first moment I held the both, I generally wanted the SD880IS: ~$100 cheaper, wide-angle lens, huge LCD and subtle-yet-slick styling. In the weeks I wavered between the two, I really wanted to want the SD990IS for it’s better picture quality and optical viewfinder which I knew I’d eventually miss. However, I found myself more often picking up and snapping shots with the SD880IS. Its elegant and modern form factor as well as “handling” I can only continue to say is totally natural won me over – the slightly lighter and smaller body certainly helped pull the tide, too. Undeniable though, was the nicer photos the 990 consistently delivered.
Tie (yes, I know, COP-OUT!)
So… wait, what?
I’m keeping the SD990IS. The facts are that aesthetics are ultimately irrelvant and awkwardness is hardly a reason to dismiss an otherwise superior camera. I want to take great pictures after-all, and while the wide-angle lens is a loss, the additional zoom and capabilities are definite gains.
The final factor was made by a weight neither camera had control over. Dell is fantastic for returns and I waited too long to return the 990IS to Adorama (they only offer 14 days from order, oops!)
Ultimately both Canon’s are fantastic point and shoot cameras. Their differences place them in similar yet different target audiences: SD990IS edges towards the professional photographer type and the SD880IS is certain to be a favorite among party-goers, like those who love(d) the infamous Polaroid camera.