Nikon D80 Operation
If the Nikon D80 is going to be your first digital SLR, the assortment of buttons and dials might be a little intimidating at first look. After only a short time working with it though, the control layout becomes quite intuitive and very fast to navigate. As we made note of in the Design section of this review, a number of controls have moved around on the body relative to their positions on the D70. Almost all of these changes constitute improvements in the camera's ergonomics, at worst, the changes are relatively neutral. The D80 retains the same mode dial as was found on the D70, so we found ourselves missing the arrangement of buttons and mode dial employed on the D200. We have to admit though, that the easy access to the handful of scene modes provided by the D80's dial is perhaps more appropriate to the amateur market the D80 is designed for.
Overall, the control layout places the main shooting controls on top of the camera and the rest on the back panel, for ease of use. Changing shutter speed, aperture, metering mode, etc. is quick and simple, with changes shown on the small black & white data readout on the top panel of the camera, and some of them in the viewfinder readout display as well.
The LCD menu system itself is well-organized and simple to navigate, with five main menu pages. The Custom Settings menu is just a single scrolling list of entries (as in the D50 and D70), rather than the banks of settings seen in the D200. This is perhaps easier for novice users, and arguably a bit faster for shorter lists of options, but the bank system used in the D200 made for a cleaner layout, and made the various functions a bit easier to find.
As with most Nikon DSLRs, the top-panel data readout communicates a lot of information about current camera settings, and provides an interface for setting many camera functions, when used in conjunction with the various buttons and Command Dials. The illustrations above show the meaning of the various icons and readouts in this display.
We really like top-panel data readouts of this sort, and hope that Nikon continues to include them on their cameras. Canon removed the top-panel readout on their competing Rebel XTi model and, while the rear-panel displays are gorgeous and readable, we're always conscious that we're using battery power whenever we access them. (We're also more inclined to want to look down on the top of the camera while making adjustments, but that may just be force of habit from our film days.)
The big news with the D80's menu system is that there's now a fifth "Retouch" menu at the bottom of the list, offering a much greater range of in-camera image-manipulation possibilities than we've seen previously on a dSLR. (Or on just about any digital camera, for that matter.) We look at some of the functions available there in more depth on the Operation/Image Retouching subtab of this review.
As always on Nikon dSLRs, the viewfinder display does a good job of keeping you informed of what's going on with the camera, without having to take your eye away from the viewfinder to find out. Those times that you do, the combination of external controls and the monochrome data display can handle most common camera settings without forcing you into the LCD menu system. All in all, a very well laid-out, efficient user interface.
Click on the other sub-tabs above to read about the Nikon D80's Viewfinder, Controls, and Menu system.