Nikon D80

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Nikon D80
  • Nikon D80
  • Nikon D80
  • Nikon D80

Pros

  • Great colour, sharp pictures, speedy operation, great design

Cons

  • Default lens has some chromatic aberration issues, shutter speed slightly reduced

Bottom Line

The D80 is one of the best cameras on the market, offering exceptional image quality and a bevy of features. The default lens has some chromatic aberration issues, but aside from that, we have no issue recommending it.

Would you buy this?

Nikon's D80 is yet another excellent entry into the D-SLR market. After their success with the D40 and D200 models (below and above this unit in price respectively), we were extremely interested to see what their new mid range unit had to offer. Those wondering if they should upgrade from their D50 or D70s, we'd say yes, as D80 makes improvements in nearly every area. Combining the excellent picture quality of past Nikon units with the speedy and accurate focus found on the D40, it impressed us greatly, and is one of the best buys currently available in the D-SLR market.

As expected, the D80 performed excellently in our image quality tests. It's score of 1818 in Imatest's sharpness test indicates extremely crisp shots, and is comparable to the results of other 10 megapixel models on the market, such as the Canon EOS 400D and the Sony Alpha A100. We did notice a slight softness to our shots that wasn't present on the aforementioned units, but it wasn't really noticeable until we zoomed in closely. We saw no colour fringing or blurring to speak of, and were more than satisfied with the overall clarity of our shots.

However the same can not be said for the D80's chromatic aberration performance, which is the one area where this model disappointed us. Its score of .168% in Imatest is quite a bit higher than normal, and this was clearly evident in our test shots, with red and blue haloing across areas of high contrast towards the edge of our shots. Chromatic aberration is caused by the way lenses refract the different wave lengths of a beam of light. Sometimes parts of the beam will be reflected slightly out of place, which results in visible haloing. So as such, this problem can be largely attributed to the default lens. Several of the aforementioned D-SLRs have exhibited similar issues with the default lens, so as it stands, we'd recommend purchasing at least one alternative lens to take full advantage of this unit.

Fortunately, the D80 performed excellently in other areas. Its colour score of 9.66 in Imatest is on par with the results from the Alpha A100 and EOS 400D. Our test shots showed very bright, vivid colours, typical of low and mid range cameras. This was most evident in the reds, which were strong and bright but not overpowering. The other shades were more realistic, and the camera's white balance did a good job of keeping everything accurate.

Similarly, image noise was not an issue. It score .50% in Imatest's noise test is slightly higher than its compatriots, but the difference isn't large enough to be noticeable. Our shots were smooth and noise free. Furthermore, the D80 scaled well with higher ISO sensitivities, producing usable pictures up to ISO 1600. At ISO Hi (ISO 3200) the noise took a sizeable jump upwards, but those who like shooting at higher sensitivities will be pleased with this model. Also note that the D80 offers the ability to adjust the noise reduction at these higher sensitivities, which is a nice touch. We found the noise reduction operated quite well, but did result in a noticeable decrease in quality, as expected.

Another area the unit impressed was speed of operation. Like the D40, the D80 is lightning quick, with the improved auto focus being the most noticeable example of this. The camera quickly and accurately locks on to targets; it is definitely must faster than the EOS 400D and Alpha A100. It offers 11 AF points, which is also a little higher than the competition, and both continuous and single AF modes, as well as an automatic option that switches between the two.

The rest of the features are fairly standard, although the shutter speed has been cut from the D70s 1/8000th of a second to 1/4000th of a second, while in the other direction it extends to 30 seconds. A bulb mode is also present. The usual array of white balance presets are available, along with a custom mode, but what impressed us was the amount of ISO sensitivities on offer. Nikon has really gone all out here, including all kinds of sensitivities such as ISO 125, ISO 320 and ISO 640. While this won't realistically make much difference to most people, it is another nice touch, and givesthe user a few more options. The burst mode operates at three frames per second, which is about on par with the competition, although quite a bit slower than the D200's five frames per second.

Design wise, the D80 is quite an improvement over the D70s. The D70s was a huge camera; even when it was released it was considered to be quite big. Nikon has done a good job in this regard, slimming the D80 down and compacting it, without loosing any of the comfort or feel. We absolutely love how this unit sits in the hand and it is a joy to use. Everything from the front-heavy weighting, to the larger 2.5in screen (adopted from the D200) is well designed. We also like the fact that the D80 retains the top LCD screen, rather than using the main LCD to display current settings. There are however quite a few buttons, and while we didn't have much trouble operating it, the D80 may prove confusing to novice users for the first few hours.

Also note, the D80 comes with a larger than standard lens. An 18-135mm lens is included in the basic kit by default, which is quite a bit more generous than those provided in the EOS 400D and Alpha A100. It has been built well, taking just over a quarter of a rotation to reach full extension.

Overall the D80 is a great camera. We weren't entirely happy with the default lens, but in all other areas it impressed. It is by far the best camera in this price point, and D50 and D70s users should strongly think about making the jump. It offers all the features of the previous models, only with many improvements.

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