Nikon D80 Digital Camera Review

A review of the Nikon D80 DSLR.

$750.00 at Amazon

Testing / Performance

 **Color (7.46)**We shoot a GretagMacbeth color target under controlled lighting to test color accuracy. We use Imatest software to analyze the results, reporting saturation and color error. The Nikon D80 was not stellar in our tests. Its saturation was 108.6 percent, which is high for a DSLR – they’re mostly below 105, and some are within a single percentage of perfect. The D80’s too-bright colors may block up tones in vivid subjects. We’d avoid the custom modes and optimization settings on the D80 that boost saturation. The D80 also had a relatively high 7.9 mean color error. Scores in the mid-to-high 6’s mark very good performance for DSLRs.

Imatest produces two charts to illustrate its results. The first is a composite of the camera’s shot of the GretagMacbeth chart, with smaller squares of color superimposed on the original image. The central square shows the ideal color, adjusted for luminance. The narrow rectangles show the ideal reproduction of the color. 

Imatest’s other chart shows a color gamut. The middle of the chart is completely unsaturated. That’s where white, gray and black belong. Colors get progressively more saturated farther from the center. Any circle drawn around the center would show a standard color wheel. Imatest plots the ideal rendition of each color as a small square and the camera’s actual rendition as a circle. When the circle covers up the square, the camera has done a good job reproducing the color. The longer the line between each circle and square the less accurate the color. If the circle is farther from the middle than the square, the camera oversaturated. If it is rotated relative to the center, the camera got the hue wrong. The D80’s chart shows that most of its oversaturation is in pink and red tones, with one blue going significantly overboard. The hue errors are primarily in pinks and a couple of blues. The D80 did a good job from green through yellow to orange, so the problems are concentrated in part of the spectrum. **Still Life Scene

**We shoot a still life scene with every camera we test, allowing readers to subjectively evaluate image quality. The link below leads to a full-resolution version of the image.  


 **Resolution ***(4.68)*We test camera resolution by shooting an ISO standard test chart at several apertures and focal lengths, and analyzing the images with Imatest, the industry-standard software for the job. Imatest reports results in line-widths per picture-height (lw/ph), a unit of measure that is independent of the physical size of the image sensor. That allows the results to be compared over the wide variety of digital cameras.

Click on the chart above to view the full resolution image

The Nikon D80 performed best at f/8 and 62mm with a Nikon 24-120 zoom lens. It delivered 1658 lw/ph (horizontal), with 12.1 percent undersharpening and 1290 lw/ph (vertical), with 25.1 percent undersharpening. These resolution figures are low for a 10-megapixel camera, which is partly a result of the low in-camera sharpening. With more sharpening, either in-camera or on a computer, the D80’s images would show more detail. Nikon cameras tend to sharpen less than other brands. The strategy leaves more scope for post-production editing, but many users won’t do any editing to their images. Given its target market, we expected the D80 to sharpen more in-camera. ** ** **Noise – Auto ****ISO*******(9.76)*Imatest evaluates noise, based on shots of a GretagMacbeth chart. Because noise increases with ISO, we test noise at various ISO settings. At Auto ISO, the D80 chose to use ISO 400, which is much higher than necessary. However, the noise levels were so low at 400 that the D80 still scored well. The results are very good, compared to other DSLRs.** ****Noise – Manual ****ISO*******(10.88)*At manual ISO settings, the Nikon D80 performed well. Noise increased slowly and steadily from ISO 100 to 1600. The D80’s noise reduction feature started to show an effect at about ISO 400, and shows a significant benefit from 640 on up to 1600. Noise has been a problem for Nikons, so this performance shows an improvement in their line.

Low Light ***(7.75)***We shoot the GretagMacbeth chart many times in the course of testing a camera. Perhaps the spookiest shots are taken in low light. We shoot the chart at 60 lux, which is comfortable for reading; 30 lux, which is something like a dim restaurant; 15 lux, which is like a candlelit room; and 5 lux, which is very dark. What’s notable in the D80 shots is that they are relatively consistent. The saturation doesn’t drop off much from exposure to exposure.  We also tested the D80's performance on long exposures. Below is a graph we compiled, showing the exposure duration on the horizontal axis and the correlating noise on the vertical axis.

Dynamic Range ***(7.0)*In photography, dynamic range is the span from light to dark, and what we test is the range of brightness that a camera can record with detail – how much detail the camera will show when capturing a very contrasty subject. We photograph a Stouffer step chart, which is a piece of film, lit from behind, that shows 14 EV of brightness. Because dynamic range varies with ISO, we test cameras throughout their range. We use Imatest software to analyze the images, which yields results as a number of EV, or stops. The High Quality number records the range with no more than 1/10 EV of noise. Low Quality shows the range with up to 1 EV of noise. Low quality is significant – even though it doesn’t yield pleasing detail of a subject, it indicates texture, rather than pure white or black. We tested the Nikon D80 in its extended sensitivity range, and the equivalent of ISO 3200.


The D80 has good range at ISO 100, but drops significantly at 200 and 400. 800 is about the same as 400, which should be significant for available-light shooters. Performance drops significantly again at 1600 and H1.0, or 3200. The D80 does not record dynamic range as well as competing cameras such as the Canon Rebel XTi or the Sony alpha A100. However, it does better than the pricier Nikon D200.

******Speed / Timing***Start-up to First Shot (9.55)*0.45 seconds passed from the moment we switched on the Nikon D80 until it captured its first shot. That’s very quick, and not a limitation for users of the camera. Non-DSLRs often take as long as a few seconds to start, so photographers making a switch from compact or super-zoom cameras will be pleased with the difference.* **Shot to Shot Time (9.63)*Using a Kingston 2GB 120x SD card, we shot 2.8 frames per second with the Nikon D80, making maximum size and quality JPEGs. The D80 shot an even 100 of these JPEGs before saturating its buffer. In RAW mode, it got off 15 frames before pausing 5 seconds to clear its buffer. This is a decent pace for a burst mode (especially considering the 10.2-megapixel file size), but isn’t as stellar as some of the more expensive models.  *Shutter to Shot Time (8.64)*The D80 took 0.18 seconds from the moment we pressed the shutter until it captured a frame. This delay owes mainly to focusing. We tested with an older 18-55mm kit lens – not the new one introduced with Nikon’s even newer D40. 

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  1. Testing / Performance
  2. Physical Tour
  3. Components
  4. Design / Layout
  5. Modes
  6. Control Options
  7. Image Parameters
  8. Connectivity / Extras
  9. Overall Impressions
  10. Conclusion
  11. Specs / Ratings
  12. Photo Gallery