Nikon D80 digital SLR


WHENEVER YOU BUY a new camera, the first thing you should do – without fail – is read the instruction booklet. If I’d followed my own advice, I wouldn’t have taken the D80 out in the field, opened the memory card slot – and gone home again without shooting a single image. The D80, I belatedly realised, takes SD cards and not Compact Flash cards.
Boasting a high specification for a relatively low price, this 10 million-pixel SLR digital camera is small and light, weighing only 585 g. Some photographers prefer a ‘chunkier’ feel, in which case an extra battery holder, the MB-D80 which takes two EN-EL3e or six AA batteries, can be fitted. The viewing screen is bright and large (2.5 in, like that of the more expensive D2X and D200) and has a simple magnifying tool which can be accessed quickly and easily.
The 3D colour matrix metering system consists of matrix, centre-weighted and spot mode, while the exposure modes are manual, shutter priority, aperture priority and programmed auto. In addition, there is a Digital Vari-Program dial which offers a number of auto programs for portrait, landscape, macro, sports, night landscape and night portrait settings. Images can be taken in large, fine and basic jpeg mode as well as compressed RAW, while the ISO setting is from 100-1,600. The camera fires at a maximum three frames per second.
One point worth noting is that this body, unlike the D200 and D2X, cannot be used with manual focus lenses. Although they can be fitted and will focus, the exposure meter will not link. Oh, and the camera takes SD cards, not Compact Flash cards.
After that unsuccessful first attempt at my local reserve, I put this camera to the test at Marshside RSPB, using it to photograph Black-tailed Godwits, Avocets and a Green-winged Teal. It is a simple camera to use and I was soon accustomed to the smaller size and slightly different controls. The exposure meter was accurate and the images looked good on the screen, with excellent colour and sharpness. The motor drive was slower than I usually use, which probably meant that I took fewer blurred photos, although I would prefer a faster pace for flight shots. Another session, this time at my feeding station, provided more good results and some images of Goldfinch on teasel were among the best I’ve taken.
I was even more impressed when viewing the downloaded images, as I’d shot a few at 800 ISO and they showed little noise on screen. The ones I’d taken at 200 ISO were as good as any from my other cameras. Images shot at the highest jpeg setting gave a file size of about
4 MB, depending on the amount of detail in the image, while RAW files were 8.5 MB. The auto white balance worked well in the two situations I experimented in, and colours were reproduced accurately and needed little manipulation.
Nikon says its target customer for the semi-professional D80 is the “photographer who wants to expand the scope of their creative palette”. I’m sure this model will prove to be a huge success, although some potential buyers may feel that for a few hundred pounds more, the D200 is a better choice (see review, Birdwatch 180: 46). If you already own a D200 and need a second body, the D80 would fit the bill perfectly. Even better news is that both cameras use the same batteries and charger.
And as for the instruction booklet that I should have read at the start, it really is a very good read, easy to understand and is recommended to all.

Price: £700 (body only); £900 (with
18-70 mm lens); £950 (with 18-135 mm lens)
Size: 132x103x77 mm
Weight: 585 g
Effective pixels: 10.2 million
Viewing screen: 2.5 in
Motor drive: 3 fps
Exposure metering: 3D matrix, centre-weighted and spot