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Nikon D80 Digital SLR Camera First Look Review

Nikon D80 Digital SLR with AF-S DX 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G ED Zoom Lens

Nikon D80 Digital SLR

August 9th, 2006 Nikon has today officially introduced the 10.2 megapixel Nikon D80 digital SLR camera, and a new companion AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G IF ED zoom lens.

The Nikon D80 is a high-performance digital-SLR mid-level camera that has inherited many of the superior functions of the Nikon D200 (released in 2005) and is also equipped with a number of new features. The camera is mainly geared towards novices and advanced amateur enthusiast photographers, and enters the Nikon lineup as an upgrade to the current Nikon D70s.

The Nikon D80 Digital SLR will be available by mid-September 2006, with an approximate MSRP of $1,249.99 Canadian for the body only. The new AF-S DX 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED zoom lens will be available at the same time for an MSRP of $425 Canadian. The MSRP for the Nikon D80 body only in the US will be $999 and $1299 US for the Nikon D80 with the AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED zoom lens.

The Nikon D80 employs the Nikon DX Format sensor and Nikon F lens mount design. (Same as all current Nikon DSLR's) This maintains seamless compatibility with all AF Nikkor lenses and allows photographers to take full advantage of DX Nikkor lenses designed for Nikon's D-series digital SLR cameras.

Developed as an ideal match for daily use with the Nikon D80, the new AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G ED zoom lens looks attractive, and provides an extended versatile focal range for most general photographic applications. (Provides 28-200mm field of view equivalent in 35mm terms)

The Nikon D80 will undoubtedly appeal to those who are entering the DSLR arena for the first time and to those who are looking at stepping up from a digital SLR like the Nikon D70 or D70s. With this in mind our preview looks at the features and capabilities of the D80 from this perspective focusing on the main differences between the existing Nikon D70s, and also how the Nikon D80 compares to the other 10.2 MP DSLR cameras currently available on the market, the Sony Alpha A100 digital SLR and the higher end Nikon D200.

We have had our hands on a production Nikon D80 and have included a number of screen grabs showing the cameras many creative options and Menu features. Update: Aug 19th. We have now added a Nikon D80 image sample gallery with shots taken with the Nikon AF-S DX 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5G ED zoom lens and the Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8D prime lens.

Nikon D80 DSLR Major New Features
Compared to Nikon D70s, D200 and Sony Alpha A100

The Nikon D80 features a large 2.5 inch LCD monitor

  • 10.2 effective megapixel Nikon DX Format CCD image sensor captures up to 3,872 x 2,592 pixel size images. The D80 incorporates the same sensor found in the Nikon D200 and the Sony A100. Although the Nikon D70s delivers 6.1MP resolution images at 3008 x 2000 pixel size, which realistically is more than enough detail to make very decent poster size prints, the advantage of the higher resolution offered by the D80, Nikon D200 and Sony A100 is that there is plenty of detail for cropping into an image and if you want to print at even larger output sizes the quality will improve.

  • The Nikon D80 takes only 0.18 seconds to power up and the shutter's minimal release lag time of approx. 80 milliseconds delivers instant response so that you don't miss that most important moment while shooting. The Nikon D70s starts up in 0.2 seconds and has a slightly longer 100ms shutter lag. The D200 is the most responsive with a fast start up of 0.15 sec and a very short 50ms shutter lag. The start up time for the Sony Alpha A100 is slower around 0.9 seconds and the shutter release time lag is about 118ms.

    The D80's continuous shooting performance at 3 frames per second enables the shooting of up to 100 JPEG (FINE M-size or smaller) or up to 6 RAW (NEF) images in a burst, helpful in catching the action as it unfolds. The Nikon D70s shots at around 3fps up to 144 JPEG or 4 RAW, the Sony A100 performs similar to the D80 capturing images at 3fps up to the capacity of the memory card or 6 shots in RAW, and the Nikon D200 offers the fastest continuous shooting performance at 5 frames per second enables the shooting of up to 37 JPEG (Fine-Large) images or up to 22 NEF (RAW) images.

  • The Nikon D80 incorporates a large 2.5-inch 230,000-dot high-resolution LCD playback monitor providing an ultra-wide 170-degree viewing angle from all directions. This is the same 2.5-inch LCD screen found on the Nikon D200. The Sony A100 also incorporates a bright and clear 2.5-inch LCD monitor with 230,000 pixel resolution and a wide viewing angle. The D70s in comparison features a smaller 2.0-inch LCD monitor.

  • Nikon D80
    Nikon D70s

    Nikon D200

    Sony Alpha A100

    A new dedicated Zoom button on the back of the Nikon D80 makes it easy to preview images and assess sharpness at up to 25 times magnification on the LCD monitor.
    A new RGB histogram display (similar to D200 and D2Xs) aids in evaluating exposures with greater precision. Other playback options include single frame, 4 or 9-image thumbnail display, an improved histogram display and highlight point display.

    RGB histogram as seen on the D80 LCD

    The Sony A100 and the Nikon D70s both offer a standard histogram display but do not offer the more advanced RGB histogram display used to view highlights for each of the red, green, and blue colour channels.

  • The Nikon D80's newly developed image processing engine, inherits Nikon's exclusive processing algorithms from the Nikon D200 and D2Xs and accelerates performance and precision, while also consuming significantly less power than its predecessors.

  • Color-independent preconditioning prior to A/D conversion works in conjunction with 12-bit digital image processing algorithms in the D80 to produce natural-looking images that benefit from even greater faithful color and tone reproduction. The Nikon D70s in comparison employs 8-bit digital image processing.

    Although there are differences in how the information captured by the image sensor is transferred and dealt with internally, both the Sony A100 and the Nikon D200 also incorporate 12-bit A/D conversion in their image processing engines.

    The Nikon D80 features high speed 2-channel rotated output to enhance the data transfer speed from the sensor. The D200 features even faster performance with its high speed parallel 4-channel sensor output. (Think two lane versus four lane highway traffic flow)

  • The D80 features Nikon's 3D Color Matrix Metering II based on a 420-segment RGB sensor. Evaluating brightness, color, contrast, selected focus area and camera-to-subject distance, the system references the data against an expanded onboard database created using data from more than 30,000 actual photographic scenes to instantly and accurately calculate the final exposure value for the shot. Variable center-weighted metering and spot metering centered on the active focus area are also available when greater control and precision are required for exposure metering.

  • In comparison, t
    he Nikon D70s features a higher sensitivity 1005-segment RGB metering sensor similar to the one found in the Nikon D200. From what we have been told, improvements in the Nikon D80's evaluative metering algorithms delivers exposure calculations based on its 420-segment metering sensor that are on par with the results provided by the 1005-segment metering sensor on the D70s.

    The Sony Alpha A100 features a 40 segment "honeycomb" metering sensor delivering good results overall, although offering less evaluative precision in its metering technology which could deliver less accurate results when dealing with more complex lighting conditions.

  • New 11-area AF system. Adopting a refined version of Nikon's advanced Multi-CAM 1000 AF Sensor Module (used in the D200), this new 11-area AF system adds new focusing options that assist in getting the desired shot. For example, while the system is able to use each of its 11 focus areas individually, the center sensor can also be switched to wide-frame operation for broader coverage. (Selected in the D80 Custom Settings Menu)

    Nikon D80 viewfinder information
    Nikon D80 Viewfinder Information

  • The D80
    also features a new Auto-Area AF mode that measures from all 11 focus areas, automatically determines which of them are on the primary subject, and activates only those areas as a group. During AF measurement, the multiple AF points that are active will blink in the viewfinder. (Displayed when shutter release is half-pressed)

    The three AF area modes that can be selected in the Nikon D80 Custom Settings Menu include:

    1) Single Area AF: Focuses only on subjects in the selected area. Selection can be made from any one of the eleven AF spot sensors.

    2) Dynamic Area AF: Focuses on subject in the selected area, but follows the subject if it moves from its original position, shifting automatically to the focus area into which the subject has moved.

    Auto-area AF: automatically determines which of the AF areas are on the primary subject, and activates only those areas as a group.

    The Sony A100 features a 9-area autofocus system and the Nikon D70s a 5-area AF system. Although both of these cameras are very capable in terms of focus performance, they feature less sophisticated AF technologies compared to the D80. The Nikon D200 features an advanced 11-area AF system while also offering a selectable Wide Area AF mode that uses 7 of its 11 sensors providing further performance enhancements and extended versatility.

    Nikon D80
    11-Area AF Point Selection
    Nikon D80
    Wide Area Center AF Point
    Nikon D70s
    5-Area AF Point Selection
    Nikon D200
    11-Area AF Point Selection
    Nikon D200
    7 Point Wide Area AF selectable
    Sony A100
    9-area AF point selection

    The layout of the focus areas as seen in the viewfinder of the Nikon D80, D70s, D200 and the Sony A100 are shown above.

  • The D80 features a new large and bright viewfinder offering 0.94x magnification for clear views. Included is a built-in diopter adjustment control knob making it easier to fine-tune the view to match eyesight. The viewfinder's integrated grid display can also be turned on to assist composition.

  • Information displayed in viewfinder: Focus indications, Metering system, AE/FV lock indicator, Flash sync indicator, Shutter speed, Aperture value, Exposure/Exposure compensation indicator, ISO sensitivity, Exposure mode, Flash output level compensation, Exposure compensation, Number of remaining exposures

  • The Nikon D80 features a slimmer, more compact body compared to the Nikon D70s with the size, layout and operation of all buttons and controls designed for more user friendly operation. Camera function is controlled using the buttons on the top of the camera, the main command dial and the sub command dial.

  • The Nikon D80 incorporates a top control panel
    LCD illuminator which is activated from the on/off toggle switch. The Nikon D70s features a separate button to activate the LCD panel illuminator.

    The D80 features two new easily accessible operation buttons on the top right grip portion of the camera. The new Autofocus (AF) button allows for the selection of focus modes, and the Shooting Mode button provides options for shooting rate, self timer and remote trigger control settings.

    By pushing the AF button you can activate one of three focus modes:

    AF-A Auto select (default setting): Camera automatically selects single-servo autofocus when subject is stationary, continuous-servo autofocus when subject is moving. Shutter can only be released when in-focus indicator is displayed.

    AF-S Single-servo AF: For stationary subjects. Focus locks when shutter-release button is pressed
    halfway. Shutter can only be released when in-focus indicator is displayed.

    AF-C Continuous-servo: AF For moving subjects. Camera focuses continuously while shutter-release
    button is pressed halfway. Photographs can be taken even when in-focus indicator is not displayed.
    To choose the autofocus mode, press the button until the desired setting is displayed.

    The Shooting mode button allows you to control how the camera takes photographs: one at a time, in a continuous sequence, with a timed shutter-release delay, or with a remote control. The Shooting mode button allows for quick access to the following camera settings:

    Single frame: Camera takes one photograph each time shutter-release button is pressed.

    Continuous: Camera records photographs at up to three frames per second while shutter-release button is pressed.

    Self-timer: Use for self-portraits or to reduce blurring caused by camera shake

    Delayed remote: Optional ML-L3 remote control required. Use for self-portraits

    Quick-response remote: Optional ML-L3 remote control required. Use to reduce blurring caused by camera shake

  • The new Function Button on the Nikon D80 is designed for quick access and can be set up to control one of the following options:

  • ISO display (default): The modified value for ISO sensitivity is displayed while the FUNC. button is pressed.

    Framing grid: Press the FUNC. button and rotate the main command dial to turn the grid display on in the viewfinder.

    Center AF area: Press the FUNC. button and rotate the main command dial to choose between normal and wide center AF areas

    FV lock: If the built-in flash or an optional SB-800, SB-600, or SB-R200 flash unit is used, flash value locks when the FUNC. button is pressed . Press again to cancel FV lock.

    Flash off:
    Built-in flash and optional Speedlights turn off while the FUNC. button is pressed.

    The New Function button on the D80 can be set
    up for quick access to specific camera features

    Matrix metering: Matrix metering is activated while the FUNC. button is pressed (P, S, A, and M modes only).

    Center-weighted metering is activated while the FUNC. button is pressed (P, S, A, and M modes only).

    Spot metering:
    Spot metering is activated while the FUNC. button is pressed (P, S, A, and M modes only).

    The Nikon D80 features a depth of field preview button. To preview depth of field, simply press and hold the button.

  • The Nikon D80 uses SD memory cards as the recording medium and supports the Secure Digital High-Capacity (SDHC) standard for memory cards with capacities of 4 GB and greater. The Nikon D70s and the D200 both use compact flash memory card technology. The Sony A100 is compatible with both compact flash cards and Sony's Memory Stick Duo cards.

  • D80 Image quality settings: images can be simultaneously recorded in compressed RAW and JPEG (Fine, Normal, or Basic) formats. The available image quality options include:

  • NEF (RAW)

    Compressed raw data from the image sensor are saved directly to memory card.

    JPEG Fine

    Images are compressed less than JPEG Normal, producing higher-quality images. Compression ratio: roughly 1:4.

    JPEG Normal (default)

    Best choice in most situations. Compression ratio: roughly 1:8.

    JPEG Basic

    Smaller file size suited to e-mail or the Web. Compression ratio: roughly 1:16.

    NEF (RAW) + JPEG Fine

    Two images are recorded: one NEF (RAW) image and one fine-quality JPEG image.

    NEF (RAW) + JPEG Normal

    Two images are recorded: one NEF (RAW) image and one normal-quality JPEG image.

    NEF (RAW) + JPEG Basic Two images are recorded: one NEF (RAW) image and one normal-quality JPEG image.

    Available Image Size options

    • 3,872 × 2,592 (Large)
    • 2,896 × 1,944 (Medium)
    • 1,936 × 1,296 (Small)

  • The Nikon D80 offers extended creative control with Program shift (P), Shutter priority (S), Aperture priority (A) and Manual (M) exposure options. In addition to offering a "green" Auto mode, six Digital Vari-Program exposure modes on the D80 provide automatic operation that optimizes white balance, sharpening, tone, color, saturation and hue for results that match the intended shot.

    Selections include Portrait, Landscape, Close Up, Sports, Night Landscape and Night Portrait. The program modes are easily accessible by simply rotating the mode dial on the top of the camera. The exposure mode settings available on the Nikon D80 are shown below:

  • ACDSee Pro 3 Photo Manager

    The Nikon D80 features five main user menus:

    Playback Menu: Adjust playback settings and manage photos

    Shooting Menu: Adjust shooting settings

    Custom Settings Menu: Personalize camera settings

    Setup Menu: Format memory cards and perform basic camera setup

    Retouch Menu: Create retouched copies of original images

  • The D80 features a new "Retouch Menu" that offers a variety of options for editing images in-camera. The menu options include:

    D-lighting: Brighten dark or back-lit subjects
    Red-eye correction: Correct “red-eye” caused by flash
    Trim: Create cropped copies of existing photographs
    Monochrome: Copy pictures in black-and-white, sepia, or cyanotype
    Filter effects: Create copies with color filter effects
    Small picture: Create small copies of existing photographs
    Image overlay: Combine two RAW photographs into a single image

    D-lighting: brightens shadows, making it ideal for dark or back-lit photographs. D-Lighting can be applied to a selected image in one of three steps: Normal, Moderate and Enhanced. Once selected the corrected D-Lighting image is saved as a copy so you still have your original if required.

    Trim: can be used to produce smaller files for easy sharing or greater efficiency for specific end purposes.

    Monochrome settings: allow you to create a copy of the selected image in Black-and-white, Sepia, or Cyanotype:

    Black and White allows you to save a copy of the selected image in B&W. Selecting Sepia or Cyanotype displays a preview of the selected image; press the multi selector up to increase color saturation, down to

    Filter effects that can be applied to an image (and saved as a copy) from selections in the retouch menu include: Sky light creates the effect of using a sky light filter, giving the copy a “cold” blue cast. Warm filter: creates a copy with warm tone filter effects, giving the copy a “warm” red cast. Color balance: press the multi selector up to increase the amount of green, right to increase the amount of red, left to increase the amount of blue, or down to increase the amount of magenta. The effect is displayed in the monitor together with red, green, and blue histograms.

    Redeye Correction: Selecting this option displays a preview image of the selected picture with Red-eye correction applied. Once confirmed a corrected copy of the original image is saved. We tried out this feature on a pre-production Nikon D80 camera and the results below are the screen grabs as displayed on the camera. We used the 25x playback display feature on the Nikon D80 to zoom in on the image to verify how well the Red-eye correction worked. The feature seemed to work quite well in our quick test.

    The Small Picture option on the Nikon D80 allows you to create a small copy of the selected original image. The following image sizes are available:

    640 × 480 for television playback

    320 × 240 for display on Web pages

    160 × 120 suitable for e-mail


    Image Overlay allows the user to merge a pair of selected RAW (NEF) files taken with the Nikon D80 to create a new composite image that can be saved in RAW or JPEG format. The new picture is saved at current image quality and size settings.

    Note: image overlay will only work with files that were recorded in the NEF / RAW format. Image Overlay will not work with JPEG images.

    Compare Latest Nikon SLR's:

    Check out the User Reviews on the popular Nikon D90 digital SLR

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