Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Nikon D80 digital SLR beats my D70

I've been using Nikon cameras, most of them Single Lens Reflex cameras, where I compose the shots through the lens that takes the pictures, since 1970.

My first Nikon was the famous Photomic FTn. I don't use it any more. It spends most of its life on my camera collection shelf. I take it down a few times each year to fondle it and exercise its film advance and shutter. Although it hasn't had film in it in many years, I'm sure it still works fine. I'm reasonably sure it will still work fine a hundred years from now. If they still make film.

I still own a few dozen rolls of film, but the freshest rolls are years beyond their expiration date. Other than a single-use film camera that I found on my plate at a wedding, I've been pure-digital, and mostly Nikon digital, since 2001.

My first Nikon Digital was not a SLR. It was an excellent Coolpix 5000 rangefinder (where you don't compose through the shooting lens). It now sits in my office attached to a tripod and is used almost every day for product shots. It has never failed me.

My "everyday" travel-and-family camera is an SLR, the fine Nikon D70, purchased about five years ago for about $1300. It, too, has never failed me. It takes magnificent pictures and I've never felt the need to replace it. But it is bulky and heavy.

My third digital Nikon is a Coolpix S500 pocket-size job. It only cost me $200, and stays in the car for those unexpected photo opportunities when I want better photo quality then I can get with my cellphone.

With cameras, as in almost everything electronic, each new generation gets better, smaller, lighter and less expensive.

My superb D70 was followed by the improved D70S, and that was replaced by the even-better D80 in 2006, which you should be able to buy for about $800 (body only) or about $1050 with an excellent 18-135mm zoom lens.

Although there are many differences, here are some important numbers that highlight the progress: My D70 cost $250 more than the D80. Its lens zoomed only from 18 to 70mm, and the camera had 6.1 effective megapixels compared to 10.2 in the new D80. The new zoomier lens weighs a little bit less than mine.

With a new CCD image sensor and high-resolution color processing "engine" inherited from Nikon’s professional digital SLR cameras, the D80 can render images with incredible resolution, sharp detail and vibrant color. And it can shoot these images fast: at speeds of up to 3 frames per second, for up to 100 consecutive shots (in JPEG Normal mode).

The D80 is ready to shoot in just 0.18 seconds and has super-low shutter lag time of just 80 milliseconds. A new 11-area auto-focus system can track a moving subject across the frame, shifting focus instantly and automatically to any of the 11 auto-focus points that detect the subject.

The rechargeable battery can last up to 2700 shots on a single charge, while also providing a real-time “Fuel Gauge” of the percentage of charge remaining in the battery at all times.

The D80’s new Optimize image menu offers complete control over the look and feel of your pictures, allowing you to boost saturation and create pictures with vivid color, or shoot black-and-white pictures with a choice of four filtration effects, or even create your own custom look that expresses personal style and creativity. Other creative tools include an all-new image Retouch menu for in-camera image editing, built-in i-TTL flash control with the ability to control up to two remote groups of strobe lights, as well as over 32 custom settings to customize several attributes of the camera’s performance.

One of the key advances developed for the D80 is Nikon's own high-resolution image processing engine that inherits technologies from Nikon's latest professional digital SLR cameras, including color independent analog pre-conditioning and high-precision 12-bit digital image processing algorithms, which combine to produce natural-looking images that benefit from faithful color and tone reproduction. A new dedicated high-performance processing chip greatly accelerates performance on all levels, while also achieving lower power consumption, assuring more pictures per battery charge.

The D80 also benefits from Nikon's exclusive 3D Color Matrix Metering II, to ensure accurate exposures, even in the most challenging lighting conditions. Evaluating, rather than merely measuring or averaging the true content of each scene, input from the system's frame-wide 420-pixel sensor is automatically referenced against an onboard database of over 30,000 scenes from actual photography to calculate final exposure value. Variable Center-Weighted metering and Spot metering centered on the active focus area are also available, as are exposure compensation and auto exposure bracketing.

Photographers should enjoy the D80’s built-in Multiple Exposure mode for unique composite image effects, or the Optimize menu options that closely tailor results to the scene at hand or the intended use of an image or to a custom preference of the photographer. Optimization of sharpening, tone (contrast), color, saturation and hue is controlled by the user-selected choice of Normal, Softer, Vivid, More Vivid, Portrait, Custom and Black-and-White. The black-and-white mode can be customized using red, green, yellow and orange filter effects as well as image sharpening and tone compensation.

For anyone just beginning to enjoy the added performance and versatility of digital SLR photography, creative shooting is as simple as rotating the Digital Vari-Program mode dial on the camera. The D80 has seven preconfigured program modes to optimize the camera for specific shooting conditions and increase the chances of taking a great photograph.

In Portrait Mode, for example, the camera automatically optimizes the color, hue, and saturation levels to capture the most flattering skin tones, softens the focus of the background images to emphasize the face and applies a milder form of in-camera sharpening. Users can choose from Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Close-Up, Sports, Night Landscape or Night Portrait.

The D80 also offers creative ways to share pictures, with its built-in Pictmotion slideshow feature, which includes style selections that control transitions and background music. Shows can be enjoyed on the 2.5-inch LCD, or complete with audio on a television when connected via the supplied AV cable.

A 2.5-inch 230,000-dot high-resolution LCD provides an ultra-wide 170-degree viewing angle from all directions. Navigating the preview of your images is easy with a new dedicated Zoom button, magnifying images on screen up to 25 times their original size. A new RGB histogram display aids in evaluating exposures with greater precision. Other playback options include single frame, 4 or 9-image thumbnail display, an improved histogram display and highlight point display. A new menu interface featuring refinements to the carefully chosen color scheme and increased font size makes navigation easier on the eye, easier to understand and easier to use. Menus can be customized to display only selected items using the new "My Menu" set.

The D80 is slimmer and more compact than its predecessors, and is compatible with Nikon’s AF Nikkor lenses as well as new DX Nikkor lenses, which are designed exclusively for use with Nikon DX format digital SLR cameras. I'm very tempted to get a D80. But maybe I'll wait for the new, small D60.

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