Nikon D80 review

Price when reviewed

Canon has ruled the digital SLR camera market for a long time with its 350D, which now costs just £400. The D80 is pitched into the mix above that price point, but still cheap enough that someone looking for their first digital SLR might be tempted if the package is strong enough.

Nikon D80 review

As with Canon’s newly announced 400D – which we’ll be reviewing next month – the Nikon boasts a 10-megapixel sensor, a significant boost from the six megapixels of the D70 it effectively replaces. From a practical viewpoint, a 10-megapixel sensor means you’ll have no issue printing A4-sized prints, even if you’ve done a little judicious cropping beforehand.

In use, what immediately strikes is just how easy it is to set the camera for any shot quickly, while barely having to take your eye from the viewfinder. Everything is at your fingertips; our favourite inclusion is the dedicated exposure-bracketing button, located on the side of the body where your left thumb naturally falls. Using this and a combination of the primary and secondary command dials – which fall under your right-hand index finger and thumb – you can activate bracketing and choose both the amount of compensation (between 0.3 and 2 stops) and whether to bracket either side, only under or only over. The two command dials make adjusting almost every setting completely intuitive: in fully manual mode, for instance, your index finger sets aperture, while your thumb sets shutter speed – no fumbling required.

Unusually, the default auto-focus-area setting for the most used shooting modes, such as Aperture Priority, is user-selected rather than fully automatic. But again you can set this without taking your eye from the viewfinder: focus point is selectable at all times via the four-way thumb-selector pad on the back of the body. A slider switch can lock this out to avoid accidental changes. There’s a focus-assist lamp for low-light conditions too – a feature the competition lacks.

Another great feature missing from the competition is the ISO Auto mode. This isn’t simply a standard auto-ISO setting that wrests control from the photographer. It’s fully configurable, allowing you to set the minimum shutter speed at which the camera should begin to increase the ISO sensitivity, as well as the maximum allowable setting. This means you can set the ISO sensitivity to a low value for the best possible image quality, retain control over the camera, but not have to worry about camera shake if you find yourself in low light: ISO Auto will kick in at the shutter speed you’ve predetermined. It’s a brilliant inclusion. Incidentally, the D80 has a high-ISO mode to stretch sensitivity up to ISO 3,200, although you sacrifice detail in favour of noise reduction in this setting.

Where Canon has abandoned the secondary LCD screen with its 400D, the D80 has a big top-mounted LCD giving you a rundown of every important setting, including focus point and metering mode. When the camera is off, it reverts to a display of the number of shots available using the currently installed memory card; this alone makes it a worthwhile feature. When you do switch to the colour monitor, its 2.5in diagonal and very good brightness and resolution make it easy to judge your shots.

Nikon’s stock kit lens outdoes the one provided with the standard Canon kits by some margin. It has a longer zoom range – 18-70mm as opposed to 18-55mm for Canon. Not only that, but it feels better built and boasts full-time manual focusing. In other words, you can grab the focus ring at any time and the built-in clutch lets you override the auto-focus without fear of damaging the mechanism. It’s marginally sharper than the stock Canon lens, although we did find fringing in the corners of wide-angle shots that a more expensive lens wouldn’t display.

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