The back panel has a full set of controls of its own, starting with the dioptre adjustment wheel next to the deep-cupped EVF viewfinder. A selector button adjacent to the viewfinder toggles between the EVF and the swing-out, rotating 46mm (1.8-inch) LCD (although if the LCD is docked facing the camera, the EVF is selected automatically). Running down the centre-right of the back panel are five buttons for Autoexposure/Autofocus Lock, Menu, Quick Review, Self-timer/Trash, and Display Information. The traditional four-way navigation rocker switch has an embedded OK key.
No surface of this camera escapes unscathed: the left side accommodates a plastic door that covers the CompactFlash slot; the right side hosts a speaker, the DC power connector, and USB/AV-out ports; the bottom is home to a metal (not plastic) tripod socket; and the front is the site of the infrared receiver, the microphone, and the focus assist lamp, which was awkwardly placed on the flip-up flash in the Coolpix 8700.
With all these external controls, you'll need to access the three-level menu system chiefly to access playback features when reviewing your photos or to change setup options. If you don't care for the default menu structure, you can use Nikon's MyMenu system to predefine which 6 of the 21 different choices in the full shooting menu appear on the main screen.The Nikon Coolpix 8800's vibration reduction (VR) system dynamically shifts lens elements to compensate for camera shake when shooting stills and movies. This effectively lets you use shutter speeds three stops slower -- 1/30 second instead of 1/250 second, for example -- than you would otherwise need. (By contrast, Nikon's chief competition in the vibration-resistant, 8-megapixel EVF arena, the Minolta A200, builds its antishake technology into a floating CCD.)
Nikon's system takes care of everything from normal camera shake, which is magnified when the zoom is cranked all the way out to the telephoto setting, to overenthusiastic stabs at the shutter-release button. Although VR has been a notoriously poor choice when panning the camera, Nikon designed its implementation to detect intentional horizontal camera moves and apply VR in only the vertical direction. When camera motion is particularly egregious (as when shooting from a moving car), VR can be switched into a VR Active mode that cancels the compensation for panning. The feature also works as expected when auxiliary wide-angle or telephoto add-ons are attached but not when a fish-eye adapter is used.
The 10x zoom is wide enough at 35mm to be useful in tight corners and long enough at 350mm (both are 35mm-camera equivalents) to really benefit from the VR. The maximum aperture of f/2.8 drops to f/5.2 in the Tele position, and autofocus operates from about 508mm to infinity in normal focus mode and as close as 30mm when switched to macro. You can choose from centre focus, automatic five-area multifocus (with the selected focus area indicated in red), or manually select from any of nine autofocus areas using the cursor pad. If you want to focus manually, you'll need to hold down the focus button on the left side of the lens and rotate the command dial. Unfortunately, there's no central-area magnification to make manual focusing easier.
Exposure options include 256-segment matrix, centre-weighted, spot, and spot-AF metering. Shutter speed ranges from 2 seconds to 1/3,000 second in Auto and Program modes and from 8 seconds to 1/3,000 second in Manual, Shutter-Priority, and Aperture-Priority modes. In ultra-high-speed (30fps) burst mode, the shutter speed can be as brief as 1/8,000 second. You can tweak exposures up to plus or minus 2EV in 1/3EV steps. Alternatively, choose from among 15 scene presets, including Portrait, Party/Indoor, Night Portrait, Beach/Snow, Landscape, Sunset, Night Landscape, Museum, Fireworks, Close-up, Copy, Back Light, Panorama Assist, Sports, and Dusk/dawn.
As usual, Nikon's very cool Best Shot Selector proves to be an attractive way of capturing the optimal shot from a series of exposures. In standard BSS mode, the 8800 snaps off as many as 10 shots as long as the shutter release is depressed and saves only the sharpest one. Similarly, Highlight or Shadow BSS will save the shot that best preserves highlights or shadows, respectively. Histogram BSS mode compares the highlights and shadows for as many as five shots and saves the one with the widest tonal range. This Nikon's exposure autobracketing is versatile as well, letting you take either three or five shots, bracketed in your choice of 1/3EV, 2/3EV, or full EV steps. Autoexposure bracketing works in low- and high-speed burst modes, too. If you prefer, you can opt to bracket white-balance settings instead.
The brawny built-in flash reaches out to nearly 20 feet at the wide-angle setting, but you can slide an external flash such as Nikon's SB600 or SB700 into the hotshoe for full control, including zoom flash.
Film buffs can capture 640x480-pixel clips at 30fps for as long as 60 seconds, and 320x240-pixel movies in full colour or black and white at 15fps for as long as your memory card holds out. Nostalgic Charlie Chaplin fans can shoot sepia-toned movies at a herky-jerky 5fps and 320x240 resolution, too. A time-lapse mode captures as many as 1,050 images at any of five preset intervals ranging from 1 to 60 minutes.
You can also perform a limited amount of postshot editing in-camera. For instance, a Small Pic option creates e-mail-friendly 640x480, 320x240, or 160x120-pixel copies of selected shots. A D-lighting option brightens shadows postcapture, adding a kind of fill-flash effect to pictures you've already taken.