For keen photographers with a little money to spend, the Nikon D80 is likely to be the camera of choice. The question really is whether you have the photographic skills to stretch this highly capable digital SLR. Updated with price cut: 5 November 2007.

Befitting its status as a camera for the semi-professional photographer, the Nikon D80 is exceptionally fast, starting up in less than 0.2 seconds and, once the focus is set, shooting with imperceptible lag between shots. It should be ideal for action shots, especially given its relatively compact dimensions for a serious digital SLR camera

Nikon has included an LCD on the Nikon D80's top plate so you can easily check settings; any of these can be swiftly altered using the mode wheel. This is a 'step up' model for amateurs who’ve already discovered the rewards of full manual control over white balance, focus, f-stops and aperture priority.

But that’s not to say the Nikon D80 is unsuitable for those who are new to digital SLRs. This manual control includes a good range of scene modes and presets for those who aren’t so confident of choosing settings for a given scenario.

Low-light conditions are well catered for and the Nikon D80 delivers clean shots in imperfect conditions at its top ISO of 1,600. When more light is available, expect a flattering warmth to portrait shots. The Nikon D80 is an excellent model for those who are serious about digital photography.

Verdict


The Nikon D80 is an enthusiast's dream and is incredibly rewarding to use. You can't get much better than this without spending a thousand quid or more. Highly recommended.

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Nikon's new D80 digital SLR is the latest camera to feature megapixel ratings in double figures, joining the likes of Canon's EOS 400D and Sony's Alpha A100. The bad news is that, while the 10.2Mp Nikon is geared towards the budget-professional market with a £699 body-only price tag, it's still up to £100 more than the competition.

But when you wrap your hands around the D80 you know where the extra cash has been spent. The construction is notably superior to the Canon and Sony, both of which have a slight 'built to a price' feel. In contrast, the Nikon simply oozes quality.

It benefits from an improved layout and beautifully designed ergonomics that are thankfully easier on the hands than its predecessor, the angular and sometimes downright awkward D70. And those looking to get their hands dirty with manual control will be glad to hear that the D80's second control dial enables swift control of the aperture and shutter.

Generously proportioned display

We also approve of Nikon's decision to retain a shoulder-mounted LCD for relaying shooting information, which feels more natural than the increasingly popular dual-use approach of the main screen adopted by some cameras at this price. But that doesn't mean the main colour LCD has been compromised – the 2.5in screen is generously proportioned, and its 230,000 pixels provide ample detail. You can properly zoom in for a closer inspection of saved images, and Nikon has revamped the menu system to make full use of the extra space, making it extremely intuitive to navigate.

Our D80 kit came with the 18-70mm AF-S DX lens (roughly equivalent to 27-105mm in 35mm terms), pushing the price up to £899, although it can be found cheaper online. There is also an 18-135mm kit available. Our lens proved an extremely able partner to the D80, with blisteringly fast, accurate focusing and a versatile F/3.5-4.5 aperture range.

Feature set

The D80 really is a comprehensive toolkit for enthusiasts, with just about every feature you could reasonably expect to see, including the usual array of metering, focusing and shooting modes. Nikon has made the welcome addition of a focusing lamp assist beam that doesn't require the pop-up flash to be raised.

Like many non-pro cameras these days, the D80 has migrated from CompactFlash cards to Secure Digital as the media of choice, which it can stuff with either Jpegs, RAW or both simultaneously. Sadly, the Nikon's battery life isn't all that great, requiring more top-ups than the equivalent Canon. But this is one of very few grumbles.

As you would expect from a Nikon SLR (single lens reflex) image quality was excellent, providing plenty of crisp detail and generally low levels of noise, even on higher ISOs. The D80's Advanced Automatic White Balance also proved adept at keeping colours tint-free, and rarely needed help – a marked improvement over its predecessor.

Megapixels vs SLR

By now most of us will be aware that more having lots of Mp is a good thing. The more you have, the higher the resolution will be – and high resolutions amount to better definition. Take the Nikon D80 we've reviewed here. It boasts a 10.2Mp CCD (charge-coupled device) sensor, capable of producing images a little under 4,000 pixels across. This is good enough for A3 prints.

In reality, though, Mp are only half the story, and it's just as important to look for a model that offers SLR facilities. An 8Mp compact camera will never match the image quality of an 8Mp digital SLR – despite the fact that (in theory) they have the same number of Mp.

One of the key reasons is the physical size of the sensor itself. Digital SLRs have larger sensors than compacts, which translates into an increased resistance to noise and a wider dynamic range. Digital SLRs also tend to have superior optics, with multiple-element lenses reducing the amount of fringing and distortion. When shopping, remember not to focus simply on the Mp.

Nikon D80: Specs

  • 10.2Mp CCD
  • ISO range 100-1,600 (3,200 with boost)
  • max image resolution 3,872x2,592
  • shutter speed (bulb) 30-1/4,000 second
  • built-in pop-up flash (1/200 second max sync)
  • 2.5in LCD (230Kp)
  • SD/SDHC storage media
  • supports Jpeg/NEF (RAW)
  • 3fps frame burst (up to 23 Jpeg/6 NEF)
  • rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • 132x77x103mm
  • 668g (body only)
  • 10.2Mp CCD
  • ISO range 100-1,600 (3,200 with boost)
  • max image resolution 3,872x2,592
  • shutter speed (bulb) 30-1/4,000 second
  • built-in pop-up flash (1/200 second max sync)
  • 2.5in LCD (230Kp)
  • SD/SDHC storage media
  • supports Jpeg/NEF (RAW)
  • 3fps frame burst (up to 23 Jpeg/6 NEF)
  • rechargeable lithium-ion battery
  • 132x77x103mm
  • 668g (body only)

OUR VERDICT

The Nikon D80 is an enthusiast's dream and is incredibly rewarding to use. You can't get much better than this without spending a thousand quid or more. Highly recommended.

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