It never ceases to amaze me how much camera manufacturers are able to fit into an SLR body these days. The Nikon D80 is a thoughtful combination of controls and features that makes creating pictures a pleasurable experience.
As I worked with the camera, I appreciated its ergonomic design. Though the camera is relatively compact (5.2x4.1x3.0 inches), the various buttons and controls were easily accessible whether I was holding the camera vertically or horizontally. The same is true of frequently used controls for white balance, ISO, autofocus and exposure compensation, eliminating the need to repeatedly return to the 2.5-inch LCD to make necessary changes to those all-important settings. The large viewfinder, like that of the D200, makes a huge difference when framing, especially because I try to achieve my final crop in-camera rather than later in Photoshop.
I did have some issues seeing the information display when the camera was turned vertically and I was wearing my eyeglasses. I had to compensate my viewing angle to get a clear view of the entire frame and the data. It's a small thing, but can be frustrating if you can't remove your glasses when shooting.
I appreciated the inclusion of a Function button that can be customized to engage features that might otherwise be available only by navigating the menu. I set mine to change the AF mode, which allows the camera to automatically choose the active sensors or puts the onus on me to choose any of the 11 sensors. The ability to quickly go back and forth between those two modes was especially beneficial when I went from shooting a landscape to a tight macro shot, when a single AF sensor was all that was needed.
I trust Nikon's 3D Color Matrix II metering system that produces amazingly accurate results even under the most complicated lighting situations. Nevertheless, it was helpful to view the expanded histogram during playback to be sure I wasn't clipping any of my highlights—an important aspect of shooting digitally.
The D80 can convert an image to black-and-white, sepia or a classic cyanotype, and filters can also be applied that work just like a skylight or warming filter. And you can apply white-balance corrections after the image has been recorded, even if it's a JPEG file.
The Nikon D-Lighting system automatically enhances underexposed or backlit images in-camera, which eliminated an additional step when I wanted to make a simple print directly from the camera to my printer or when I wanted to e-mail an image. And e-mailing was easier because I could resize my images in-camera as well. None of these effects changes the original file; they create a duplicate image that's saved alongside all my original images.
Though priced at less than $1,000, the camera offers a wealth of features, including some that I never expected to see in a midrange camera, such as multiple-exposure capability and a built-in master controller for external Speedlights. It may not be considered "professional" but the images I created with the Nikon D80 definitely left me feeling like a pro. Estimated Street Price: $999 (body only).
Contact: Nikon, (800) NIKON-US, www.nikonusa.com.
Specs Of Note
Image Sensor: 10.2-megapixel (effective) CCD
AF System: 11-area TTL phase detection
Lens Magnification Factor: 1.5x
Shutter Speed: 1/4000 to 30 sec.; X-sync at 1/200 sec.
ISO Setting: 100-1600 (one-third increments)
Continuous Firing Mode: 3 fps with 100-frame burst (JPEG) and 6 (NEF)
Storage Media: SecureDigital (SD)
Dimensions: 5.2x4.1x3.0 inches
Weight: 19.9 ounces
Power Source: EN-EL3e lithium-ion, 6 AA (with optional MB-D80)
1 High-resolution, DX-format 10.1-megapixel CCD image sensor
2 11-area AF; each individual area can be selected
3 2.5-inch LCD display with a 170-degree viewing angle
4 Built-in filter modes for black-and-white, cropping and resizing, and image enhancement