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Nikon D80. enlarge
I bought mine here. Also see here and here (body only, about $730), here with excellent 18 - 55mm lens, or here or here with new 18 - 135 mm lens, about $1,000). Of course "body only" means complete with a box full of standard accessories.
2008 WARNING: Don't buy the D80. The new D90 completely obsoletes it. If money matters, buy the almost identical D40, and if not, the D90 is a complete generation beyond the old D80. Please treat the rest of this review as an historical artifact, written in 2007.
Nikon D80 User's Guide in plain, practical English. 31 December 2006
How to Use the D80's Autofocus System. 12 June 2008
INTRODUCTION back to top
August 2008: The D80 has been replaced by the Nikon D90. You'll still see the D80 in stores and ads, so look for deep discounts.
When the D80 came out in mid-2006 I bought one immediately because it gave the same resolution as my D200 in a more portable package. My D80 is as small and light as my D70 with the same sensor as my D200. Whoo hoo!
Time marches on, and the D40 came out at the end of 2006 at half the price of the D80. The D40 is even smaller and lighter, with the same perfectly good image quality as my D70, so for me, I prefer my D40 for the great majority of times I don't feel like hauling my D200. I bought my D80 for portability, and my D40 is even smaller.
I prefer the size and weight of my D40, and find its controls much easier, faster and more pleasant to operate than my D80. The D40's superb Up-Down-Left-Right - OK nav key is much bigger, better laid out and clicks with more certainty than the puny, mushy thumb key and separate OK button of my D80 and D70. You appreciate these more when you push them all day.
Nikon has now dropped the price of the superior, and much heavier, D200 to not much more than the D80. I see the D200 going for $1,390 and the D80 for $924, so for 50% more the D200 is 100% more camera, and that's ignoring any D200 rebates.
Everything changes every few months in digital, and as of January 2007 the D80 is in a precarious position: almost as expensive as the far superior D200, and not much different than the D40, which is half the price of the D80. (Resolution has little to do with image or camera quality; metering, color and usability is everything.)
My D80 has the same great image sensor, LCD and viewfinder of my D200 jammed inside a smaller, lighter body like a D50. It's the same price as the D70 was in 2004: $999. This makes the D80 a screaming deal if you want the most pixels. The D40 is an even better deal at half the price if you're not often printing above 13 x 19" (30 x 45cm). The resolution of my D80 and D200 are nice, but only needed if I'm printing at 20 x 30" (50 x 70cm).
I bought my D80 in the summer of 2006 as a lightweight, full-image-performance alternative to my D200 for traveling light. I was right: my D80 was my favorite camera to grab when I had to travel with it for the week, as I did at the beginning of October 2006 in Las Vegas, and the first week of November 2006 to New York City (photos).
Life moves on, and when I bought my D40 in December 2006, I find I always grab my D40 when I want a small camera, and my D200 when I want serious. Today my D80 mostly collects dust. If I only could have one of these three, the D80 probably would be the best compromise.
But why compromise? I make hundreds of shots a day and don't worry about equipment costs. I have all these cameras at my disposal, and I still grab my D40 first for family photos. At half the price of my D80, my D40 is even easier to love than the D80. My D40 is smaller, lighter, feels better in my hands because of its better rear controls and newer firmware, and gives the same results (megapixels are irrelevant) as my D80. Yes, I prefer my D40.
If cost is an issue, get a D40 and put the extra $500 towards travel or another lens. Hint: the 18-55mm lens included with the D40 is so good it's also all I use for family photos.
Since the D200's price has dropped and costs about the same as the D80 as of January 2007, and since the D200 is a far superior camera because of its far superior (consistent) light meter and rubber-coated-brick durability, I'd step right past the D80 and get a D200 for serious photography.
The D40 and D80 take the tiny, modern SD memory cards, not the bigger, older CF cards.
The D40 and D80 have inferior light meters compared to the D200. Unlike my D200, my D40 and D80 need varying exposure compensations to get correct exposures with different subjects and compositions. The D40 and D80 are about the same as my Canon XTi and 5D, while the D200 is superior.
I prefer my D200 if I'm doing serious photography all day, but if I'm spending more time carrying the camera than shooting with it, I grab my D40. I just bought a Canon 5D for five times the price, and I still prefer my D40's LCD and overall operation. The D40 and D80 are easy cameras to love!
If I'm traveling for the week, I wrap my D80 or D40 and Nikon 18-200mm lens in a sweatshirt and throw it in my carry-on bag. I'm ready for anything, and no one sees I'm packing. I'll jam my 12-24mm in a sock and take it, too. Honestly, most of the time the weightless 18-55mm lens is what I use with my D40 if I'm not out specifically to make photos.
I've gotten hate mail for what some people misconstrue as thrashing on my D80. My D80 is as good as it was 7 months ago; just that the D40 came out and the D200 has dropped in price. This is a good thing - I was elated when I paid $200 for a memory card and a week later it dropped to $79. This is progress. Digital gear is consumable, unlike film gear which you'd use for decades. That's why we pay as much for a plastic digital body as we used to pay for professional F5. We pay what we do for digital because we're not paying for the bricks of film we used to shoot.
Sorry - as I've been telling you all since the 1990s, digital changes every week. Digital equipment is a consumable. You buy it for it's immediate utility, and toss it (resell it) when something better comes out, which might be two months or two years. If you want a lasting hardware investment, buy good lenses or stick with film cameras.
I still use my 50-year-old Linhof 4x5, which works as well today as it did 50 years ago, and sometimes still shoot with Nikon lenses I bought over 25 years ago. Even 50 years ago my 4x5 had 50 years of development behind it (Linhof has been making the Technika since 1907) and 25 years ago Nikon had been making F-mount SLR lenses for over 20 years. Each was a mature product back when I bought them.
Practical digital SLRs have been out for less than ten years, so we're still in the very early stages, much like automobiles were back in the 1880s. We're going to look back in five years and laugh at whatever gets announced this year in digital cameras.
Digital gets better every month, and only God knows what new gear is coming in March 2007. If you have something to shoot now, get what's available today and never look back. See also Managing Obsolescence. Obsolete doesn't mean discontinued; obsolete means that there are better ways of doing something. Inkjets went obsolete in 2004, replaced by better Fuji and Noritsu printers at every discount store, but people still buy and struggle with new inkjet printers. This doesn't mean that inkjets are bad; it just means there are better, faster and cheaper ways of making prints.
This is me, you're probably different. I don't photograph action, and the 11 AF sensors of the D80 and D200 are probably better for tracking things in motion than the three sensors of my D40. I haven't tried it.
Firmware: Nikon has a new firmware update as of January 2007. I've never bothered to install it; the original firmware is fine and I'm lazy. All of this review is using my original firmware.
Nikon D80 Back. enlarge
SPECIFICATIONS back to top
Lenses: Works perfectly with any Nikkor AF lens ever made since 1986. Meter won't work with manual-focus lenses.
Viewfinder: Big and bright, identical to D200! Much bigger than D70 and D50. A little bigger than Canon 20D and 30D. Glass pentaprism. Big, fat digital indicators on bottom, the same as the other Nikons and much easier to read than the lower-contrast, thinner digits in the 20D and 30D.
Viewfinder: BIG; much bigger than the D70 or D50 and the same as the D200. This means 0.94x magnification with a 50mm lens. Free, optional (via a menu) rectangular grid (The $3,000 Canon 5D requires buying and changing a focus screen!) I always leave my grid turned on: it's a big help getting level shots.
AF: 11 zones, same as the D200. Nikon's AF has always worked great. It uses the Multi-CAM 1000 Module, same as the D200. Nikon claims some new focusing options. The center sensor can be switched to wide-frame operation. An Auto-Select mode can choose AF areas automatically. I'm unsure how new new is since the D200 does the same things.
Metering: 420 segment RGB Color Matrix. Nikon now calls it "3D Color Matrix Metering II." This is less than the D200's 1,005 segments, and still way more than enough. Back in the 1980s when Nikon invented the Matrix meter they researched how many segments were enough. They saw little to no improvement beyond five segments. All these segments are mostly for marketing. They key to metering accuracy is the wisdom in the firmware which reads all those sensors.
Shutter: Mechanical only, 1/4,000 - 30 seconds and Bulb. The D70 had an additional electronic shutter which allowed operation up to 1/8,000
Flash Sync: 1/200, down from 1/500 of the D70 and down from 1/250 of the D200. This is because the D80 lacks the electronic shutter of the D70. My D200 sometimes has trouble running at 1/250, so running at 1/200 makes sense. I wish the sync was 1/500, but tough. Fast sync is important, but all the other improvements over the D70 are more important.
Menus: Customizable. You can choose what gets displayed and what doesn't. I doubt you can reorganize them to make sense, which is something I wish I could do on my D200 as I explained in my D200 Users Guide.
Idiot Modes: Seven (portrait, night scene, etc.) The D200 doesn't have these, and I never use them on my D80.
Flash: Built-in, i-TTL (the good system). Built-in flash also works as a remote commander for wireless control of external flashes. See How to Use Wireless Flash.
Frame Rate: 3 frames per second. The D200 does 5 FPS, which is critical for sports, however I leave my D200 set down to 3 FPS anyway for the still subjects I shoot. For pro sport shooters, get the D200. Don't worry about it for getting great shots of your kids in school sports.
Buffer: Depends on settings, since the camera clears the buffer about as fast as anyone can shoot. At puny settings like Medium, Nikon claims 100 shots deep, but only 6 in RAW. I've never needed more than a 9 shot buffer.
Sensor: 10 Megapixel CCD, 3,872 x 2,592 pixel images, up from 6 MP in the D70 and D50. Standard DX sensor size of 23.6 x 15.8 mm. Also makes 2,896 x 1,944 and 1,936 x 1,296 images in Medium and Small settings.
ISO: 100 - 3,200 and programmable Auto (100 - 1,600). Nikon hides ISOs over 1600 as "Hi," so they call ISO 3200 "Hi + 1." It's the same thing. GOTCHA: The D80 lacks the in-viewfinder ISO display of the D200. I look at the in-finder ISO display all the time when shooting, and I had always wished my other cameras which lacked this had it. OK, this is one thing the D200 does that the D80 doesn't. You can set this on the D80 in a custom function.
HI ISO NR: There are three selectable levels of high-ISO NR and selectable subtractive dark-frame noise reduction for exposures 8 seconds and longer.
White Balance: Same as D200: Auto (TTL white balance with 420-pixel RGB sensor), Daylight, Tungsten, Cloudy, Fluorescent, Flash, and Shade, all with easy fine-tuning, direct color temperature in degrees Kelvin, and of course preset manual using a white or gray card or Expodisc. The D80 also brackets white balance. The D200 has 1,005 sensors, not just 420, but either are far more than needed. You only need a few, not hundreds. Newer firmware always gets better, so the D80 ought to be as good or better than the D200.
Image Adjustments: the usual from Nikon for contrast, sharpness, saturation, etc.
Histograms: Full color YRGB, just like D200.
File Formats: Compressed NEF (raw) and JPG.
Memory: SD cards, not CF.
LCD: 2.5," up from 2.0." It's the same excellent 230,000 dot, super-wide angle 170 degree one from the D200. Nikon claims a dedicated zoom button, but I see it shared with the QUAL button, just like the D70.
In-Camera Tricks: The D80 allows you to play tricks with captured images without a computer. I'm sure these are popular in Japan, but I never use them on my Casio pocket camera which does the same things. The D80 offers red-eye retouching, cropping and trimming. It also has a shadow recovery feature called "D-Lighting." A silly feature, also seen in Casios, is the ability to overlay two images on top of each other. There are settings for black-and-white, sepia (brown and white), cyanotypes (blue and white), multiple exposures and filter tricks like "skylight," "warm filter" and "color balance." If it works like the Casios, these tricks save a new file with the effect and don't harm the original.
Mechanics: Top panel illumination now switched on by twisting the power button, just like D200, D2X, etc. The D70 had a separate button. The D80 is an improvement. Slight rearrangement of buttons on rear. Dedicated AF selection button on top of camera, a big improvement from D70 which required a menu to select between AF-S or AF-C.
Battery: Same EN-EL3e rechargeable lithium-ion battery as the D200. The "e" on the end of EN-EL3e is for the electronic battery monitor chip inside the battery. This EN-EL3e battery will work in the D70, D100 and D50, too, but you need an "e" EN-EL3e to work in the D80. The D80 won't recognize a battery if it lacks the third contact. The D80 and D200 EN-EL3e battery has three metal contacts, one for the monitor chip, while the older ones only have two metal terminals.
Here's what the side of my box says:
This says that in addition to the D80, you also get: a Strap, Body cap, Eyepiece cap (if for some reason you have no eyes or fingers with which to keep the sun from shining in the eyepiece and confusing the light meter), Rubber eyecup (they often fall off and I don't miss them), USB cable, Quick Charger (MH-18a) with AC power cord, Audio/Video cable (to hook to a TV for playback), EN-EL3e rechargeable Li-ion battery, protective battery cover for battery storage (and of course the camera's own battery door and rubber connector covers are included), Clear protective LCD monitor cover (called "BM-7" by the resourceful Japanese), Hot shoe cover (I have no idea why you'd need this - you have to pull it off to attach a flash - maybe that's why Nikon aptly names it "BS-1"), Software CD, Manuals and Warranty and Registration cards.
If some store tries to scam you out of these things or charge extra for them, run! Don't even bother pointing out the side of my box above. Honest stores don't haggle with you for the accessories They are included, just like a new car comes with tires and a steering wheel at no extra charge.
In my box there is one box with the body, and another smaller box with all the other booty. There are things in there I never open, like the software (I avoid camera maker software), manuals (I download them) and warranty cards (I register online). I haven't used the new battery: since it takes all the same batteries I've been using with my D200 I haven't bothered to open the new one or the charger, or anything except the body itself. Thank Goodness most of these items are interchangeable among the D50 / D70 / D80 / D100 / D200.
You'll have to buy your own memory card (I use a 2GB SanDisk SD card) and lenses.
Forget card readers: you can download directly from the D80 simply by plugging it into a USB port. It appears as a new drive and downloads FAST by dragging the files to your hard drive.
When you get the kits you actually get another box with the lens.
MB-D80 Vertical Grip with command dial, vertical release and AE/AF-lock button. It takes one or two EN-EL3e batteries or six AA batteries. For AAs it runs on alkaline, Ni-MH rechargables, expensive throw-away lithium and those crappy "Heavy Duty" nickel-manganese batteries sold in discount stores and tiendas across the third world.
ML-L3 Wireless IR Remote Control (same as D70).
MC-DC1 Wired Remote Cord.
Size: 5.2" x 4.1" x 3.0." (132 x 103 x 77 mm). This is a little smaller than a D70. It's the same depth and width as the D50 but a little taller.
Weight: 21 oz (585 g.) naked: without battery, memory card, body cap, or monitor cover. This is the same as a D70.
Introduced: August 9th, 2006.
Availability: Shipping in the USA since September 1st, 2006.
Thanks to Rob from Maryland for reminding me to order my D80 the day it came out!
This page is also in Romanian.
If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you may have had to take, feel free to help me continue helping everyone.
Thanks for reading!
Next: Nikon D80 Performance
(exposure information has moved here)