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Nikon D80 Digital SLR Review

Nikon D80 Digital SLR Review

|  Nikon D80 in Digital SLRs
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Only eight months after the announcement of the D200, Nikon have surprised a few people with the announcement on the 9th August 2006 of the new Nikon D80, a successor to the very popular D70/70s, a camera that is a step up from their entry level D50.

Nikon D80Specifications
  • 10.2 megapixels
  • 11-area Multi-Cam 1000 AF system
  • ISO sensitivity range ISO100 to ISO1600 plus HI-1(equivalent ISO3200)
  • SDHC compatible
  • File formats - Compressed NEF or Jpeg
  • 2.5inch LCD screen
  • Compatible with all Nikon AF lenses.
  • 3D colour matrix metering II, and centre-weighted or spot metering modes
  • Exposure metering range - EV0 to EV20 with 3D colour matrix or centre weighted metering
  • Exposure compensation up to +/-5EV
  • Shutter speed range - 30secs to 1/4000sec and bulb
  • Flash synch up to 1/200sec
  • Flash compensation -3 to +1EV
  • Depth-of-field preview
  • Rechargeable EN-EL3e Li-ion battery
  • Dimensions 132mm(W) x 103mm(H) x 77mm(D)
  • Weight - 585g without battery

Where it fits
Nikon D80The D80 is a surprise because, on the surface, the specification is quite close to the D200 which Nikon market as an advanced amateur to professional level camera. However, when you take a longer look, there is still a considerable divide between the two and as you dig deeper you find that the D80 is a worthwhile upgrade from the, now, two and a half year old D70 (D70s upgrade is 16 months old) not least because of the 67% increase in the pixels count.

Although announced with a new 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED kit lens, the new lens is not yet available yet, so we took it for a test run with the well-rated DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 G ED kit lens that first saw light with the D70.

Build and Handling
Despite the obvious comparisons with the D200, the first thing that struck me was the similarities with the entry level D50. The body is almost identical in size and shape, albeit with a few styling tweaks and adjustments for the extra controls that the D80 carries. The next similarity is the use of SD (Secure Digital) memory cards. The access door and compartment that carries these is identical to its lesser sibling. Nikon claimed at the announcement that the future was in this medium, now the most popular type of memory for digital cameras, and, as subsequent announcements have shown, the medium is planned to go to capacities of 32gb in the not too distant future. Nikon D80
The D80 (left) next to the D200
Nikon D80
The D80 (left) next to the D50

Nikon D80Up-graders from the D50 will feel very much at home with the new camera, as many of the controls are not only in the same place, but also do the same things. Yes, there are extra controls that they will need to get acquainted with, most notably the second control wheel at the front of the grip below the shutter button and a couple of changes of use to existing buttons, but overall they are things that can quickly be learned. The camera also has more of a quality feel to it. Extra controls over the D50 are, on the front of the camera: a second control wheel, DOF preview button, flash bracketing button and a user selected function button. On the top are two extra buttons, shooting mode (moved from the rear of the D50) and AF mode. The rear sports a larger (2 ½”) screen and an extra slider to lock the focus along with a couple of moved functions. The buttons to the left of the screen are also a tad smaller than on the D50, although still very usable.

Nikon D80Against the D70/s, users will first notice the reduction in size down to D50 dimensions. For all except the largest hands, this shouldn’t be a problem as the ergonomics are such that the hand fits well and controls are well thought out. The bad news, of course, is the change of storage media from CF to SD but this is tempered by the fact that the much higher pixel count would probably have had up-graders buying larger cards anyway and the prices of larger SD cards are falling almost daily. The two major reasons for change are the hike in pixel count and, more interesting for many, the improvement in the autofocus system from the CAM 900 of the 50/70 to the CAM1000 of the D200, a significant jump. The 11-area system employed on the D80 proved to be fast and accurate. There is also a proprietary battery grip available for the D80 as an optional extra.

The Cam1000 autofocus and the 10.1mp sensor are really the only areas where this new camera competes with the semi-pro D200, so owners of the big brother to the D80 need not feel too aggrieved. The D80 is not as well sealed, not as fast and not quite as well built as the D200 and the controls are not as comprehensive with some functions needing access to the menu instead of having dedicated switches.

For a newcomer to dSLR’s, and with a recommended launch price of just under £700 for the body only, the camera is not out of reach, there is enough controls to keep even the most dyed in the wool film users happy and plenty to keep up-graders from prosumer cameras busy for quite some while.

Generally speaking, the handling of this camera is between good and excellent with the menu on the large rear screen being easy to use and navigate and very easy to see. Selection, with the four way rocker is simple and a clearly marked OK button, is intuitive.

Modes and Features
Nikon D80The modes that the camera offers are the regular PASM (Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority and Manual) along with an Auto mode and six programmed modes, more than enough for any buyer to play with.
The Auto exposure is Nikon’s acclaimed 3D Colour Matrix Metering II automatic exposure control which ensures ideal exposures in most lighting conditions. It evaluates brightness, colour, contrast, selected focus area and camera-to-subject distance. The system references the data against an expanded onboard database created using data from more than 30,000 actual photographic scenes to instantly and accurately calculate the final exposure value for the shot. It does work exceptionally well.
Autofocus is the new CAM 1000, which, as mentioned before, first saw light in the D200, although some of the function selections are down to button presses and menu selections rather than the dedicated switches of the D200 but are still relatively easy to use.
New features include In-camera editing and effects including D-Lighting, red-eye correction, trim, overlay and monochrome as well as filter effects. There is also the opportunity for multiple exposures with the D80.

The on-board flash has a guide number of 13 at ISO100 in metres (43 in ft) and can be set through the menus to act as a commander for the Nikon Creative lighting system. The coverage, for an onboard flash was good although tests proved the model we had was slightly lop sided in it’s coverage. This only shows when the image is pushed in curves though. Nikon D80
Off-white wall shot with flash, to show flash coverage.

The 2.5inch screen gives a good idea of what you have on the file and navigation is simple with the rocker control. Left and right scrolls through the files on the card while up and down scrolls through the various screens for each file including shooting parameters and an RGB histogram and these again are configurable through the menus. Gone though is the fiddly method of magnifying the image on screen with plus and minus buttons replacing the old press and hold while turning the thumbwheel. The new set-up of the D80 is much more user friendly.

A half press of the shutter button over-rides all other modes to set the camera back to shooting mode with single shot, continuous shooting, remote or self timed options selected with subsequent presses of the button situated to the right of the top LCD screen. This screen also carries all of the information needed about settings along with an estimate of the card capacity and a battery level indicator that is more sophisticated than the earlier models. The battery needed to accomplish this, however, is the newer EN-EL3e, which will fit in the D50/70, but the EN-EL3/a from those cameras is not useable in the D80. The life of these batteries is good and I used the camera for 12 hours with a variety of lenses including some with VR before the battery got down to one bar and needed changing.

Image quality
With the leap in pixel count of some 67% from its predecessor, the D70/s, the D80 produces some very fine images indeed especially from the new 100ISO setting.
Nikon D80 Nikon D80
Above and left - Images taken using a Nikon AF-S 18-70mm DX lens
Nikon D80 Nikon D80
Left - This image was taken with a Sigma 300-800mm lens at f/8 and ISO100

Above - A crop of the image displayed at 100% shows the level of detail recorded

Digital noise
The following images illustrate the amount of digital noise apparent at each ISO setting.
The image to the right is the full image. The crops below are taken from where the yellow square is.
Nikon D80
Nikon D80
Nikon D80
Nikon D80
Nikon D80
Nikon D80
Nikon D80
HI-1 - Noise Reduction off
Nikon D80
HI-1 - Noise Reduction low
Nikon D80
HI-1 - Noise Reduction high

The camera produces usable images up to the 1600ISO mark, although by that time there is some noise creeping in. The Hi-1 setting, equivalent to approx 3200ISO is there and depending on subject you may be able to use it but for my taste it is a little over the top in the noise department. The Hi-noise reduction system in the camera does help some, but at the expense of detail. All of the ISO adjustments, operated by pressing a button on the back of the camera and rotating the rear control wheel, are in 1/3rd stop increments, which is handy.

Like the D100-200 upgrade before it, this upgrade from the D70 to D80 is a worthwhile step up, both in ability and performance. The jump in pixel count and autofocus ability alone warrants the change, but there are literally dozens of other tweaks as you delve further into the menus. The price also seems to be pitched about right, although market forces will soon see it settle into a slightly lower slot, which is all good news. Highly recommended.

In summary, the positive points of the Nikon D80 are:
Nikon D80Large increase in sensor pixel count.
Nikon D80Greatly improved autofocus
Nikon D80Screen and menus greatly improved.

The negative points are:
Nikon D80Change of card format from CF to SD may initially deter some.
Nikon D80May feel slightly small in some hands.

Check the price and availability of the Nikon D80 DSLR here

Test by Ian Andrews

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Photographs taken using the Nikon D80

DROPPED THE HUES ON SHIMMER STREETTenbyTownship morningsStand Easywhat little boys dream ofurban rhapsody or scenes from a dreich daythe ghost of clydebank pastCheetah at restKids of AfricaTownship morningsBrokenJ U M P I N G J O I N TThe PointOF GLASGOW GREY

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