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DCRP Review: Nikon D80
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: September 12, 2006
Last Updated: April 6, 2008
The Nikon D80 is the long-awaited replacement the the best-selling D70 and D70s digital SLRs. It's basically a D200 with a slightly different CCD sensor (though still 10 Megapixel) and a slower burst rate. And at $999 for the body only and $1299 with the new 18 - 135 mm lens, it's also substantially cheaper than the D200.
Some of the new features on the D80 versus its predecessors include:
Is the D80 worth your hard-earned cash? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
As I said above, there are two kits available for the D80. Here's what you'll find in each:
The first thing you'll need to go along with your D80 is a lens. If you got the lens kit then you're ready to go. If not, you can use most Nikon F-mount lenses with the D80 without issue. Do keep in mind that there's a 1.5X focal length conversion, so a 50 mm lens has the field-of-view of a 75 mm lens.
As for the kit lens itself, it's just fair. While it covers a very nice range, it's not terribly sharp, especially around the edges of the frame. If there's one thing I've learned about lenses it's that you (usually) get what you pay for. There's a reason why this lens only adds $300 to the price of the camera.
Something else you'll need to pick up is a memory card. Unlike the D70's before it, the new D80 uses Secure Digital (as well as high capacity SDHC cards), and I'd suggest a 1GB card as a good starter size. Buying a "high speed" card is absolutely a good idea.
The D80 uses the same powerful EN-EL3e battery as the D200. This battery packs 11.1 Wh of energy, which is about as good as it gets. Since Nikon doesn't supply battery life numbers that use the CIPA standard, I can't tell you how it compares to other D-SLRs. I can tell you that Nikon gives battery life numbers of 600 and 2700 shots (obviously with very different conditions), and I'm guessing that the CIPA number lies closer to the bottom of that range.
When it's time to charge the battery just snap it into the included charger. It takes a little over two hours to fully charge the battery. This isn't one of those handy chargers that plugs right into the wall -- you must use a power cable.
D80 with optional battery grip; image courtesy of Nikon USA
If you want to squeeze more life out of your D80 then you'll want to check out the MB-D80 battery grip ($150). This uses two EN-EL3e's or six AA batteries, giving you twice the battery life of the camera alone. You'll also get a few extra buttons and dials that you can use while shooting in the portrait orientation.
The beauty of a digital SLR is that nearly any accessory you can think of is available. First and foremost are lenses, and Nikon has tons of them. Same goes for flashes. The SB-600 ($185) and SB-800 ($315) are fully compatible with the camera's i-TTL flash metering system. The wireless SB-R200 flash is also fully compatible. The D80 supports both wired ($25) and wireless remote controls. Other accessories include an AC adapter, an angled viewfinder, and a hard carrying case.
Nikon includes version 1.7 of their PictureProject software with the D80, and it's good, but not great. The interface is reminiscent of Apple's iPhoto, and I found the software to be responsive and stable. For those of you with Intel-based Macs, I should mention that PictureProject is not a Universal application.
Anyhow, above you can see the standard thumbnail view that you'll get when you first start up PP.
A view showing exposure info is also available. Double-clicking on an image enters the image edit window:
Here you can adjust things like brightness, color, and sharpness. You can also straighten images or use Nikon's D-Lighting feature to brighten up dark areas of your photos. Auto image enhancement and redeye removal features are also available. PP also makes e-mailing and printing your photos a snap.
One thing you can't do, amazingly enough, is edit RAW (NEF) images. For those who don't know, the beauty of RAW is that you can adjust image properties like white balance, exposure, sharpness, and color without affecting the image quality. It's like being able to take the shot again. Unfortunately PictureProject only views the NEF file (and saves it to other formats) -- if you want to actually edit the image you'll need Capture NX (see below) or Photoshop CS2, which should support the D80 soon.
One piece of optional software that is worth a look is Nikon's new Capture NX software ($150). Capture NX is a unique photo editor that is hard to describe, but I'll do my best. Capture NX starts out innocently enough, with a pretty standard thumbnail view and numerous editing tools (click here to see those). It can open NEF files and let you edit most of the RAW properties -- unlike PictureProject.
But that's not what makes Capture NX interesting. The software lets you define "control points", which can be placed in your photo and manipulated. In my product shot above I set a "white point" on the background (to get the white balance just right) and a "color point" near the I/O ports (in order to brighten them up a bit). For the color points you can adjust the size of the area you want to affect, plus the brightness, contrast, and saturation. If you have a bunch of control points near each other the software automatically blends them together so everything looks right.
Another cool thing you can do is "brush on" things like unsharp mask. Using my example above, I brushed on some unsharp mask on the various labels on the camera. A "show selection" option shows you exactly what areas have been affected by all your messing around -- mouse over the above image and you'll see where I clumsily applied the unsharp mask brush.
There's also a comparison feature which lets you see before (top) and after (bottom) views of a photo you've edited. Best of all, if you save the image as a NEF file you can go back later and tweak any of the things that you modified along the way.
What's not to like about Capture NX? It's pretty difficult to learn, for sure. I got the grand tour from Nikon and I'm still pretty lousy at it. Secondly, the software runs like a snail with lead boots on my Mac Pro -- they need a Universal version of NX badly.
Another product you might be interested in is Nikon Camera Control Pro ($80). Just as it sounds, this software lets you control the D80 over the USB connection, saving the images directly to your computer. This software should really be included with the camera -- Canon's bundled such a program for years with their D-SLRs.
Nikon includes a pretty thick manual with the D80. It's not the easiest to read manual out there, but it should answer your questions. The manual for the PictureProject software is on CD.
Look and Feel
The D80 is a fairly large digital SLR that has impressive build quality (save for a few plastic doors). Under its plastic and rubber shell you'll find a strong (yet light) metal frame. From the front the D80 looks a lot like its predecessor, with the most noticeable changes on the back of the camera.
The D80 is larger -- and easier to hold -- than the Rebel XTi
The large right hand grip makes the D80 easy to hold. While the important controls are easy to reach, the D80 suffers a bit from "button clutter", which buttons scattered all over the camera body.
Now let's see how the D80 compares to other D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:
(W x H x D, excluding protrusions)
Canon Digital Rebel XTi
5.0 x 3.7 x 2.6 in.
48.1 cu in.
510 g Canon EOS-30D
5.7 x 4.2 x 2.9 in.
69.4 cu in.
700 g Nikon D200
5.8 x 4.4 x 2.9 in.
74 cu in.
830 g Nikon D50
5.2 x 4.0 x 3.0 in.
62.4 cu in.
540 g Nikon D70s
5.5 x 4.4 x 3.1 in.
75 cu in.
600 g Nikon D80
5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in.
64 cu in.
585 g Olympus EVOLT E-330
5.5 x 3.4 x 2.8 in.
52.4 cu in.
550 g Olympus EVOLT E-500
5.0 x 3.7 x 2.6 in.
48.1 cu in.
435 g Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1
5.7 x 3.4 x 3.1 in.
60.1 cu in.
530 g Pentax K100D
5.1 x 3.6 x 2.8 in.
51.4 cu in.
560 g Samsung Digimax GX-1S
4.9 x 3.6 x 2.6 in.
45.9 cu in.
505 g Sony Alpha DSLR-A100
5.3 x 3.8 x 2.9 in.
58.4 cu in.