Saturday, December 3, 2011

Nikon D80 Review - A Great Student/Starter Value

It's a bit late reviewing a camera body that was first announced in 2006. Two generations have since succeeded it, so how relevant could a five-year old (at the time of this writing at least) dSLR body be? Actually, very much so,  if you're in the market for a used one.

Just as a reminder of how well this Nikon body stands the test of time, it's important to remember that it actually has better jpeg and high ISO output than the semi-pro D200 from which it is derived. When the D90 replaced it in 2008, many found (and are still of the opinion) that the newer generation 12mp sensor, while better again at high ISO, was no better and actually a little worse at low ISO. Think about that for a minute. Ignoring for a moment the advances made in megapixels, a five-year old camera produces almost the same quality output that the current D7000 does at the ISO's that most people shoot at in daylight. It's contemporary rivals were the Canon XTi and the original Sony Alpha. The Canon had the best overall image quality of the three, and the Sony was the value leader with built-in image stabilization, but the only the Nikon stands the test of time... you only have to count how many enthusiasts are still using each.

A large part of this can be attributed to the build quality. Compared to the other two, it's put together and has better ergonomics. The way to timelessness is to build a quality product you would want to use.. and keep using... irregardless of advances in technology. Take today's iPhone 4s and compare it the wonder-darling of a by-gone era.... the Motorola RAZR. Irregardless of the smartphone revolution, I dare you to pick up both and not tell me that the RAZR was not a well built device for it's time. It was premium to begin with, and lesser products from that era have since bitten the dust.  And so is it with the D80.

This was and is a popular serious enthusiast camera. Those with D200's tended to do at least some paid work with their cameras, or at the least imaged that they might someday. Most D80 shooters were happy to shoot for the sake of shooting, but wouldn't have been caught dead with a D40. There's a thing that the locals like to do at the annual fireworks festival...along the waterline, you'll find a gaggle of photographers  with their tripods setup for one of these summer nights. Since a high proportion of them tend to be D80's/D90's, you can go down the path setting off everybody's camera with the same ML-3 wireless remote. You can bet that at least one joker will try this ever year...

As I write this, prices for used bodies are sinking downwards. Cragislist prices before the summer of 2011 were still around $400 here in Canada, but now it's not uncommon to see $350, but to be honest, the going rate for a used one is around $300 CDN or less. Look for one with a low shutter count, since the majority of these cameras are now getting on in years. The camera does not tell you how many shutter clicks it has gone through, but you can run the EXIF data from a jpeg through Opanda to get that information. If your seller has done this and can tell you the number of shutter clicks, then you are probably dealing with a reasonable good photographer. Cameras from this era were expected to last at least 30,000 to 40,000 clicks... most people would have a hard time reaching that before they got sucked into buying an upgrade. Another area to look out for is the rubber thumb placement piece on the back of the camera, which tends to come unpeeled over time. You can stick it back by cleaning the underlining surface with rubbing alcohol, then using contact cement to glue it back in place. You'll need to 'stuff' it a bit to get it to seat properly... the reason why it comes unglued in the first place is because the rubber absorbs oils from the user's thumb and swells over time, pushing itself out.

In the end, I was sorry to see it go, but not that sorry since the D7000 has taken it's place. But overall, the D80 is a great value for anybody learning photography, and is a better teaching tool than the Nikon's without screw-drive AF capability. (The reason being for the second command dial and hardware ISO button, that and AF-D lens compatibility) It is prone to the notorious AF sensor-point weighted matrix meter, but this in itself is a characteristic, and not a flaw. (Well, okay, it's a feature, not a bug)  Almost all of the Nikon pictures from this blog came from my D80... which is to say that if you need a quality camera for web output, it's a steal of a tool for photojournalism. Modern cameras handle noise much better (though it was no slouch for its day), but that is irrelevant if you'll downsize your pictures to web size anyway.  You could rely on using a cheap compact camera... but that won't quite capture the same amount of detail at the time of exposure. If you browse through this blog and compare the pictures taken from my Panasonic and my Nikon, I think you'll find that even though both are downsized for the web, the pictures from the dSLR have a certain extra something, which is what most people are looking for when you are looking to move up to this level of camera.

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