Nikon D80 Review

 
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Design

The Nikon D80 is an interesting hybrid of the original D70 and the recent D200, but is smaller than both, measuring 5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 inches (132 x 103 x 77mm), or about the same size as the D50, which measures 5.2 x 4.0 x 3.0 inches (133 x 102 x 76mm). It weighs in at 21 ounces (585 grams) without battery, memory card, body cap or monitor cover. The photos below compare the size of the Nikon D80 with the original D70.

 

In the hand, the Nikon D80 conveys an excellent sense of ruggedness and bulk without seeming the least bit heavy. It feels a bit more solid than the original D70 did, but less so than the ultra-rugged D200. Interestingly though, while it feels more solid than the D70, it's actually a few grams lighter: The solid feeling perhaps comes from its somewhat more compact form.

The D70's grip has been our benchmark of fit and comfort for some time now, so we were surprised to find ourselves immediately liking the fit of the Nikon D80's grip better. While it's somewhat smaller, the depth and the shape of the D80's grip is such that our fingers didn't feel at all cramped, and our grip on the camera was noticeably more secure. Very well done, Nikon's design team must have spent hours tweaking the design to achieve such a perfect fit, and to have it work as well as it does for such a range of hand sizes

With the basics out of the way, let's take a walk around the camera. Former D70 users will find a lot that's familiar, but there are a lot of elements picked up from the D200 that make the D80 a much more capable and better-shooting camera.

Nikon's standard F-style lens mount, dominates the D80's front panel, accommodating a broad range of Nikkor lenses, although it lacks the D200's excellent ability to meter with non-CPU and older "AI" style lenses (the instruction manual has a complete list of compatible lens types). A small black button on the left side of the lens (as viewed from the rear) unlocks the lens, letting you twist it out of the mount. Just below this button is the Focus Mode control, which selects between Auto or Manual focus. On the opposite side of the lens, the Depth of Field Preview button rests just below the AF assist lamp. The programmable Function button is positioned on the grip side, closer to the lens. Also visible from the front is the Sub-Command dial at the top of the hand grip. The programmable function button is a nice touch, carried over from the D200 (but positioned slightly differently): It's an easy reach for your fingers as you grip the camera, and can be configured for any of the following functions: ISO display, Framing Grid on, AF-area mode, Center AF area narrow/wide, Flash exposure lock, Flash off (temporarily), and switch temporarily to Matrix, Center-Weighted, or Spot metering. We liked the D200's programmable function button a lot, and are pleased to see it repeated (albeit with a somewhat different list of options) on the D80.

The right side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) features an eyelet for attaching the neck strap, as well as the memory card compartment. The memory compartment door is much smaller than on other previous Nikon dSLRs, thanks to the change to SD cards first seen in the D50 and carried forward to the D80.

The left side of the D80 (again, as viewed from the rear) features another neck strap eyelet, as well as two connector compartments. Flexible, rubbery flaps protect both compartments, and remain attached to the camera when opened. Inside the top compartment are the Video Out, DC In, and USB connector jacks, with a jack for an optional remote control in the lower compartment.

Also visible from this side are the Flash Release/Flash Exposure button, just below the the pentaprism housing, as well as the BKT (Bracketing) and Focus mode controls. The BKT button was located on the rear panel of the D70, putting it here makes it easier to access, without fear of hitting an adjacent button by mistake.

The pop-up flash compartment and external flash hot shoe are centrally located on the D80's top panel. To the right of the flash unit, a small status display panel shows basic exposure information, as well as a few main camera settings. This panel lets you change a variety of camera settings without entering the LCD menu system, a feature we always appreciate. Remaining camera controls include the Shutter button, Power dial, Metering Mode and Exposure Compensation buttons. Drive mode (single/continuous/self timer/remote) and AF mode buttons are also found on the right side. By moving the backlight control for the D70's data LCD onto the power switch, the designers opened space for the extra button on the left side, and brought two more functions onto the top panel. Overall, a much better use of space, and having the extra control on the top panel will make for faster, easier shooting.

The left side of the top panel holds only the main Mode dial, a control brought over unchanged from the D70.

The Nikon D80's rear panel holds the majority of the camera's controls, as well as the LCD monitor and viewfinder eyepiece. The optical viewfinder has a moderately high eyepoint (19.5mm), so the full display remains visible at least a short distance from the camera. This is a decided plus for eyeglass wearers, although Dave does report having to press his eyeglasses up against the viewfinder bezel in order to see the entire screen. As further accommodation to those of us with suboptimal eyesight, a rotating diopter adjustment (-2.0 to +1.0) on the right side of the eyepiece changes the focus of the viewfinder optics. Positioned just left of center, the 2.5-inch LCD monitor comes with a protective plastic cover that keeps the monitor safe from accidental scratches and smudges. Several camera controls flank the LCD monitor on each side, including a Four-Way Arrow pad for navigating the LCD menu system. A slide switch locks the arrow pad to prevent inadvertent changes of AF area. A small LED lamp just below and to the right of the arrow pad lights whenever the camera accesses the memory card (indicating that you shouldn't open the compartment door or remove the card). In the very top right corner is the Main Command Dial, which navigates menus and changes camera settings.

Here again, we see a few differences relative to the D70: The Trash button has been moved from lower right to the upper left, an OK button taking its place. The OK button performs the same function as the Enter button on the D70, letting that control now serve just for setting Quality in record mode and Zoom in playback mode. The net result is that you can now navigate the D80's menu system using only your right thumb, but we personally found the two-handed approach required by the D70 to be faster.

The camera's bottom panel has slightly raised rubber ribs crossing it, to provide better traction when mounted on a tripod head. Apart from these though, it's quite flat overall. A threaded metal tripod mount sits near the center of the body, aligned with the optical center of the lens, and very close to the center of mass of the camera.

The battery compartment is on the right side of the body (when viewed from the back). A lock button in the battery compartment door prevents it from opening accidentally, and the pressure of the door holds the battery in place. The battery is a slightly firm fit in the compartment, so it doesn't immediately eject when the door is opened, but we still prefer having a battery compartment with both a stronger spring and a latch to hold the battery in place.

 

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