Small body, large zoom, wide-angle lens, super small macro and manual overrides. It sounds like a hotlist for any photographer wanting a compact. The Nikon Coolpix P80 offers all these things, but will it give a performance worthy of the features?
The Nikon Coolpix P80 was replaced by the Nikon Coolpix P90, the latest version of this ultra-zoom camera is the Nikon Coolpix P510.
Nikon Coolpix P80: Specification
- Optical zoom: 18x optical
- Resolution: 10.1Mp
- Sensor type: CCD
- Colour: Black
- Max aperture: f/2.8
- Viewfinder type: LCD only
- Screen size: 2.7in
- Card format: SD/SDHC
- Battery model: EN-EL5
- Weight: 365g
- Size: 110x79x78mm
- Resolution: 3648 x 2736
- Minimum focus distance: 1cm
- Exposure modes: Program AE/SP/AP/M and 15 Scene Modes
- Screen resolution: 230,000 pixels
- File formats: JPEG
- Connectivity: USB
- Flash type: Built-in pop-up
- Image stabilisation: Vibration Reduction
- ISO min: 64
- ISO max: 6400
- PictBridge: No
- Face detection Technology: Face-Priority AF
The massive zoom on the Nikon is similar to the Fujifilm Finepix S8000fd at £189 and the Olympus SP-560 UZ at £242. The Olympus only has an 8Mp, as does the Fuji, but both are older being around since last year.
Nikon Coolpix P80: Modes and features
The size of the Coolpix P80 isn't indicative of the zoom or the features that are present. The camera is a compact box shape reminiscent of the low-end bridge cameras of a few years ago. The front of the
camera has a massive lens barrel, but when the camera is switched on and the lens comes out, it's actually a lot smaller.
I thought a large lens housing like this would have had a removable bezel for lens attachments or filters, but they're absent on the Coolpix P80.
The top plate of the camera has the chunky mode dial which features auto, sports, scene modes, video, program and manual along with shutter and aperture priority. Next to the mode dial is a small power button and sat on top of the hand grip is the shutter release with the zoom rocker wrapped around it.
The screen is the same size as most entry level DSLRs, so using this as a back up will make the transition from one camera to the other a lot easier. The back houses two buttons either side of the electronic viewfinder (EVF) for switching between the EVF or screen and different display options on the screen. Just to the right of the mode dial, but on the back of the camera, is the thumbwheel for adjusting the manual modes.
Down the right side of the screen, the playback button sits above the navigation pad which also doubles up to give access to flash options, self timer, macro and exposure compensation. The centre of the navigation pad has the confirmation button and the last two buttons on the camera are for access to the menu and the delete button when reviewing pictures.
Actually, that's not entirely accurate. The flash has a button on the side of the camera to pop it up. The button is mechanical, so the flash will come up whether the camera is on or not.
In the menu, the P80 has a few tricks up its sleeve. The metering mode has a spot AF area for selected metering that the camera will also focus on. The drive mode has the usual continuous shooting, but also has BSS (Best shot selector), Multi-shot 16 and interval timer. The interval timer can take pictures in different steps of time from every 30 seconds, to every 30 minutes.
Nikon Coolpix P80: Build and handling
The Coolpix P80 is by no means a low specification camera and the build quality is good as well. It's a metal shell and feels solid enough. I'm not sure I like the mottled feel of the paint work, I think that should be left to larger DSLR types. I think a shiny black paint or smooth finish would suit the camera better.
The huge zoom that's been fitted to the Nikon works smoothly and not too fast. At wide angle the camera benefits from a f/2.8 aperture and only drops to f/4.5 at full zoom which is great for the 486mm focal length.
Nikon's Vibration reduction (VR) feature has been installed on the P80 to ensure sharp shots even when you're a bit shakey. VR can be turned off in the set up menu from the mode dial if you don't want to use it.
The battery and card door is a flimsy affair, made from plastic and can be easily bent and twisted with mild force.
The EVF is not exactly a brilliant piece of equipment as it's quite small and not very bright. When zooming in, the EVF can't cope with the loss of light with the narrower field of view and dims down considerably for a few seconds. It then realises what's happening and compensates.
Nikon Coolpix P80: Flash options
The built-in pop up flash is triggered by pressing the button on the side of the camera.
There are plenty of options in the flash menu which are accessed by pressing up on the navigation pad.
As well as the ususal Auto, On, Off and Red Eye modes, Nikon have also added a Slow Sync Flash mode which uses a burst of Fill-In flash with as slow shutter speed, and a rear curtain sync. With this option, the flash fires as the shot is finishing instead of when it starts.
Nikon Coolpix P80: Performance
Blue is boosted on the colour chart along with the other primary colours. The skin tone looks a bit over pink, but the tones have come out nicely.
Nikon are really coming up trumps with processor capability. The landscape image has good definition all-round with nice detail in the grass. No fringing is evident on the white steps or on the roof of the building, which I'm really impressed with.
To test the VR of the P80, I turned the ISO down to ISO64 and selected a slow shutter speed from Shutter-priority. VR hasn't given a completely sharp image, but is considerably better than the image with VR off. Sharpening in certain editing suites such as Paint Shop Pro will cure the problem at this level.
The P80 also has a distortion control. I took two of the same shot, one with and one without, and it corrected the distortion caused by the lens. The correction is minimal on these shots, but loading both large images in at the same time and flicking between the two will illustrate the difference.
Portrait mode has given a much softer image with muted tones. What interests me is that the normal Program mode has warmed the image more than the Portrait mode. I would expect this to be the other way around.
I'm disappointed with the flash result. I first thought I'd still got custom white balance set up from previous testing, but I'd already shot the non-flash portrait and that had no cast. There's a green tint to the shot which makes Nikita look unwell. I don't think the flash is as harsh as it could be because the shadow on the wall looks quite soft.
The colour chart shows the primaries boosted, but the skin tone a bit too pink.
The Portrait image is muted and flat compared to the program mode result.
Program mode is a sharper image with nicer colours.
The flash has given a green cast which is quite unpleasant.
Without Distortion Control, straight lines could curve at wide angles.
Distortion Control helps with problems like pin cushion and barrel distortion.
The Wide angle of the P80 is 27mm allowing lots of stuff to fill your frame.
At full 486mm zoom, the camera is suffering badly from fringing on the roof and the camera suffers from the lens tripling its length.
The P80 with VR turned off can produce shots with shaky results.
Setting the VR function on settles the problem, however the shot seems a little more over exposed.
Nikon Coolpix P80: Noise test
Noise is starting to show even as low as ISO200 when enlarged to full size and is definitely present at ISO400. It gets noticeable without enlargement at ISO800 and zooming in shows green and purple blobs with flecks of white.
Unusually, they've included an ISO2000 setting, which is the final one before the image size is adjusted. ISO3200 and ISO6400 both shoot at 3Mp resolution.
This looks like it's a bid to reduce the damage caused by the poor sensor and processor performance with tackling noise at lower ISO levels. What it does realistically, is make the shot look like something from a digital camera that could've been made years ago.
The ISO64 test.
The ISO100 test.
The ISO200 test.
The ISO400 test.
The ISO800 test.
The ISO1600 test.
The ISO2000 test.
The ISO3200 test.
The ISO6400 test.
Nikon Coolpix P80: Verdict
I'm sat on the fence with the P80. On the outside it looks the business with its oversized zoom, large grip and many functions. Then on the performance side, it doesn't seem to be up to scratch.
The VR wasn't the best result (although it did work), the noise test was not worthy of the Nikon name with noise turning up at a laughably low stage, then using a cop out clause of dropping the resolution on the higher settings. Where is the performance of the EXPEED processor? Surely it's unfair to make it exclusive to the DSLR?
I think what it boils down to is that Nikon have produced a camera that has a zoom so large that the inevitable camera shake it brings with it won't be supressed sufficiently. Also the lack of light that the narrow field of view it will cause won't have adequate compensation from the processor.
Nikon Coolpix P80: Plus points
Loads of features
Packing pixels, but not excessively
Funky features such as Distortion Control
Nikon Coolpix P80: Minus points
Colours slightly off for portraits
Flash gives horrible result
Noise is abysmal
EVF isn't very bright
The Nikon Coolpix P80 costs around £282 and is available from the ePHOTOzine shop here.