Nikon Coolpix P80
by Stephanie Boozer and Shawn Barnett
Review Date: 12/16/08
The most notable feature on the Nikon Coolpix P80 is its impressive 18x optical zoom lens, which covers a 35mm equivalent range of 27-486mm. That's a lot of zoom for an MSRP of about $399. Billed by Nikon as the "world's most compact super telephoto camera," the Coolpix P80 is indeed fairly small considering its very large lens. It won't fit into a jeans pocket, but should still fit into larger coat pockets and purses pretty well.
In addition to its wow-inspiring zoom, the Coolpix P80 also offers 10 megapixels, a full range of automatic and manual exposure control, and a healthy selection of user adjustment tools; even a Distortion Control option for reducing lens distortion at full wide-angle or telephoto.
A selection of no less than 15 preset Scene modes covers a wide range of unique conditions, and the user has control over important features such as White Balance, Exposure Compensation, Color, ISO, and Metering as well. Standard Nikon offerings such as D-Lighting and Face Priority AF are also included, as well as a new Scene mode, Sports Continuous, for a whopping 13 frames per second rate and a maximum 1/4,000-second shutter speed.
The camera's large and bright 2.7-inch color LCD monitor is great for composing and reviewing images, with accurate framing. With its full range of exposure control available, the Coolpix P80 should be suitable for novices and more advanced users alike.
Nikon Coolpix P80
by Stephanie Boozer
Though a bit bulkier than the average consumer digital camera, the Nikon Coolpix P80's extra girth comes mainly from its large 18x optical zoom lens, as the camera body itself is actually quite compact. With an impressive zoom range equivalent to a 27-486mm zoom on a 35mm camera, the Coolpix P80's slightly larger size seems worth what you lose in pocketability. And though the camera's interface appears simple and limited, don't mistake its minimal external controls for minimal capabilities.
The Coolpix P80 offers the full range of exposure control, from full automatic, to partial manual, to full manual exposure modes. There are also 15 preset Scene modes to choose from. Users have control over a wide range of ISO settings, as well as AF area (including a 99-point manual selection), white balance, metering, color, contrast, sharpness, saturation, and a handful of other useful shooting tools.
Thus, given its offerings, the Coolpix P80 is actually quite a compact little number, and small enough for Nikon to boast its being the most compact super-telephoto digital camera currently on the market.
The Nikon P80's 18x optical zoom lens offers a very wide maximum wide-angle setting at 27mm, with available Distortion Control to counteract any strong barrel distortion that might occur. An Optical Vibration Reduction setting helps reduce any slight blurring from camera movement when shooting at full telephoto or with the full 4x digital zoom enabled, featuring a sensor-shift design. Post-capture image correction tools such as D-Lighting (to correct dark or backlit images) and Red-Eye Fix help with common exposure problems, and options like Face-Priority AF and Sport Continuous mode ensure you get the best results in portrait and action shots. Unfortunately, there's insufficient compensation for the impressively strong chromatic aberration.
Look and feel. Though the Coolpix P80 definitely is not a contender for an evening bag or front jeans pocket, it is still actually quite compact despite its large 18x optical zoom lens. Measuring 4.3 x 3.1 x 3.1 inches (110 x 79 x 78 millimeters) and weighing about 13.9 ounces (395 grams), the Coolpix P80 is on the heftier side in terms of weight; however, most of that heft comes from the camera's long lens. The Coolpix P80's body style is reminiscent of a digital SLR, though on a much smaller scale, and should still fit well into larger coat pockets, purses, and backpacks. To help you balance out the weight of the lens, the Coolpix P80 features a well-defined handgrip, ensuring you have a firm hold on the camera when shooting one-handed. There's also a nice, rubbery thumbrest on the rear panel that helps keep your thumb securely in place.
The Coolpix P80 actually features only a few external controls, and most of them are within easy reach when shooting one-handed. Only the Monitor button and optical viewfinder diopter adjustment dial are on the far left side of the rear panel, but the remaining, more frequently accessed controls are all clustered on the right side of the rear and top panels.
27mm eq., LCD
486mm eq., LCD
The Nikon Coolpix P80 features a large, 2.7-inch color LCD monitor, which is bright and clear. It does have quite a shiny surface, which can make framing in bright sunlight a little more difficult due to reflections. Shiny surfaces like this are also easily smudged by fingerprints, and do show small scratches, so you'll want to keep that in mind while traveling.
The Coolpix P80 also features an electronic optical viewfinder, and the Monitor button in the top left corner of the rear panel controls where the viewfinder display appears. Both viewfinders were quite accurate, showing about 102% frame accuracy at wide angle, and about 99% at telephoto. A Display button just above the top right corner of the larger LCD monitor controls the information overlay, and also activates a framing alignment grid. The Setup menu offers a brightness adjustment, to help compensate under very sunny conditions.
4x Digital Zoom
The Nikon Coolpix P80's 18x lens covers a range equivalent to a 27-486mm zoom on a 35mm camera. With a maximum wide-angle setting of 27mm and an 18x optical zoom, you get a lot of flexibility with the P80's lens. To combat minor blurring from slight camera movement at full telephoto and digital zoom, Nikon included Optical VR (Vibration Reduction) image stabilization technology, featuring a true sensor-shift design for the best results.
Unfortunately, all that optical technology is wasted on the sensor inside the Nikon P80. The shots above were taken on a fairly overcast day, so exposure isn't at its best, but what's quite telling is just how little fine detail is maintained in the grass. Indeed, where it should be a sharp blade, it's a fuzzy mess in most places. The 4x digital zoom is really quite bad, more resembling a watercolor painting than a photograph. Click on the thumbnails for a closer look.
Interface. Finding your way around the Coolpix P80 shouldn't be a problem for most users, as the camera has only a few external controls and its menu system is straightforward as well. A large Mode dial on top of the Nikon P80 controls the main exposure mode, and the Multi-controller on the rear panel accesses main adjustments for flash, self-timer, exposure compensation, and macro mode, and also navigates the menu screens. There's also a Command dial at the top right of the rear panel, which quickly adjusts shutter speed or aperture, depending on the exposure mode. A Zoom lever circles the Shutter button, and features a substantial protrusion on its front to help adjust the optical and digital zoom. A Playback button on the rear panel takes you directly into Playback mode, and you can easily return to shooting mode by half-pressing the Shutter button.
Remaining exposure tools and settings are accessed through the Menu system, activated by a press of the Menu button on the rear panel. The Coolpix P80's menu system is merely a list of available options, and the up and down arrows of the Multi-controller scroll through the list. Pressing the right arrow on any option pulls up the available settings, and you can back out with the left arrow or by pressing the Menu button again. The Setup menu is not accessible from the other menu screens, however, but only by turning the Mode dial to the Setup position. While the Coolpix P80 may borrow its looks from more advanced digital SLRs, camera operation is just as straightforward as any point-and-shoot. It shouldn't take most users very long to get the gist of things.
Modes. The Nikon Coolpix P80 offers the full range of exposure control, with the Mode dial on top of the camera offering Auto, Program AE, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Movie, Scene, and Sport Continuous modes, as well as a Setup position. The full Auto mode puts the camera in charge of just about every exposure decision, though the user can alter focus mode and exposure compensation, as well as enable the flash and self-timer. The remaining manual and partial manual modes offer varying levels of exposure control, though all camera functions become available to the user. Depending on the exposure mode, the Coolpix P80's shutter speed ranges from 1/2,000 to 8 seconds. Apertures range from f/2.8 to f/8.0, depending on the zoom position. The Command dial in the top right of the rear panel adjusts the exposure settings, and in Manual mode, the EV Compensation button selects whether the dial controls shutter speed or aperture. In Program AE mode, the Command dial lets you cycle through a range of exposure settings, so you can bias the exposure toward aperture or shutter speed. If you're uncertain about the exposure, the P80's Auto Exposure Bracketing mode captures a series of images at different exposures, and saves them all to the memory card.
The Sports Continuous mode on the Mode dial offers a much faster maximum shutter speedas high as 1/4,000-secondto freeze fast-moving action. (The slowest speed in this mode is 1/15-second.) Thus, the Coolpix P80 should have no trouble with sporting events, bicycle races, running children, etc. The Scene position of the Mode dial offers 15 preset shooting modes, which include Portrait, Landscape, Night Portrait, Party/Indoor, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Close Up, Museum, Fireworks Show, Copy, Backlight, Panorama Assist, and Voice Recording. Each mode optimizes the camera for special shooting situations, adjusting exposure, white balance, flash, and focus mode to get the best results.
In addition to the Coolpix P80's Sports Continuous mode on the Mode dial, the camera also offers standard Continuous Shooting, as well as Best Shot Selector, Multi-shot 16, and Interval Shooting modes. Continuous mode captures as many as nine consecutive images at a maximum of 1.1 frames per second at the normal image quality setting. (In our testing, we measured a frame rate of about 1.18 frames per second for large/fine JPEGs, but only for five images at the higher quality.) BSS mode captures as many as 10 images, then automatically selects and saves the sharpest image -- an excellent idea when trying to photograph kids. Multi-shot 16 snaps 16 thumbnail frames in one press of the Shutter button and arranges them in a single image (2,590 x 1,944 pixels). Interval Shooting mode is similar to time-lapse photography, as the camera can automatically record up to 1,800 frames over a period of preset intervals ranging from 30 seconds to 60 minutes.
The Coolpix P80 also has a wide range of options under its Movie mode. The Movie menu offers a range of resolution settings, as well as options for Time-lapse Movies, Sepia Movie, and Black and White Movie. You can choose from 640 x 480 or 320 x 240-pixel resolutions. The larger resolution setting records at 30 frames per second by default, but you can opt for 15fps as well. All movies are recorded with sound, with the exception of Time-lapse Movie, which records still images at specified intervals, then joins those together into a silent movie. Also under the Movie menu, you can choose Single or Continuous AF modes, or enable Electronic Vibration Reduction.
The Coolpix P80 features Nikon's D-Lighting adjustment, which enhances contrast and brightness in dark images. Accessed through the Playback menu as a post-capture editing tool, D-Lighting comes in quite handy when you've snapped a portrait in less than ideal conditions, and forgot to switch over to one of the scene modes or didn't have a tripod around for a longer exposure.
The Coolpix P80 has Face-Priority technology for better results in both focus and exposure when shooting portraits. Automatically enabled in any of the P80's portrait modes, Face-Priority seeks out the face (or faces) in the image and bases focus and exposure on that portion of the frame. You can also choose Face-Priority as an AF Area mode through the camera menu. In this mode, the camera places a yellow border around any detected face or faces, and can detect as many as 12 faces in a frame. If you have multiple faces, focus is based on the one closest to the camera.
Mentioned under the Coolpix P80's Scene offerings, Panorama Assist mode lets you capture a series of images to be joined together post-capture as one panoramic shot. Framing guidelines appear on the LCD display to help you line up each image, and the included software (Panorama Maker) provides the utility for joining the images.
Storage and battery. The Coolpix P80 uses a custom rechargeable lithium-ion battery for power, and comes with a charger. A separate AC adaptor is available as an optional accessory, and might be useful for more time consuming tasks like downloading images or utilizing the camera's Playback editing functions or when shooting in Interval Shooting mode. According to CIPA standard testing conducted by Nikon, a fully-charged battery will capture about 250 frames, which is about average for this type of battery. As always, we recommend picking up an additional battery and keeping it freshly-charged and on-hand for longer outings.
For image storage, the camera offers about 50MB of internal memory, but also has an SD card slot. No card comes with the camera, however. The internal memory will hold about 10 full resolution images, or about 252 of the lowest resolution. (Compare this to about 50 full resolution files on a 256MB memory card.) For movies, the internal memory can hold about 45 seconds of the highest resolution setting, though a 256MB card can hold about 3 minutes, 40 seconds. Thus, you definitely have some flexibility to grab images with the camera straight out of the box, but I'd recommend picking up a large capacity SDHC/SD memory card pretty quickly so you don't get caught trying to erase files to make room for new ones on the spot.
Shooting. The Coolpix P80 was an easy camera to get to know. Zoom speed through the optical zoom range was pretty good and fluid, though zooming past full telephoto and into digital zoom was a bit sluggish. Overall timings were fast to just a little slower than average, depending on the task at hand. Shutter lag was very good, but cycle times were just a little slow (2.64 seconds for large/fine JPEGs), though keep in mind that larger file sizes do play a part here. AF performance seemed pretty good as well, though I did get some blurry images when shooting at full telephoto without the Vibration Reduction setting enabled, even in bright daylight while using a dock piling as a tripod. This isn't too surprising, considering the Coolpix P80's maximum 486mm equivalent telephoto setting.
The LCD monitor was fairly bright out in the sunshine. However, as with most LCD monitors with a shiny surface, reflections do make it a little more difficult to see tiny details in the frame, and I found I needed to shield the display with my hand to more accurately see what I had in the frame. For image review, the LCD monitor was bright enough, and I found it to be fairly close to what I saw on my computer screen after downloading images.
Overall, I enjoyed shooting with the Coolpix P80. I appreciated the camera's substantial hand grip, as well as its compact size, which made it easy to tote just about anywhere. I found the control layout easy to navigate, and the LCD menu system equally quick to learn. But a camera is more than its utility.
Auto Exposure, ISO 64
The Nikon Coolpix P80 was disappointing. Details were soft across the frame, with some blurring in the corners of the frame in closer shots. Color saturation is good, though strong reds were a little oversaturated, and greens and yellows a hint undersaturated.
Soft detail in the mosaic pattern.
The Coolpix P80 did a passable job with fine detail when contrast was high, as the camera's 10-megapixel CCD picked up a lot of detail in the crop of the mosaic above.
Barrel distortion at 27mm is 0.8%
Distortion Control On at 27mm, 0.2% Pincushion
The Coolpix P80's Distortion Control option did a good job of reigning in the high barrel distortion that occurs at full wide angle. This will be an extremely useful tool when shooting subjects with a lot of horizontal or vertical lines in the image area, such as buildings, columns, etc.
In the abbreviated sampling of the Coolpix P80's ISO settings above, you can see that the camera still produces moderate image noise at its lowest sensitivity, ISO 64, plus significant softening of fine detail. At ISO 400, image noise is decreased by noise suppression efforts from the camera, but this also results in more blurred detail. The camera's highest sensitivity settings show higher image noise, as you'd expect, and at ISO 6,400, much stronger noise suppression. Thus, the highest sensitivities should really be avoided; stick to 400 and below.
Strong detail to
1,350 lines horizontal
Strong detail to
1,350 lines vertical
Our laboratory resolution chart revealed soft but distinct line patterns down to about 1,350 lines per picture height in both directions. Extinction occurred around 1,900 lines. Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.
Appraisal. Overall, the Nikon Coolpix P80 does not perform up to the standard of the average $400 long-zoom digital camera. Exposure and color are generally good, but with low detail and sharpening artifacts mixed in with overaggressive noise suppression, even at the lowest ISOs. Color was punchy, and the 18x optical zoom does get you in nice and close, but at the cost of significant chromatic aberration across the frame that blurs detail and surrounds your subjects with a blue and red halo. Barrel distortion at wide-angle was high, but the camera's Distortion Control setting controls it well, overcorrecting just slightly. The Nikon Coolpix P80's printed results tell the majority of the story, though, with chroma noise in the shadows even at ISO 64, and though printed results are decent at 11x14, we've come to expect more from modern digital cameras. Higher ISOs actually look better by comparison, as you expect them to be softened by noise suppression. ISO 400 shots look decent at 8x10, but not as good as we'd like. So while performance is good in terms of speed and usability is decent, the Nikon P80 doesn't quite produce the image quality we like to see.
Nikon Coolpix P80 Basic Features
- 10-megapixel CCD delivers image resolutions as high as 3,648 x 2,736 pixels
- 18x optical zoom lens, equivalent to 27-486mm zoom on a 35mm camera
- As much as 4x digital zoom
- 2.7-inch color LCD monitor
- Automatic, manual and partial manual exposure control modes
- Shutter speeds from 1/4,000 to 8 seconds, depending on exposure mode
- Maximum aperture f/2.8-4.5, depending on zoom position, 10-step range
- Built-in flash with six modes
- Dual function USB / AV jack for connection to a television or computer
- Power from custom rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack, charger included
- Images stored in 50 MB internal memory or to SD/SDHC memory cards (not included)
Nikon Coolpix P80 Special Features
- Image Sensor Shift Vibration Reduction
- Adjustable AF area with 99-point manual selection, 9-point Auto, and Face-Priority options
- 15 preset Scene modes
- Movie mode with sound
- Audio recording mode
- 256-segment Matrix, Center-weighted and Spot metering
- User adjustable white balance setting with seven modes, including a manual option
- Sport Continuous, Continuous, Best Shot Selector and Multi-16 shooting modes
- ISO settings from 64 to 6,400 equivalents
- Auto Exposure Bracketing mode
- Interval (time-lapse) still and movie modes
- Distortion Control setting
- User adjustable contrast, saturation and sharpness, plus Optimize Image menu
- D-Lighting editing option
- Soft leather case
- Additional battery pack
- AC adaptor
- A large capacity SDHC/SD memory card
Nikon Coolpix P80 Conclusion
Though a bit larger than most compact consumer digital cameras, the Nikon Coolpix P80 is actually quite compact given its very large 18x optical zoom lens. The slightly larger camera body allows for a good hand grip to balance out the weight of the lens, but the camera remains very portable. The Coolpix P80 performed well in terms of timing and utility, and offers an excellent range of exposure modes and shooting options to accommodate a wide range of user experience levels. But image quality left something to be desired. The Nikon P80's 18x optical zoom lens covers a 35mm equivalent range of 27-486mm, which is good, but the high chromatic aberration across the frame is a difficult compromise to accept. The Nikon Coolpix P80 was enjoyable to use, but its images were a disappointment. If you're not printing larger than 8x10, the Nikon P80 will still work fine up to ISO 400, but there are better long zoom digital cameras on the market.