The Camera Nikon Had To Make!
Compact, lightweight and under $1,000.
Use of SD instead of CF cards.
The Bottom Line:
An excellent entry-to-mid level dSLR. You could do FAR worse and get less. For Nikon film camera users, this is an excellent step-up dSLR!
To anyone interested in photography, especially DIGITAL imaging, it is quite obvious that the Megapixel War continues and that the two baddest guys on the block, Nikon and Canon continue to do battle. That battle, for the hearts and minds of photographers around the world is not just a philosophical one; instead, it is a real war for the dollars, euros, pounds and other currencies folks use to pay for their gear.
Canon has long been known for its innovativeness and the timeliness of its product introductions. While in too many cases Nikon lags behind its main competitor, Nikon is well known for the quality of its lenses, the fact that they have retained the F lens mount since 1959 and the family similarities for user controls from one camera body to another.
Less than four years ago, Canon shocked the imaging world when it introduced the first sub-$1,000 U.S. digital SLR to the market. The Digital Rebel was born and Canon captured a HUGE percentage of the camera buying market. Not to be outdone, Nikon introduced the D70 and the war began. Other manufacturers, to include Pentax, Olympus and the late, great Konica-Minolta followed suit with their own versions.
In reality however, Nikon and Canon, the real giants in the field continued to dominate and everyone else has been relegated to the status of an also-ran. The sad fact is that where professional photographers are concerned, Nikon and Canon rule the roost. Quite honestly, I don't think I've ever seen a professional, whether he or she is a freelancer, commercial studio photographer or a photo-journalist use anything but Canon or Nikon cameras. The U.S. armed forces (all of them) right down to our nation's smallest service, the U.S. Coast Guard, have standardized on Nikon digital cameras.
In time, both Canon and Nikon updated their consumer grade dSLRs. Nikon did it first by making some needed changes to the D70 and came out with a mid-life upgrade called the "D70s." Then, Canon leapfrogged past Nikon again when they released the Digital XT, leaving behind forever the 6 MP sensor in favor of the 8.2 MP sensor then in use in its prosumer Canon 20D.
Technology being what it is, Nikon decided not to compete head to head and instead introduced the long awaited D200 with its pro-like build quality and a 10.2 MP sensor (designed and manufactured for them by SONY) early in 2006. It was an instant success. In a flash, Nikon stole Canon's thunder and all of a sudden, an 8 MP sensor in a dSLR was a thing of the past. Obviously, that also begged the question of what Nikon would do about its now rapidly aging D70s series camera. Since an 8 MP sensor was probably out of the question, another new Nikon product needed to be introduced. The question was: what would the next camera be?
Rumors started to fly and word got out that the next consumer dSLR that Nikon would introduce would be called the D80. And for once, rumors turned out to be 100% correct. Early this past Fall, Nikon brought to market the D80, a D50 sized camera body with much of the heart, soul and operational capability of the D200, a camera that costs $700 more (and one I purchased during my recent deployment to the Sandbox).
Despite my combat theater location, I managed to get my hands on one of the D80 cameras when a member of a Joint Combat Camera section arrived here, saw that I was already using Nikon film and digital bodies (the digitals owned by the Army and Air Force) and offered to let me try it. I leapt at the opportunity!
The D80, like so many other Nikon cameras is consistent in many things, the most noticeable being the family layout of controls, LCD design and layout, feel and build quality. Obviously, after using larger Nikon film and digital SLRs (with my film cameras ALL equipped with the optional vertical grips), the D80 immediately impressed me with its compactness. I used it for about three days before I came home to the USA and then borrowed another for a week after getting home and having a less hostile environment to do my photography.
Here are some of the most important features and capabilities of this new, but mighty mite of a camera:
Effective pixels: 10.2 million pixels using a SONY designed CCD sensor. It is the same sensor used in its big brother, the Nikon D200.
Image size (pixels): 3,782 x 2,592 (L) 2,896 x 1,944 (M) 1,936 x 1,296 (S).
Storage Media: Secure Digital (SD) Also compatible with SDHC.
Storage system: Compressed NEF (Nikon Electronic File - RAW): 12 bit compression, JPEG, JPEG Baseline compliant.
WHITE BALANCE: Auto (TTL [Through The Lens] with 420-pixel RGB sensor, six manual modes with fine tuning through the LCD menu system and control dials, color temp settings in Kelvin, or use of preset WB. The camera also permits the use of white balance bracketing.
PLAYBACK OF IMAGES FUNCTION: a) Full frame, b) thumbnail [4 or 9 segments], c) zoom, d) slideshow [standard or pictomotion, e) RGB histogram f) shooting data by frame, g) highlight(s) point displays, h) Auto-image rotation capable.
LCD MONITOR: 2.5 inches! This is especially NICE given the overall small size of the camera body. 230,000 dot, low-temp polysilicon LCD with an ability to adjust brightness. This LCD like the one in the D200 allows for a 170 degree viewing angle, making visibility better on very bright days.
DELETE FUNCTION: card based. You can delete selectively, image by image or re-format your entire card.
COMPATIBLE LENSES: Like all recent Nikon film and digital camera bodies, the D80 is FULLY compatible with ALL Nikon F mount lenses. However, this camera will NOT meter properly with older AI-S lenses. It will use lenses designed for film SLR bodies with a magnification factor of 1.5 x. Of the line of Nikon developed and manufactured
DX lenses created for digital use only, the lenses will still magnify by a factor of 1.5 x. However, due to the use of APS sized sensors, the DX line of lenses are manufactured at focal lengths that compensate for the loss of wide angle capability so that they produce imagery consistent with photos obtainable using a film SLR with wider angle lenses. The cropping factor gives added range at the 'long' end of the telephoto spectrum thereby eliminating the need to go out and buy additional lenses.
VIEWFINDER: Approximately 95% coverage of the vertical and horizontal planes of the frame. The Viewfinder magnifies the scene approx. .94x with a 50 mm lens set at infinity. The pentaprism is fixed and diopter adjustments are from -2.0 to +1.0.
VIEWFINDER INFORMATION (Displayed): focus indicators, metering system in use, Auto-Exposure/Focus value lock indicator, aperture value (either auto or what you select), shutter speed (again in either auto chosen by the camera or what you set), Exposure and Exposure Compensation values, ISO value sensitivity, Exposure Mode, i.e. P-Program, A-Aperture priority, S-Shutter priority or M-Manual (set by user), flash output and compensation, # of exposures remaining on the SD card.
AUTO-FOCUS: TTL (Through The Lens) using Nikon's Multi-Cam 1000 with Auto-Focus (AF) Assist Lamp, detection range of EV -1 to +19 (assuming ISO 100 at 68 degrees F).
LENS SERVO OPERATION: Single servo AF (S), Continuous Servo (C), Auto AF (S and C), Manual Focus (M), Focus Tracking with Lock-On engages automatically when you select AF-C. This is ideal when tracking a moving subject as in sports or when the subject crosses from one side of the viewfinder to the other while you pan the camera to keep the image in the viewfinder.
EXPOSURE METERING: Three modes are available to the user. They are: a) 3D Color Matrix Metering - useful for almost all situations. This system is maximized when using type G and D lenses manufactured by Nikon and those that possess the same capability manufactured by third party suppliers. b)Center-Weighted metering: weight of 75% of the metered area given to a 6, 8 or 10 mm circle selected by the user in the center of the frame, c) Spot Metering: is a 3.5 mm spot centered on whichever focusing sensor YOU have selected in the viewfinder. This is an EXCEPTIONALLY WELL REFINED METER for use in close-ups and portrait photography.
EXPOSURE MODES: Digital Vari-Program, a catch-all category that provides computer selected exposure values based on what type of shooting you have dialed into the camera's selector dial. These include: Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports, Night Landscape and Night Portrait. These selections, not found on higher level cameras are generally known as the "idiot-proof" point and shoot settings that amateurs, who are less familiar with creative capabilities or who just want to "get the shot" select to insure that they catch the image. The exposures are almost all done well but often lack the creativity and magic that experienced photographers receive when they exercise some control over the camera settings.
Personally I do NOT like the "vari-program" features that Nikon installs on its lower end cameras and I make a point to NOT use them as they create only 'average' pictures.
The selector switch also permits you to choose the following additional settings that include: A - Aperture priority, S - Shutter priority, P - Program and M - for all Manual settings - where the photographer dials in both shutter speed and aperture and any exposure and flash compensation they believe will enhance their photos.
SHOOTING MODES: Single frame, Continuous frame (up to 3 frames per second), a self-timer, a delayed response and quick response modes.
ISO SENSITIVITY: ISO 100 to 1600 with HO.3, HO.7 and H1 available (permitting shooting up to ISO equivalent 3200).
FLASH: Built-in. This is a relatively low-power unit and I strongly recommend that you buy the newer flash units, either the SB-600 or SB-800 units that have been designed specifically for Nikon's digital SLR cameras. Guide number of 42 at ISO 100.
I own several older Nikon flashes but also purchased the SB-800 (see my review here) at the same time I purchased my D200.
FLASH SYCH SPEED: 1/200th sec.
HIGH SPEED FLASH SYNCH: up to 1/4000 of a second. This is ideal for use for sports on bright days where 'fill-flash' is needed to compensate for back-lit subjects. I used this extensively with the D80, my D200 and my Nikon film bodies, especially the N90s and the F100. This capability provides really AMAZING results!
SELF-TIMER: is electronically controlled from 2 to 20 seconds. Alternatively, the user can set this feature in increments of 2, 5, 10, and 20 seconds.
WEIGHT: approximately 1.5 lbs. This is the empty weight without batteries, an LCD cover, body cap or lenses attached.
DEPTH OF FIELD PREVIEW (DOF): with a lens attached, the aperture can be stopped down to whatever value is selected by the user in A and M modes or a value selected automatically by the camera in the other exposure modes. This is an ideal capability often eliminated in many manufacturers lower end or entry level film and digital SLR cameras. Nikon listened to photographers and included this feature.
POWER SOURCE(s): The camera is shipped with ONE (1) rechargeable EN-EL3e quick charge battery. This is the same battery used in the D200. If one purchases the optional MB-D80 Vertical Grip/Battery Pack, you will have the ability to load two batteries and double your shooting time.
I did not have the vertical grip for either of the D80s I borrowed to make my evaluations and found that one battery, with the barest review of images on the LCD and ZERO pop-up flash usage (I used my SB-800 with its own batteries) that I obtained about 450-500 shot with a fully charged battery. Nikon's claims to 1500+ shots is based on ideal lab conditions, ZERO use of the LCD and manual focusing, features that ALL otherwise drain the camera's internal battery. This is the only real complaint that I have with my D200, that this battery, or even two of them do not provide anywhere near the battery usage predicted and claimed by Nikon in their literature.
ACCESSORIES SUPPLIED AT TIME OF PURCHASE:
The D80 is shipped with the following accessories. The list includes the single EN-EL3e LI-Ion battery, a quick charger unit, audio-video cable, USB cable, Nikon strap, body cover, accessory hot-shoe cover, Picture project CD-ROM.
OPTIONAL ACCESSORIES: as with all other Nikon cameras, there is an extensive list of optional accessories. The one I would recommend immediately is the MB-D80 vertical Grip/Battery pack and at least a second battery. This will increase your shooting time while out in the field. A third battery also helps.
The NIKON CAPTURE imaging Software is also a $99 option and the failure to include this at time of purchase is one of the biggest area of complaint that Nikon users have against the company. However, Nikon holds fast on this and continues to earn the ire of photographers by doing so. Personally, I do ZERO image manipulation in the computer and could care less. However, I understand the anger and frustration of Nikon users who see this policy as nothing more than another attempt by Nikon to reach into your pockets for more of your hard-earned dollars, euros, pounds, yen, et al.
CAMERA DIMENSIONS: 5.2"W x 4.1"H x 3"D.
This is a very light and compact camera. It is ideal for women and men with smaller hands but can seem unbalanced with longer and heavier zoom lenses attached. The camera has a tripod socket in its base and if you buy the vertical grip, it attaches to the camera using this socket and provides another tripod socket in its base for mounting to a tripod with the grip already attached to the camera.
APPROVED MEMORY CARDS: Nikon makes a point of testing various brands of memory cards and their site and product literature stipulates which brands and size cards will provide the best service. At the time the camera was released for sale to the general public, Nikon recommended the following SD cards:
TOSHIBA: 64MB, 128MB, 256MB, 512MB, 1 GB and 2GB*
*if used with card reader or other device, Nikon recommends checking to see that the device is capable of reading a 2GB SD card.
SANDISK: 64MB, 128MB, 256MB, 512MB 1GB, 2GB and 4GB**
**SDHC compliant. Nikon recommends that your card reader be able to read SDHC cards.
MY IN USE OBSERVATIONS:
This is an ideal camera for bicyclists, hikers, mountain climbers and folks making their first Digital SLR purchase. It is an ideal camera for those switching over from film who may have a good size collection of existing Nikon Auto-Focus lenses and it is an excellent camera for a pro who may need a highly capable dSLR but who doesn't want to spend the extra money to completely duplicate his/her higher end D2Xs.
The compactness and efficiency of this camera's design is what amazed and please me most, especially when I used it for outdoor photography. It is significantly easier and lighter to carry all day than even my D200 with its vertical grip and battery pack. Highly portable, it is an ideal camera for the street photography that Electronics category LEAD HOWARD CREECH talks about in so many of his camera reviews.
While this camera was not designed to be able to take the abuse absorbed by professional level camera bodies, for the weekend snap-shooter or amateur enthusiast who does not abuse their equipment, this camera will provide YEARS of yeoman-like service.
The quality of the images you get out of this camera will take your breath away and leave you wondering why Nikon, Canon and other companies continue to persist with the investment needed to constantly up the mega pixel ante.
At 10.2 MP, the D80 is a camera that should please you while allowing you to grow in your digital photographic capabilities. Had I known about the pending release of this camera, I may just have waited and NOT bought my D200. For almost the same money, I could have purchased a D80 and another couple of lenses.
Don't read this as criticism, I love my D200, it's just that the D80 has many of the same capabilities less some high speed shooting and metering capabilities that are found in the D200. The D80 is a great camera that you'll never have to be ashamed of. I recommend it to all but the most demanding professionals and advanced enthusiasts!