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Camera Reviews

Nikon D80 review

Armando Heredia (Covey22) on August 9, 2006


Keywords: nikon, d80, camera, bodies, product, articles

NIKON D80 REVIEW

Matching the wish list with the results

After following the initial pre-release speculation in our Nikon D80 Users Group forum at Nikonians I'd say Nikon has delivered on many fronts. It's clear this new D80 DSLR can not be slotted simply as a straight replacement for either the Nikon D50 or the Nikon D70, but that's not to say it isn't. It's shaping up to be a lot like a Nikon D50 in terms of size, but these comparisons can no longer be simply made.
 

© Tokyo Mike
Nikon D80 DSLR with battery, charger, cables and strap

 

To begin with, the Nikon D80 has obviously inherited some of the best features from the other top-end cameras of the line - namely the processing engine of the Nikon D2X, and the Nikon D200’s Multi CAM 1000 AF system, CCD, rear LCD and its viewfinder!  

We're seeing the fruits of Nikon's intent to consolidate parts - almost everything you see on the camera shares some commonality with other models. Besides the legacy from the Nikon D200 and up, the camera also shares the 420-segment meter from the Nikon D50, and a complete line of accessories which draws from both the Nikon D50 and Nikon D70 systems.

The EN-EL3e battery introduced with the Nikon D200 is clearly here to stay, and shooters will benefit from seeing more accurate reflection of remaining power supply and from a longer time between recharges in the Nikon D80.  
EN-EL3e Li-ion battery
     
The fact that it will be using SD memory cards tells us Nikon could be setting up the bottom end of the family for SD to capture more of the "upsell" market switching from compact cameras. But it is also able to support the new generation of Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) providing, in due time, capacities of 4GB and up to 32GB.  
Nikon D80 SD card

This however will probably be a disappointment for Nikon D70 owners with a significant investment in CF media hoping to "move up" without going for the Nikon D200. Also, SD users will have to wait as the market is still catching up to CF in terms of larger media capacities.

The JPEG buffer is big but it still seems to feel like a Nikon D50 to me, although 3 FPS (frames per second) puts it right in the Nikon D70 zone. The compressed RAW may be a deal breaker for those who have sophisticated post-process requirements and live and die in RAW.

 

 

No AI/AI-S lenses metering is not a surprise for a mid-range camera, and the fact that the flash synch speed has dropped to 1/200 is not necessarily a deal breaker since AutoFP at any speed is fully supported on Nikon Speedlights.

It features ISO range exactly like the Nikon D200, so ISO 100 is now available to the masses. Huzzah! On the top end, it can actually be cranked up to HI-1 (equivalent of ISO3200) with 0.3EV steps. It shares the same three custom NR (Noise Reduction) settings of the Nikon D200, so high-ISO shooting can be done with confidence.

The body is the same size as that of the Nikon D50 (with a .1mm variance on height and width), making it a smaller camera appealing to beginners; that is helped by the announcement of the MB-D80 vertical grip with shutter release for those with larger lenses or hands and/or wanting a more hefty feel.  
d80 vs d50 - size
     

The MB-D80 specs sound like an updated MB-D100 - it's not clear that both command dials will be replicated, but one and everything else is there, combined AE-L/AF-L button, and shutter release.

This addresses many shooter requests that Nikon match Canon at the lower end in providing a vertical shutter/grip system.

 
Click for enlargement

The AF system includes "refinements" - the new AF button on the top deck will tell us more in a review, but it still has the new mode that links all 11 points into a 7-point center "Wide-Area" AF for faster lock-on.

The shutter lag, slightly slower than on the Nikon D200, is still more than respectable for a DSLR.

The shutter release shares the ML-3 wireless and MC-DC1 wired remotes that the Nikon D70s uses, which means no more complaints about having to contort your hands to take a vibration-free shot from behind the camera.

Another great feature will be the viewfinder with 0.94X magnification and 19.5mm eyepoint. That should silence a few D70/D50 viewfinder critics for sure.

The new 2.5" LCD, sized like that in the pro bodies, will be welcomed by all - featuring the 170 degree angle and the much more useful RGB histogram versus luminance histories on legacy cameras. Also, the ability to set custom color schemes and font sizes in the menus is new and will be a very popular ergonomic feature.

 
2.5 inches LCD

This camera includes features drawn from the Coolpix series. It's the first Nikon DSLR we've seen with built-in D-Lighting and Redeye removal capabilities. The Pictmotion is also new; it will be a unique feature to display slideshows and background music using LCD or TV using hook-up cables.

A new Retouch Menu allow for in-camera image enhancements, reducing post-processing time.

The Black & White modes have been enhanced - with Sepia and Cyanotype additional options - again, oriented to beginners and point & shooters.

Out of all the Vari-Programs - Night Landscape is the only new setting. Flash control includes the 2-group Commander Mode (A/B) just like the Nikon D200, which will probably encourage system sales of multiple Speedlights.

It looks like firmware updates will be supported by SD cards, which means the days of having to send in your camera for improvements may finally really be over.

In short - it's a mixed bag of goodies. A lot will appeal to the prosumer, and a lot will also appeal to the first-time DSLR buyer or upsell customer.

One thing is certain - the selection of SD only will become an issue for some potential Nikon D70s converts until better card adapters hit the market. Otherwise, Nikon has again raised the bar for DSLRs in this range.


NIKON D80 and related bodies comparisons

It seems logical to assume this new body is aimed at

 

  • Current P&S shooters
  • Nikon D50 users, already looking for an upgrade
  • Nikon D70/D70s users, somehow hesitant to move into a Nikon D200
  • Nikon D200 users looking for a second body
  • Other brands users who should be very tempted to switch to Nikon.

 

Some may want to know what would they be missing from the D200 if buying a D80. Below a comparison and comments.
 
Click for enlargement
Nikon D80 DSLR with a good collection of lenses

 

   
Click for enlarged view
 
Click for enlarged view
 
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 Camera body      
Nikon D80
 
 USA Street price*
 body only
 
$550
 
$700
 
$999
 
$1,700
 Sensor  
23.7 x 15.6 mm RGB CCD
6.24 total megapixels
6.1 effective megapixels
 
23.7 x 15.6 mm RGB CCD
6.24 total megapixels
6.1 effective megapixels
 

23.6 x 15.8mm RGB CCD
10.75 total megapixels
10.2 effective megapixels

 

23.6 x 15.8mm RGB CCD
10.92 total megapixels
10.2 effective megapixels

 Image size  
[L] 3,008 x 2,000
[M] 2,256 x 1,496
[S] 1,504 x 1,000
 
[L] 3008 x 2000
[M] 2240 x 1448
[S] 1504 x 1000
 
[L] 3,872 x 2,592
[M] 2,896 x 1,944
[S] 1,936 x 1,296
 
[L] 3,872 x 2,592
[M] 2,896 x 1,944
[S] 1,936 x 1,296
  Print size
 At 300ppi, in inches
 Without resampling
 
[L] 10.03 x 6.75"
[M] 7.52 x 4.99"
[S] 5.01 x 3.33"
 
[L] 10.03 x 6.75"
[M] 7.47 x 4.43"
[S] 5.01 x 3.33"
 
[L] 12.91 x 8.65"
[M] 9.65 x 6.48"
[S] 6.45 x 4.32"
 
[L] 12.91 x 8.65"
[M] 9.65 x 6.48"
[S] 6.45 x 4.32"
 ISO sensitivity  
200 to 1600
in steps of 1 EV
 
200 to 1600
in steps of 1/3 EV
 
100 to 1600
in steps of 1/3 EV
plus HI-0.3, HI-0.7
and HI-1
 
100 to 1600
in steps of 1/3 EV
plus HI-0.3, HI-0.7
and HI-1
 Storage Card  
SD
 
Compact Flash
 
SD
 
Compact Flash
 AF Module  
Multi-CAM 900
 
Multi-CAM 900
 
Multi-CAM 1000
 
Multi-CAM 1000
 Metering RGB sensor  
420-segment
 
1,005-segment
 
420-segment
 
1,005-segment
 Metering System  
(1) 3D Color Matrix Metering II
(2) Center-weighted: Weight of 75%
(3) Spot of 2.5%
 
(1) 3D Color Matrix Metering
(2) Center-weighted: Weight of 75%
(3) Spot of 1%
 
1) 3D Color Matrix Metering II
2) Center-weighted: Weight of 75%
3) Spot of 2.5%
 
1) 3D Color Matrix Metering II
2) Center-weighted: Weight of 75%
3) Spot of 3%
 Shooting Modes  
S, C (up to 2.5 fps),
Self timer,
Delayed and Quick Response remote
 
S, C (up to 3 fps),
Self timer
Delayed and Quick Response remote
 
S, C (up to 3 fps),
Self timer,
Delayed and Quick Response remote
 
S, C (up to 5 fps),
Self timer,
Delayed and Quick Response remote
 Lens Servo  
AF-A, AF-S, AF-C, M; predictive focus tracking
automatically activated according to subject status
 
AF-S, AF-C, M;
predictive focus tracking automatically activated according to subject status
 
AF-A, AF-S, AF-C, M; predictive focus tracking automatically activated according to subject status
 
AF-S, AF-C, M; predictive focus tracking automatically activated according to subject status
 Viewfinder  
Eyepoint 18mm
95% coverage
Approx. 0.75x magnification
 
Eyepoint 18mm
95% coverage
Approx. 0.75x magnification
 
Eyepoint 19.5mm
95% coverage
Approx. 0.94x magnification
 
Eyepoint 19.5mm
95% coverage
Approx. 0.94x magnification
 Rear LCD Monitor  
2.0 inches
 
2.0 inches
 
2.5 inches
 
2.5 inches
 Shutter  
30 to 1/4000 sec. in steps of 1/3 or 1/2 EV, bulb
 
30 to 1/8000 sec. in steps of 1/3 or 1/2 EV, bulb
 
30 to 1/4000 sec. in steps of 1/3 or 1/2 EV, bulb
 
30 to 1/8000 sec. in steps of 1/3 or 1/2 EV, bulb
 Flash synch  
Up to 1/500 sec.
 
Up to 1/500 sec.
 
Up to 1/200 sec.
 
Up to 1/250 sec.
 Built-in flash  
Yes
GN=11m/33ft ISO 100
 
Yes
GN=11m/33ft ISO 100
 
Yes
GN=13m/42ft ISO 100
 
Yes
GN=12m/39ft ISO 100
 OEM grip/motor  
No
 
No
 
MB-D80
 
MB-D200
 Size  
5.2 x 4.0 x 3.0 in.
133 x 102 x 76mm
 
5.5 x 4.4 x 3.1 in.
140 x 111 x 78mm
 
5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in.
132 x 103 x 77mm
 
5.8 x 4.5 x 2.9in.
147 x 113 x 74mm
 Weight (body only)  
19.1oz / 540g
 
21.2oz / 600g
 
20.6oz / 585g
 
29.3oz / 830g
 White Balance  
Auto, six manual modes, preset,
white balance bracketing
 
Auto, six manual modes with fine-tuning, preset,
white balance bracketing
 
Auto, six manual modes with fine-tuning, color temperature setting, preset, white balance bracketing
 
Auto, six manual modes with fine-tuning, color temperature setting, preset, white balance bracketing
 Camera body      
Nikon D80
 

* $ USD as of August 2006

What is not in the chart above

Image Quality. Directly related to the final image quality of the image out of the Nikon D80 camera is its new high-resolution image processing engine, inheriting advantages from Nikon's latest professional digital SLR cameras. This is said to result in natural-looking images with faithful color and tone reproduction. The samples so far look very good. We expect to soon confirm this with our own images.

Shutter Speed. Reduced from a top 1/8000 of a second to a 1/4000 will only bother those needing to catch an ultrasonic speeding bullet, without flash. So it shouldn't be a problem for most users.

 

 

Sync Speed. We soon got spoiled to a sync speed of 1/500, specially when doing fill-in flash for strong shadows on fast moving subjects under very bright light, or at least 1/250. The D80 has a sync speed of 1/200. But the new SB-800 and SB-600 Speedlights support Focal Plane (FP) shutter synchronization from the flash itself, making this a no problem and certainly a no deal breaker.

No metering of non-CPU lenses. The Nikon D80 is obviously not aimed to Nikon fans with huge collections of vintage MF lenses. But if so, they can be used. Either apply the Sunny-16 rule of thumb, draw out the handheld meter or check your histogram and chimp until you get it right. Perhaps there was that felt need from new digital users currently considering buying the D70/D70s and wanting more features than those in the D50; surely some market research has shown many potential users even if those of the D200 had shown so far no urgency for it.

 

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Armando Heredia Armando Heredia (Covey22)

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