Nikon's new D80 looks impressive. We analyse the D80 launch data and look beyond the press releases.
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Read the Press releases:
Nikon launches 10MP D80 DSLR
New 18-135 zoom lens from Nikon
70-300VR stabilised Nikon zoom lens
At the UK press launch of the new Nikon D80 yesterday afternoon, you could feel the sheer confidence and enthusiasm that Nikon UK staff were exuding as the camera was presented to us. The Nikon D70 was a gold mine for Nikon and here is a significantly better-looking camera to inherit the D70's position. Nikon is so bullish about the D80's prospects that they expect to break all previous sales records with the D80. Incidentally, although the D80 replaces the D70, supplies of the D70s will continue until the end of the year. You will be able to buy a D80 in early September.
There are also two new lenses; a 7.5x 18-135 f/3.5-5.6 DX zoom, which will be available separately or as an optional 'kit' standard zoom lens with the D80, and a 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR (image stabilised) zoom.
So what are the D80's bullet points?
Sensor and image processing
The D80 is based around a new 10.2 megapixel sensor. It's not the same as the Nikon D200
's, which sports the same resolution, though both are CCD type chips with 12-bit digital to analogue conversion compared to the D2X/D2H family's CMOS sensors. The primary difference is that the D80 has a simpler two-channel data bus compared to the D200's four channel bus. This means the D80 is limited to 3 frames per second shooting compared to up to 5fps with the D200. However, Nikon says that the low level colour channel processing is much the same, though D80 in-camera JPEG files will be more aggressively sharpened and have slightly more saturation and contrast by default than the D200. Of course, this is user-adjustable and fundamentally the tonal quality that the D80 is capable of producing should be the same as the D200.
The new Nikon D80 flanked by (left) the new 70-300 VR zoom and (right) the new 18-135 DX zoom.
The ISO range now starts at 100 instead of the minimum setting of 200 with the D70 and mindful of the increased resolution of the sensor, there are three levels of optional noise reduction for higher ISO settings, with the maximum ISO setting now limited to 1600.
Is the D80's sensor the same as the new Sony Alpha A100
's? Nikon says no. Although both sensors are manufactured by Sony, Nikon's line is that the design and specification of their Sony-made sensors is defined by Nikon and Sony then manufactures the sensor exclusively for Nikon.
Size, weight and construction
Compared to the D200, the D80 is smaller, lighter and constructed from engineering plastics rather than an alloy chassis. Having said that, after holding a D80 I wasn't concerned at all by the solidity of the camera's construction.
At last, Nikon has seen sense and endowed its lower-mid-range model with a battery grip upgrade option. The new MB-D80 grip takes two lithium ion rechargeable batteries or a set of AAs, which is very sensible and practically ensures you won't be left high and dry with dead batteries. Incidentally, the D80 is designed to reject third party lithium ion rechargeable batteries, so it will be interesting to see how the after market battery makers respond. The D80 is compatible with the vast majority of the Nikon D-series system accessories, including its excellent flash system.
One feature missing that will frustrate long-time Nikon users is that of AI meter coupling for older manual focus lenses. If you must have that, you need the D200 instead.
Nikon has not provided a compact flash slot for the D80. But with the roll-out of SDHC (high density SD) Nikon has, in my opinion, wisely committed on SD for the D80. The SDHC road map sees 32GB cards in the future and 4GB cards are now just becoming available. As the D80 is aimed at consumers who will likely have other cameras and devices that are SD-compatible, the SD card choice looks sensible. However, I do expect some criticism aimed at Nikon from some quarters regarding this, to which I'm sure Nikon will respond by pointing a finger in the direction the D200.
You can count on Nikon providing a very high specification AF system and the D80 inherits a modified version of the 11-point system featured in the D200. That includes a true spot meter mode and the centre AF point can be adjusted to cover a wide-central area when required.
Controls and user interface
Two adjustment wheels, one on the front and one at the back of the body, are provided. There are now dedicated review zoom buttons and the old 'Return' button has been repositioned and re-named 'OK'. Although much the same structure, layout and colours of the menu systems seen in recent Nikon D-series cameras is retained, as the D80 has a high resolution screen, the fonts and ancillary graphics have been optimised accordingly.
Nikon still insists on supplying a limited time trial version of its NX RAW conversion software, which most of the assembled journalists seemed to feel was counter-productive. But candidly, Nikon UK's senior marketing manger, Jeremy Gilbert, conceded that the NX software is a valuable commodity that the company needs to earn from. Nevertheless, he also acknowledged that third party software companies will crack the D80's RAW configurations quickly and that the limited choice for D80 enthusiast owners will be short-lived.
Pricing and market
As the D80 replaces the D70, it sits squarely in the lower-middle of Nikon's DSLR range. The cheaper and simpler D50 remains for the time being, but we were given a mild hint that this is due for an update soon. The D80 is expected to have a very wide appeal, from more ambitious hobby and family photographers through to professionals. It's definitely a serious competitor to Canon's EOS-30D and, of course, the new Sony Alpha 100, with which it shares a similar specification.
Nikon UK's pricing:
|RRP: || D80 Body only|| £699.99|
|D80 + 18-70mm|| £899.99|
|D80 +18-135mm|| £949.99|
Nikon UK believes the D80 will provide a foundation for a long term strategy that should bolster its number two position behind Canon in the UK and increase its market share to more than 40%. Ultimately, Nikon wants to challenge Canon for the top spot. Sounds good, but Sony has also declared that it wants to be the No.2 DSLR player within two years, so will it achieve this and, if so, at the expense of Nikon or Canon?
Nikon has a solid product in the D80. It has class-leading or equalling resolution and is likely to deliver impressive image quality. One thing that does strike me about the D80 is that it's a very conventional design. Sony has the tangible advantage of in-camera anti-shake, as will the new Pentax K100D
when it's formally launched soon. Panasonic
have hinted at a future where DSLRs can do live preview and I suspect that Sony will come up with something similar. Samsung, with its Pentax
partner, might spring a few surprises too. But for now, Nikon should be on to a winner with the D80.
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