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Camera Reviews

Hands-on with the Nikon D80

Armando Heredia (Covey22)

Keywords: nikon, d80, camera, bodies

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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


The Nikon D80 from the front



© 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 Nikon D80 with MB-D80 battery grip


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.

(2 Votes )
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Originally written on August 9, 2006

Last updated on December 30, 2020


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