• Price When Reviewed: £699.99 including VAT

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Nikon has developed a habit of releasing a class-leading digital camera every year at premium prices, then following it with a cheaper consumer model a few months later. This year it was the £850 CoolPix 990, with a two-piece body and 3x zoom lens. It’s now duly been followed by the £700 CoolPix 880, with a smaller single-piece body and 2.5x zoom lens. But don’t assume that the 880 is a stripped-down 990 – it’s actually even more sophisticated, but aimed at a different type of photographer. CoolPix 880 is a conventionally shaped digital camera with a 3.34 megapixel CCD for 1,536-x-2,048 pixel images. It has a 2.5x Nikkor zoom lens equivalent to 38-93mm, with 48-step autofocus from 4cm to infinity. Nikon’s aftermarket telephoto, wide-angle and fisheye adaptors can be fitted. There’s a 1.8-inch LCD preview/playback monitor and an optical viewfinder to save batteries or for bright conditions. The built-in flash has redeye and slow-shutter modes, but there’s no facility to add an external flashgun. So far, so much like the other mid-range digitals. Where the new Nikon differs is in its wide range of pre-programmed ‘Scene’ settings for difficult photographic conditions. There are 11 in total: Portrait (wide aperture to defocus background); Party/Indoor (flash with redeye setting); Night portrait (flash balanced to include background); Beach/snow (exposure compensated to preserve brightness); Landscape (flash off, focus at infinity); Sunset (exposes for sky, not ground), Night landscape (flash off, long exposure); Fireworks Show (faster shutter response, wide aperture); Close Up (macro mode focus, manual autofocus zone choice); Copy (high contrast for copying text or drawings); and Back Light (exposes for bright backgrounds and fires flash to fill in foregrounds). These all work well, in particular the Back Light, Fireworks Show and Sunset. The shutter response is nearly instant for Fireworks, though unfortunately it only works for night scenes. It’s a pity, as like most consumer cameras, the standard shutter response is lethargic and you can miss fast-changing action. If you’re not sure of the relationships between aperture, shutter speed and depth of field on your camera, the Nikon Scenes are great – they’ll let you get good results in conditions that most cameras’ auto settings can’t cope with. Also useful in camera-shake conditions is the Best Shot Selection mode, that shoots several images then saves the sharpest. If you’re confident about your abilities, the 880 provides a very good range of manual controls. Getting at them often means wading through function screens, though there are four function buttons for common choices. In particular you can set the shutter and aperture independently – the shutter runs between 1/1000 and 8 seconds, but there are only two apertures – f/2.8 and f/7.8 – which is limiting. You can switch the sensitivity between ISO 100, 200 and 400. Autofocus modes include a choice of five target zones and a full manual. Metering has four optional patterns including spot. Image sharpening, contrast and white balance can be adjusted. You can choose single shots or continuous shooting every 1.5 seconds. A multi-shot option takes 16 thumbnails and combines them into a 4-x-4 collage. There are two 320-x-240 pixel movie modes: up to 40 seconds at 15fps, or 70 separately saved frames at about 30fps. Image quality is very good. The test unit consistently hit the right exposures and colour balance and rarely needed correction in Photoshop, even with ‘difficult conditions’ Scenes. The lens seems marginally less sharp than the CoolPix 990’s and doesn’t focus as closely, but has less edge distortion. The standard 880 bundle includes a 16MB CompactFlash card, rechargeable Li-ion battery, power adaptor/charger, Nikon View 3 viewing and downloading software, Photoshop LE and FotoStation 4.0 image database. A USB cable is supplied, but serial cables for Mac and PC are optional.