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Nikon D80 digital SLR

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A long-awaited successor to the Nikon D70s (   ), the Nikon D80 improves on its predecessor with a 10.2-megapixel sensor, larger LCD, better performance, and many other fine features. At $1,300 for a D80 bundle with an 18-135mm lens, the D80 is in an anomalous position. It’s similar to Canon’s EOS 30D (   ) in build quality, ease of use, and current price, but it also offers the higher resolution of Canon’s Digital Rebel XTi (   ) and the Sony DSLR-Alpha 100K (   ).

Users of the D70s will be impressed by the D80’s new design. It’s significantly smaller than the D70s, yet still very comfortable to hold, thanks to its textured finish, large handgrip, and sturdy metal body. Experienced Nikon shooters will feel right at home with the D80’s front and rear-mounted control dials and interface layout.

A top-mounted status LCD displays all of the camera settings that you’ll need for everyday shooting, and the camera includes a good assortment of external controls--drive and autofocus modes, exposure compensation focus and exposure lock, auto bracketing, flash compensation, and more. A larger 2.5-inch LCD screen is a nice upgrade from the D70s, but the switch from CompactFlash to Secure Digital cards for the camera’s storage might frustrate current Nikon owners. If you have a large investment in CompactFlash cards, you’ll have to start buying new media.

Improved performance

The camera’s performance improvements are apparent as soon as you power up the D80. Boot and wake from sleep are instantaneous, autofocus is faster, burst shooting is speedier, and file management tasks are accelerated. Once you start shooting, you’ll find that the camera’s autofocus system is speedier and more accurate thanks to the addition of seven more focus points, giving the D80 a total of 11 focus points.

Nikon has done an excellent job of including features that serious photographers will want--Raw format, auto bracketing, decent burst speed (three frames per second for Raw or JPEG), long exposure noise reduction, mirror lock-up, spot metering, ISO speeds from 100 to 3200, and more. Many of the features that you’ll find on the higher-end D200 are present on the D80 as well, though the D80 typically offers scaled-down versions. For example, the bracketing mode only allows two or three shot brackets, as opposed to the D200’s five shot brackets. As with previous Nikon SLRs, battery life of the D80 is excellent, allowing you to get several days of moderate to heavy shooting out of a full charge. Users will also be impressed by the image quality: The D80 produces excellent images with very good noise response across its ISO range.

Useful features

For a camera in this price range, the D80 includes a huge assortment of additional features, such as multiple exposures, the ability to add text comments to any image, and a repeating flash option that lets you program the built-in flash to fire multiple times at a given interval. Nikon far outstrips the competition in terms of raw number of features, few of which are superfluous or gimmicky.

For photographers who want to minimize the amount of time they spend using an image editor, the D80 includes a new Retouch menu, which provides a number of image editing options that can be applied automatically to your images. D-Lighting performs an adaptive brightening that is very similar to the Shadow/Highlight tool in Photoshop CS2. Other retouching options include built-in red-eye correction, cropping, monochrome conversion, and warming and cooling filters. For users who want their images correct right out of the camera, these are welcome features.


Image Quality Very Good
Battery Life Superior

Scale = Superior, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor


Resolution 10.2
Zoom/Focal Length (35mm equivalent) 27-202.5mm
Battery Type Rechargeable Lithium Ion
Media Slots Secure Digital (1)
Size (wxhxd) 5.2 x 4.1 x 3
Weight with battery and lens (oz.) 38.7 oz

The image-quality rating of the camera is based upon a panel of judges’ opinions in five categories: exposure, color, sharpness, distortion, and overall. Battery life testers follow a precise script, including shots with and without flash, until the battery dies.—Tested in conjunction with the PC World Test Center

Macworld’s buying advice

Though it’s priced higher than Canon’s Digital Rebel XTi and Sony’s Alpha 100, the Nikon D80 delivers a lot of extra bang for the buck. In fact, users who are considering the Canon EOS 30D will want to take a close look at this camera. Nikon and Canon camera layouts are very different, and you may find that you prefer one to the other. If you like Nikon’s approach, the D80 delivers an excellent balance of features, image quality, and price.

[ Ben Long is the author of Complete Digital Photography, 3rd Edition (Charles River Books, 2004). ]

Nikon D80 digital SLR
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