Nikon D80

      Photo Review 8.5

      In summary

      Many of the assets of Nikon’s D200 model in a lower-priced model with a ‘quality’ look and feel.An interesting mix of point-and-shoot and serious camera, Nikon’s D80 has been touted as a ‘little sister’ to the D200 model and offers many of the same features and the ‘quality’ feel users have come to expect from Nikon DSLRs. Like most recently-released competitors it sports a 10.2 megapixel sensor (CCD type) and a 2.5-inch LCD. Although closer in size to the D50 than the D70s, which it replaces, the D80 comes with the D200’s powerful EN-ELe battery, 11-point AF system and support for wireless flashes. . . [more]

      Full review


      An interesting mix of point-and-shoot and serious camera, Nikon’s D80 has been touted as a ‘little sister’ to the D200 model and offers many of the same features and the ‘quality’ feel users have come to expect from Nikon DSLRs. Like most recently-released competitors it sports a 10.2 megapixel sensor (CCD type) and a 2.5-inch LCD. Although closer in size to the D50 than the D70s, which it replaces, the D80 comes with the D200’s powerful EN-ELe battery, 11-point AF system and support for wireless flashes.

      The viewfinder is similar to that on the D200; big and bright with an optional grid that is turned on via Custom Setting 08. However, it doesn’t display the ISO or exposure and metering mode settings. The 3D Colour Matrix Metering system also differs, using 420 segments, instead of the D200’s 1005 segments. (In our tests it worked equally well!) Unlike the D200, the new model uses SD cards and is compatible with the new SDHC type. But it doesn’t work with manual focus lenses.

      Images can be recorded in NEF-RAW (12-bit compressed) or JPEG format or raw+JPEG in any of three image sizes: L (3872 x 2592 pixels), M (2896 x 1944 pixels) or S (1936 x 1296 pixels). Raw files are approximately 12.4 MB in size, while Large/Fine JPEGs are 4.8 MB and Large/Basic JPEGs 1.2 MB.


      A mechanical shutter replaces the electronically controlled shutter on the D200, reducing the top shutter speed to 1/4000 second. But that’s enough for most photographers so there’s no reason to complain. More significant is the reduction of the top flash synch speed to 1/200 second if you require fast flash synch. Continuous shooting frame rates are also slower, topping out at 3 frames/second and the buffer can only hold six raw or RAW+JPEG files, 23 high-resolution JPEGs or up to 100 JPEGs at lower resolution settings.

      Another function inherited from the D200 that sets the D80 apart from most competitors is full RGB histograms plus a tonal graph. This lets users see whether all colour channels are correctly exposed and reveals potential colour casts. The D80 also supports Nikon’s D-Lighting control for recovering shadow details. It’s found in the new ‘Retouch Menu’ along with settings for red-eye correction, cropping, resizing images for emailing and converting images to B&W or sepia tones. Files adjusted in this menu are saved as separate copies.

      Filter Effects include replication of skylight and warming filters plus a colour balance option that lets you adjust image colour along red/blue and green/magenta axes. The effect is shown on the monitor, along with RGB histograms to display the distribution of tones in the copy. There’s also a strange ‘Image Overlay’ setting that combines two raw images to create a single picture. It’s rather like butting two shots together.

      Missing are time-lapse controls, shooting menu banks and custom menu banks, although 32 custom settings are provided. There’s only one white balance measurement storage and dust minimisation function nor image stabilisation are not provided. (Nikon has not implemented either function in any DSLR.) The D80 comes with a BM-7 protective cover for the monitor screen.

      The D80 sports the same dual command dial system as the D70 and D200 but with a few compromises that are not totally successful. On the D70, these wheels only work in shooting mode, while on the D80 they’re usable for both shooting and playback, whereas the D200 lets you choose either mode. The D80’s strategy can be confusing because moving either command dial in auto image review mode changes the way it is displayed. So if you try adjusting aperture or shutter speed you can’t until you’ve half-pressed the shutter button. It can be quite frustrating!


      In a similar vein, the D80’s white balance, ISO and quality buttons share functions with certain playback operations. If you press them in the wrong mode you risk locking an image instead of changing white balance, swapping to index display instead of adjusting ISO or zooming in instead of changing image quality. The only way to overcome these problems is to turn off the auto image review. Deleting photos is easy via the ‘rubbish bin’ button and you can select a group of photos to delete via the playback menu, a feature many users will appreciate.

      As expected, the mode dial contains the standard auto, P, A, S and M shooting modes are provided, along with six scene presets. Buttons for adjusting the metering mode and exposure compensation lie behind the shutter release, with the drive and AF mode buttons further back. The top panel also carries a large data LCD. Power is applied via ring around the shutter button. Pushing it past the On position lights up the data display.

      The menu system is straightforward and intuitive and there’s a Simple menu option containing the most frequently-used settings. Alternatively you can choose the My Menu control and choose which items will be displayed in the shooting, playback, custom setting and retouch menus. A multiple exposure setting in the P, A, S and M modes lets you combine up to three shots in a single image.


      The arrow pad lacks a central button for locking in settings. Instead, you have to press the OK button below it or press the right arrow a second time. And, unlike the D200, the arrow pad doesn’t support diagonal movements so you’re forced to go across and up (or down) to make a selection. The bracketing button is located just above the lens release button and has to be activated by the left forefinger. It is used with the command dials and the parameter to be adjusted is set in Custom Setting 13 (AE & Flash, AE only, flash only or WB). Below the lens release button is the auto/manual focus control.

      ISO presets range from 100 to 1600 and the auto setting can span the entire range. Three additional settings are provided: HI 0.3 (ISO 2000 equivalent), HI 0.7 (ISO 2500 equivalent) and HI 1.0 (ISO 3200 equivalent). Three levels of High ISO Noise Reduction are available when shooting at high sensitivities and Long Exposure Noise Reduction is also available for shutter speeds of eight seconds or slower.

      Bundled software includes Nikon’s very limited and amateurish Picture Project 1.7 plus Camera Control Pro, which lets you control many camera functions from a personal computer.

      The test camera produced the kind of images you expect from a high-resolution DSLR: sharp, clean and colour accurate with an adequate dynamic range. The camera was quick to start and generally very responsive. Autofocusing was quick and competent under most types of lighting, including relatively dim conditions.

      We found little evidence of sharpening artefacts or coloured fringing in outdoor shots and low light shots were relatively noise-free up to ISO 500 with a progressive increase in noise visibility thereafter. At the H 1.0 setting (equivalent to ISO 3200) images become very granular looking. Resolution also started to decline from ISO 800 on and applying noise reduction processing tended to further soften images. Opening raw images in Imatest produced rather flat results so our colour evaluations have been mainly done on JPEG files to better reflect the types of images most users will produce. We obtained some very interesting results with images processed in the Optimise Image menu, with the More Vivid setting delivering a huge increase in colour saturation, although few colour shifts.

      Flat-looking raw files are actually preferable to contrasty ones because they give you a better basis for subsequent adjustments. It’s a pity Nikon doesn’t provide better software so users can take advantage of this feature. With luck, Adobe will soon have D80 compatibility in its Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop and Photoshop Elements so you shouldn’t need to shell out extra for a decent raw file converter.

      One area where the test camera’s performance was below par was the auto white balance control, which produced similar results to many digicams under incandescent light and didn’t quite remove fluorescent lighting casts. The manual measurement rectified these problems and the pre-sets came closer to delivering accurate colours. Adjustments are also provided to fine-tune colour settings, although most users would probably prefer better first-up performance.

      Overall capture lag averaged 0.15 seconds, reducing to less than 0.1 seconds with pre-focusing. Shot-to-shot times averaged just over one second and images were displayed on the monitor almost instantaneously. Continuous shooting was measured at three frames/second for up to 23 high-resolution JPEGs or six NEF-RAW or NEF+JPEG shots. It took approximately six seconds to clear the buffer memory.

      Flash performance was outstanding. With a GN of 13, the D80’s flash is more powerful than the D70s – and it showed at lower ISO settings. The flash also did a great job with backlit subjects, producing an evenly balanced fill under varied conditions.

      With an RRP of $1799 for the body alone, the D80 is $500 more expensive than either Canon’s EOS 400D and Sony’s DSLR-A100, both of which include a dust minimisation system. The Sony A100 also has in-body image stabilisation. At $2249 for the body plus 18-135mm lens, it’s $600 more than Canon’s EOS 400D twin lens kit and $250 more than Sony’s twin lens kit. The Canon and Sony software bundles are also more comprehensive and capable.

      That said, Nikon aficionados now have a 10-megapixel DSLR that is more affordably priced than the D200 and offers a higher level of customisation than most competing models. Its build quality, handling and performance will make it a great buy for anyone with a suite of Nikon interchangeable lenses.



      A raw file colour plot shows how flat and desaturated the image colours are.


      A JPEG colour plot gives a more realistic impression of colour reproduction.


      The More Vivid setting in the Optimise Image menu produced some bizarre results.







      Softening due to noise-reduction processing at ISO 1600.


      Using the auto white balance under fluorescent lighting.


      Using the auto white balance with incandescent lighting.




      Image sensor: 23.6 x 15.8 mm RGB CCD with 10.75 million photosites (10.2 megapixels effective)

      Lens mount: Nikon F mount (with AF coupling and AF contacts)

      Lens multiplier factor: 1.5x

      Image formats: Compressed NEF (RAW): 12-bit compression, JPEG (Exif 2.21); raw+JPEG supported

      Image Sizes: L: 3,872 x 2,592, M: 2,896 x 1,944, S: 1,936 x 1,296

      Shutter speed range: 30 to 1/4000 sec. in steps of 1/3, 1/2 EV plus Bulb; flash synch at up to 1/200 sec.

      ISO range: Auto, ISO 100 to 1600 in steps of 1/3 EV, plus HI-0.3, HI-0.7 and HI-1

      Focus system/modes: TTL phase detection by Nikon Multi-CAM 1000 autofocus module with AF-assist illuminator (approx. 0.5m to 3.0m) Detection range: EV -1 to +19 (ISO 100 equivalent); Single, Dynamic and Auto-area AF modes

      Exposure metering/control: 3D Colour Matrix Metering II, Centre-Weighted and Spot Metering;

      Colour space: sRGB, Adobe RGB

      Exposure Compensation: ±5 EV in increments of 1/3 or 1/2 EV

      White balance: Auto (TTL white balance with 420-pixel RGB sensor), six manual modes with fine-tuning, colour temperature setting (in Kelvin), or preset white balance, white balance bracketing

      Flash: Built-in TTL pop-up flash

      Flash GN (m at ISO 100): 13

      Sequence shooting: approx. 3 frames/second

      Storage Media: SD memory card (SDHC compatible)

      Viewfinder: Fixed eye-level pentaprism; built-in diopter adjustment (-2.0 to +1.0m-1); 19.5 mm eyepoint

      LCD monitor: 2.5-inch, 230,000-dot, low-temp. polysilicon TFT LCD with brightness adjustment

      PC interface: USB 2.0 Hi-speed (mini-B connector)

      Power supply: Rechargeable Li-ion Battery EN-EL3e, MB-D80 battery pack (optional), AC Adapter EH-5 (optional)

      Dimensions (wxhxd): 132 x 103 x 77 mm

      Weight: Approx. 585g without battery, memory card, or body cap or monitor cover




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