Conclusion - Pros

  • Excellent resolution, lots of detail, not a leap from eight megapixels, but certainly from six
  • Excellent build quality, tight shut lines, quality materials
  • Instant power on, very responsive, very short black-out time, very fast media write
  • Fast, accurate auto focus (11 area sensor, similar to the D200)
  • Auto-focus assist lamp rather than requiring flash to be raised
  • Vibrant color response, similar hues to other digital SLR's
  • Reliable, sophisticated, if sometimes a little conservative matrix metering system
  • Control over high sensitivity noise reduction
  • Very large and bright viewfinder view with short black-out (quoted as 160 ms)
  • Extremely useful, customizable automatic sensitivity (ISO)
  • Easy to use playback / delete combination
  • Very attractive and intuitive menu system
  • Highly customizable, lots of camera and feature control
  • Status LCD panel on top of camera (we hate to see these go)
  • Unlimited continuous shooting in JPEG mode (with a reasonably fast card)
  • Good SD card throughput and USB 2.0 transfer speed
  • In-camera retouching features including D-Lighting and Red-eye reduction
  • Built-in wireless flash commander
  • Support for SD and SDHC cards
  • Good battery life, battery design provides detailed information to camera
  • Good large LCD monitor with wide viewing angles and removable protective cover
  • Dedicated help button provides in-menu assistance
  • Optional battery / portrait grip
  • Programmable FUNC hard button

Conclusion - Cons

  • High sensitivity (ISO) noise levels higher than Canon EOS 400D
  • Noise reduction can be intrusive, although adjustable, more grain-like appearance
  • Default sharpness level perhaps still a little conservative
  • Disappointing automatic white balance performance in incandescent light
  • No RAW adjustment with supplied PictureProject, only simple conversion
  • Limited image parameter adjustment (especially for color saturation)
  • Slower maximum shutter speed (1/4000 vs 1/8000 sec) compared to D70/D70s
  • Price difference to the competition

Overall conclusion

The number of cons, and the fact that there are no serious ones, is a testament to the thought and work that has gone into the D80's design. It's one of those cameras which just feels 'right and sorted' from the moment you pick it up. Things just get better the more you use the camera, you will begin to discover the usefulness of major features like the customizable automatic ISO and the subtle touches like being able to tap the DELETE button twice to delete an image (sounds insignificant, but in use things like this make the D80 far more usable than other cameras).

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Spend some time with the camera manual and looking through the menus and you'll begin to realize the amount of customization available, with no less than 32 custom functions there's very little you can't configure to your way of working. Stack on top of this control over settings which are just 'defaulted' on other cameras (such as high sensitivity noise reduction) and it's pretty obvious that the D80 is in a class of its own in this respect.

In-use performance also feels as though it's a step above its price class, instant power on time and on to shot time, very fast auto focus, short shutter lag and 'just-about a blink' viewfinder blackout (160 ms), fast record review and playback as well as fast SD card write performance. There's also ergonomic performance, the camera is smaller than the D70/D70s but not at the expense of usability, the hand grip is a good size and shape (and considerably more comfortable than the EOS 400D) and all controls are within reach. Other small details such as button size and placement are simply just right.

Just as significant is the viewfinder. A digital SLR relies on its viewfinder for scene composition, focusing and depth of field, you do sometimes wonder how seriously this is taken. Nikon clearly did with the D80, instead of a light-sapping (but cheaper) Pentamirror solution they selected a quality Pentaprism setup which is, we are told, similar to that in the D200. That glass Pentaprism viewfinder with its 0.94x magnification equates to a big, bright view which has no distortion and really does bring you up close-and-personal with the entire scene. Optional grid lines can help greatly when taking landscape or architectural type photography.

So we've established that the D80 is a great 'photographers camera', but how good are the images? The answer is, really very good, Nikon appear to have shaken off the soft-image demons of the past and are also using a slightly stronger (more consumer friendly) default sharpening level than the D200. Resolution is as good as other ten megapixel digital SLRs, color response is vibrant, yet accurate, images are more contrasty than some other manufacturers but of course if you prefer a slightly flatter response you can always create your own custom parameter set.

Onto noise, Nikon's approach, as it always has been, is to use more chroma noise reduction and leave as much luminance (detail) information intact as possible. This does lead to more visible 'grain' in images at higher sensitivities than some other cameras but because this is monochromatic in appearance it is less digital-like, more reminiscent of film grain. Thankfully also if you prefer you can control the amount of noise reduction applied (although this appears to control luminance NR). To be fair the D80 does not perform as well as the EOS 400D (Digital Rebel XTi) at ISO 800 or 1600 but the differences are much less than they ever used to be, Nikon is closing the gap.

The last issue is price, or value for money. In my opinion, its customization, performance, build quality, comfort and design are worth the price difference between it and the competition. Having said that Nikon may struggle 'in stores' to fight Canon's (aggressively priced) EOS 400D ($200 is quite a big difference). If you're a more discerning photographer who can see the advantages offered by the 'all round' D80 you may well consider the extra money well spent.

Detail (D-SLR) Rating (out of 10)
Build quality 9.0
Ergonomics & handling 9.0
Features 9.5
Image quality 8.0
Performance (speed) 9.0
Value 8.5

Highly Recommended

Highly Recommended

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