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Nikon D80 Performance

Shooting with the Nikon D80, we found it to be a very responsive camera in all respects. Startup was quick enough that you're never likely to notice, shutter lag was low, and shot to shot cycle times in both single-shot and continuous mode were very good. It falls short of its big brother the D200 in several areas, but that's to be expected, given the substantial price difference between the two models. Read on below for all the details:

Timing and Performance

Excellent speed for a digital SLR.

Power on
to first shot
~0.5 second
Almost immediate, difficult to measure accurately.
~0.1 second
Almost immediate, difficult to measure accurately.
Buffer clearing time
8 seconds
(2 seconds buffer clearing in LF JPEG*)
Worst case buffer clearing time.* -- This is the delay after a set of shots before you can remove the card. (Worst case clearing for the D80 is after 5 RAW + Large/Fine JPEG frames.)
Mode switching
Play to Record,
first shot
~0.4 second
Time until first shot is captured: Very fast, shooting priority essentially means camera is always ready to shoot.
Record to play
1.6 seconds
Time to display a large/fine file immediately after capture
recorded image
~0.4 second
Time to display a large/fine file already on the memory card.
Shutter response (Lag Time):
Full Autofocus
0.25 second
Time from fully pressing shutter button to image capture, zoom lens at wide angle position. Good speed, very comparable to D200.
0.083 second
Time to capture, after half-pressing and holding shutter button. Quite fast, but slower than the D200's 0.057 second.
Continuous AF
0.095 second
This mode usually shows no speed increase with our static subject; we have no way to measure performance with moving subjects. Continuous AF does help on the D80 though, but it doesn't get quite a quick as when you've prefocused in normal AF mode.
Manual focus
0.083 second
For most cameras, shutter lag is less in manual focus than autofocus, but usually not as fast as when the camera is "prefocused"
Cycle time (shot to shot)
Single Shot mode
Large Fine JPEG
0.37 seconds
Time per shot, averaged over 6 shots. Good speed, but about 40% slower than the D200.
Single Shot mode
Small JPEG
(1,936 x 1,296)
0.37 seconds
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots
Single Shot mode
0.54 seconds for 6 shots, then slows to 1.06 seconds
Time per shot, averaged over buffer length or 20 shots, whichever came first
Single Shot mode
0.54 seconds for 5 shots, then slows to 1.73 seconds
Time per shot, averaged over buffer length or 20 shots, whichever came first
Early shutter
Some cameras refuse to snap another shot if you release and press the shutter too quickly in Single Shot mode, making "No" the preferred answer
Continuous mode
Large Fine JPEG
0.33 second (3.0 frames per second)
1 second to clear
Time per shot, averaged over 9 shots
Continuous mode
Small JPEG
(1,936 x 1,296)
0.33 second (3.0 frames per second)
1 second to clear
Time per shot, averaged over 20 shots
Continuous mode
0.33 second (3.0 frames per second) for 6 shots, then slows to 1.28 second per shot;
8.1 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over buffer length of 6 shots.
Continuous mode
0.33 second (3.0 frames per second) for 5 shots, then slows to 2.07 second per shot;
13.8 seconds to clear*
Time per shot, averaged over buffer length of 5 shots.
Flash recycling
1.2 seconds
Flash at maximum output
Download speed
Windows Computer, USB 2.0
2855 KBytes/sec
Typical Values:
Less than 600=USB 1.1;
600-770=USB 2.0 Low;
771-4000=USB 2.0 High
*Note: Buffer clearing times measured with a SanDisk Extreme III SD memory card. Slower cards will produce correspondingly slower clearing times. Slow cards may also limit length of bursts in continuous mode.

Startup & Shutter Lag
The Nikon D80 is a very responsive camera, albeit not quite up to the level of performance of its big brother, the D200. It's full-autofocus shutter lag is actually just a hair faster than that of the D200, but its shot to shot cycle times are longer, and continuous-mode speed is lower, with much lower buffer capacities as well. Shutter response when prefocused is also slower though, the 83 msec response of the D80 being only average for a DSLR.

Continuous Mode Speed and Buffer Capacity
The Nikon D80 has only one continuous mode, vs the two modes of the D200. It normally shoots at 3 frames/second, but we found that this dropped to just under two frames/second (0.54 second between shots, or 1.86 frames/second, to be precise) when long-exposure noise reduction was enabled, even when using short shutter speeds. - For best performance then, it's important to turn off long-exposure NR unless you're actually shooting at very slow shutter speeds. (NOTE that Long Exposure NR is NOT reset by the reset-all button combination! - You'll want to make sure that this option is disabled if you need maximum shooting speed.)

The Nikon D80's buffer capacity can be highly variable, depending on the mode you're shooting in, and the subject content. This isn't unusual, as many cameras show different buffer depths for RAW vs JPEG shooting, and subjects with little detail compress much better than those with a lot of detail, so relatively plain images will translate into greater buffer capacity.

Shooting to RAW or RAW+JPEG formats, the D80 can capture 6 frames before having to slow down for the memory card, and scene content doesn't matter very much. (That is, you only get 6 frames, whether you're shooting a blank wall or a subject with loads of fine detail.) As just noted above, JPEG buffer depth will depend quite strongly on scene content and the amount of JPEG compression you've selected. Scenes with a great amount of fine detail captured at the highest JPEG quality will result in a 6-frame buffer depth, while scenes with less detail or captured at lower JPEG quality settings will result in buffer depths of 10, 20 or more frames.

Infinite buffer capacity?
Some reviewers have claimed that the D80 has "unlimited" buffer capacity with fast enough memory cards, but we found that to be true only if you're shooting subjects with less than average amounts of detail in them, and then really only at lower ISO settings. Subjects with a lot of fine detail and high ISO settings produce images that don't compress as well, and so fill up the buffer memory faster. "Average" subjects (if there is such a thing) will probably give you buffer lengths of 20 or more frames, certainly an impressive performance for a consumer DSLR.

The combination of shooting speed and buffer capacity is one of the key differentiators between the D80 and its big brother the D200: As we've just seen, the D80 nominally manages 6 frames at 3 frames/second, while the D200 can shoot a minimum of 21 RAW or 24 large/fine JPEGs at 5 frames/second. Photojournalists, fashion photographers, and sports shooters will likely gravitate to the D200 for this reason, but most amateurs are likely to find the D80's speed more than adequate for their purposes.

Download Speed
The D80 is also quite fast when it comes to offloading images onto a computer. We clocked our test unit at 2,855 KBytes/second when downloading a collection of JPEG images to our Sony VAIO desktop computer. (A 2.4 GHz Pentium IV with a high-speed USB 2.0 port.) You'll likely get even slightly faster transfer rates with RAW images, as Windows is quicker when handling fewer, larger files than it is with more, smaller ones. Here again, the D200 is a good bit faster (4,386 KB/sec), but the D80 is fast enough that most users will feel no need for a separate card reader.

Battery and Storage Capacity

Very good battery life

Like the D200, the D80 uses Nikon's new EN-EL3e lithium-ion battery pack or an optional AC adapter for power. The EN-EL3e is backward-compatible with the EL3a version, in that it can be used to power older cameras like the D70, but the older EN-EL3a battery can't be used to power the D80. (A pain for all those who have spare batteries from their D70 or D100 that they will no longer be able to use on the new body.) An indicator on the status display panel lets you know approximately how much battery power is left. The D80/EN-EL3e combination seems to offer really exceptional battery life, as we could shoot literally hundreds of photos without draining the battery. While it's hard to compare apples to apples based on Nikon's numbers, the D80 does appear to have better battery life than the D200. (Although the tests for the D200 equivalent to those listed below were conducted with different lenses that possibly drew more power for their focus motors, and the parameters for the second test were different in several areas.)

In the manual, Nikon themselves offer the following characterizations of the D80's battery life:

Example 1
Zoom Nikkor AF-S DX IF ED 18-135mm f/2.8-5.6G lens; continuous shooting mode; continuous-servo autofocus; image quality set to JPEG Basic; image size set to M; shutter speed 1/250s; shutter-release pressed half way for three seconds and focus cycled from infinity to minimum range three times with each shot; after six shots, monitor turned on for five seconds and then turned off; cycle repeated once exposure meters have turned off.

Number of shots (EN-EL3e): 2,700

Example 2
Zoom Nikkor AF-S DX IF ED 18-135mm f/2.8-5.6G lens; single-frame shooting mode; single-servo autofocus; image quality set to JPEG Normal; image size set to L; shutter speed 1/250s; shutter-release pressed half way for five seconds and focus cycled from infinity to minimum range once with each shot; monitor turned on for four seconds after each shot; built-in Speedlight fired at full power with every other shot; cycle repeated once exposure meters have turned off;

Number of shots (EN-EL3e): 600

The Nikon D80 uses Secure Digital (SD/MMC) memory cards, but no card is supplied.

The D80 uses SD/MMC memory cards for image storage. Like virtually all digital SLRs, the D80 does not come with a memory card, so you'll need to purchase one separately. The D80 utilizes a folder arrangement that lets you organize images in the camera and a sequential frame counter option to avoid problems with overwriting files when copying them to the computer.

Captured images can be individually write-protected via the Protect button on the back panel. Write-protected files are only immune to accidental deletion, not card reformatting. Three image sizes are available: Large (3,872 x 2,592 pixels), Medium (2,896 x 1,944 pixels), and Small (1,936 x 1,296 pixels). File formats include three levels of compressed JPEG files as well as RAW (NEF file format) data modes. The "raw" file format stores the data exactly as it comes from the CCD array, losslessly compressed. (The D80 only stores RAW files in compressed form, lacking the uncompressed option of the D200.) Since the "raw" format is proprietary though, it's intended to only be processed by Nikon's "Nikon Capture" software, although a number of third-party RAW file converters do support it as well, and in some cases offer expanded capabilities relative to the Nikon software package. (See Bibble, from Bibble Labs, for instance.) The compressed RAW format is a "lossless" compression, making it difficult to determine the actual amount of compression being used. Nikon estimates that compression is 50 or 60 percent over an uncompressed RAW format, depending on the subject data.

Below are the approximate number of images and their compression ratios for a 1GB SD card, probably about the minimum realistic size for a camera with the resolution, RAW-mode and continuous shooting capabilities of the D80.

Image Capacity vs
1 GB Memory Card
Fine Normal
3872 x 2592 Images
(Avg size)
7.8 MB
4.0 MB
2.1 MB
12.7 MB
18.9 MB
4:1 8:1 15:1 1.2:1 -
2896 x 1944 Images
(Avg size)
4.4 MB
2.3 MB
1.2 MB
- 61
16.4 MB
4:1 7:1 14:1 - -
1936 x 1296 Images
(Avg size)
2.1 MB
1.1 MB
651 KB
- 70
14.3 MB
4:1 7:1 12:1 - -