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Howard Sandler | profile | all galleries >> Technical Stuff >> Nikon D80 Evaluation tree view | thumbnails | slideshow

Nikon D80 Evaluation | Nikkor 18-200mm f3.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S DX VR | Nikkor 18-70 DX Evaluation | Depth of Field Demonstration | Nikkor 70-300 mm G Zoom Lens Evaluation | Nikkor 50mm f1.8D AF Lens Evaluation | Nikkor 85mm f1.8 D AF Lens Evaluation | Nikkor 24mm f2.8 AF-D Evaluation | Sigma 105mm f2.8 EX DG Macro Lens Evaluation | Lighting Equipment | Skin Smoothing | Nikkor 35mm f1.8 AF-S DX Evaluation

Nikon D80 Evaluation

I'm coming at this camera from a D70 background, and I shoot semi-professionally, on average a couple hundred frames a week. I shoot jpg exclusively and post process everything.

The major advantage of this camera over the D70 is the larger, higher resolution, and more viewable reviewing screen. This is very important if you use the screen after shooting a test shot to judge white balance, focus and exposure like I do. With the D70, the look of the shot changes with the vertical angle to the screen, and I had to be careful to view it exactly from the right angle to judge skin tones in portraits. This is not necessary with the D80. The colour calibration of the screen is excellent and white balance can be judged in-camera with confidence. The only thing I note is that images look brighter on the playback screen than they actually are, even with the LCD brightness set at its lowest (-2). At higher brightness settings, fair skin may look blown out when it's not. The playback zoom also goes in further with the D80, well beyond 100% (one pixel of image per pixel of screen seems to correspond to 6 button presses of the zoom key, and there are two more steps beyond that), so focus is easier to judge. A trick I discovered in playback is that rotating the command dial while zoomed in allows you to cycle through a number of frames, all zoomed in to the same magnification and spot in the frame. This is good for judging focus or subtle facial expressions in a series of portraits.

The other big improvements over the D70 are separate RGB and L histograms, more autofocus points and modes, and--really important for me--more flexible controller mode for the built in flash. I can now shoot a 3-light portrait with just two external flashes: The built in flash is the master and also provides a useful amount of fill lighting at 5 metres distance, f5.6 and ISO100. One external SB800 or SB600 bounced into an umbrella is the main light, and another can be used to light up the background or provide an accent light on the hair or far side side of the face. All three can be independently adjusted from the flash menu on the camera. Some others have reported that the pre-flash signalling seems to be faster with the D80 compared to the D70 which reduces the tendency of people to blink. So far I also seem to be having fewer blink problems, so it may be correct.

I was really dismayed by the D70's tendency to produce moire patterns on clothing fabric when I shot portraits with my ultrasharp 85mm and 50mm lenses. The D80 is said to have a stronger antialiasing filter over the sensor which should minimize this. I haven't had any moire problems yet with the D80.

Colours out of the camera are better than the D70; in particular, the tendency towards a greenish cast with daylight white balance is gone; if anything, there is a tendency towards red which is usually more pleasing to the eye.

There are certainly some other improvements relative to the D70, such as more flexible auto ISO, a programmable function button on the front, convenient for the middle finger, and dedicated autofocus mode button, but these are less important to me. The retouching features added are all fluff if you post process your photos before printing, like I do.

The camera feels just like a D70, with the exception of the grip being a few millimetres shorter. This is unfortunate because my wide fingers are hard to all keep on the grip now. I tend to curl my little finger under the base of the camera now. I tried the accessory vertical grip at a camera show, but found it too deep for my fingers when held in vertical mode.

The overexposure issue on high contrast scenes with dark subjects is real. I think the matrix metering is deciding to preserve an overall average of neutral tone and lets the highlights go if necessary to do that. On the other hand, the D70 tended to expose so conservatively to preserve every little bright highlight, that I had to brighten a lot of photos in post processing. Whether one has to change exposure compensation more often on the D80 remains to be seen, but my natural light shots require negative compensation more often than not, so far. Flash metering seems to be good, however.

Some EXIF quirks have come up. With the D70, ISO did not automatically get displayed here on pbase, as Nikon called it something other than what was routine in the EXIF data, so it was not picked up. With the D80, ISO comes out, other than the boosted modes above 1600. On the other hand, Kelvin white balance does not seem to be recognized, and the exposure compensation is not reported correctly. This may have something to do with the auto ISO feature; I still need to investigate. Ignore what you see in the detailed EXIF info for my test shots for exposure compensation, and go by my captions instead. Also, the EXIF does not report that flash was used, at least when commander mode is used for the flash.
Sharpening Levels
Sharpening Levels
ISO 1600 Noise
ISO 1600 Noise
Exposure in High Contrast
Exposure in High Contrast
Compensated -0.7
Compensated -0.7
Exposure Dark Subject
Exposure Dark Subject
Compensated -2.0
Compensated -2.0
Exposure Low Contrast, No Compensation
Exposure Low Contrast, No Compensation
Night Shot
Night Shot
Custom White Balance
Custom White Balance
White Balance in Heavy Overcast
White Balance in Heavy Overcast
White Balance with Studio Flash
White Balance with Studio Flash
White Balance Auto in Sunlight
White Balance Auto in Sunlight
White Balance Daylight in Sunlight
White Balance Daylight in Sunlight
White Balance Daylight+3 in Sunlight
White Balance Daylight+3 in Sunlight
White Balance Daylight-3 in Sunlight
White Balance Daylight-3 in Sunlight
Enhanced Saturation
Enhanced Saturation
Colour Space 3a
Colour Space 3a
Vivid Custom Setting
Vivid Custom Setting
White Balance Auto Through a Polarizer
White Balance Auto Through a Polarizer
White Balance Daylight Through a Polarizer
White Balance Daylight Through a Polarizer