Thursday, 24 February 2011

My Nikon D80 four years on

It's four years to the day that I bought my first proper DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera. It's been one of the best purchases I've ever made. Four years on, the camera's getting a bit tired (the shutter sounds a bit wheezy, the rubber grip's long come off the lens*), but essentially my Nikon D80 (below) is still rugged and reliable. The battery is as good as new. I'm so satisfied with it that I'm not hunting around for a replacement.

The camera is used heavily. Maybe not as intensively as before I bought a used D40 as a lighter back-up, but nonetheless I reckon I've taken over 35,000 photographs with the D80. I have a camera with me at all times.

The world of serious photography is divided into two camps: Nikon and Canon. Never 'twain shall meet. We sneer at one another, looking with pity at that camera around one another's neck. (There are some odd people who for some reason use a Sony, but then they don't work for global news-gathering agencies. Buy what the pros use.)

Since the D80 came out, it's been replaced by the D90, still on sale, though now quite antiquated. I'm not tempted - it's not that great leap forward.

My second DSLR, a Nikon D40, is lighter and more portable, to be worn around the neck for bike rides. Handy and fun, it's has about two-thirds of the functionality of the D80. Now, the D40's current replacement as Nikon's entry-level DSLR, the D3100, is phenomenal. 14 million pixels, high-definition video shooting facility and a host of other improvements make me wonder about getting one... but then my D40 is still absolutely fine, working reliably (even though it only boasts 6 million pixels). Still, for these cameras' principal purpose - taking photos for this blog - neither will be replaced until they finally give up the ghost.

Essential accessories for the D80 and indeed for any DSLR camera: A second battery (I bought mine second hand at Warsaw's Stodoła camera fair), a polarising filter (for when it's sunny), a UV filter (for when it's dull), a portable memory card reader.

If you're in the market for a DSLR, my recommendation would be to buy a Nikon D3100 and upgrade the 18-55mm kit lens (quite decent, actually) for a 16-105mm or an 18-200mm zoom.

Above: Comparison of the D80 (left - with 18-200mm lens) and D40 (right - with 18-55mm lens). Both lenses set to widest (18mm setting), and a 10x blow-up from the centre of each frame. Both have UV filters on. Note difference in colour temperature (crisper, bluer light with the D40). Click to enlarge to see how 10.2 million pixels on the D80 compares to 6.1 million pixels on the D40.

* The lens grip has been replaced by six Royal Mail-issue rubber bands. As any Londoner knows, the streets of the capital are not paved with gold but with rubber bands dropped by postmen. They can come in very handy.

This time two years ago:
Nikon D80 two years on

This time three years ago:
Nikon D80 one year on


Kolin said...

Sounds like your camera has given you proud service. Any idea what your shutter count is? There are various methods to check, (of course depending on Nikon or Canon) but I've never tried any of them.

basia said...

I sit on the other side of the fence from you on this issue.
Canon all the way.
Glad the cameras have served you well.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Kolin - thanks for shutter-count prompt - I reckon around 35,000 frames shot.

@ Basia - let's see how well your Canon performs after 35,000 shots :)

Marcin said...

Oh goodness, the 18-200 really offers poor resolution when magnified, it's beaten by a poorer body with a kit lens in terms of sharpness.

tresho said...

I treated myself to a D3100 last fall and am still learning its ways. I would not walk or bicycle very far with that thing around my neck. It's massive and would keep me off-balance. I've seen the longer versions of the lenses as you mentioned, and the whole assembly becomes a huge thing.
I agree that polarizing and UV filters, a spare battery and a card reader are essential accessories. I also bought a short generic cable release for $8 US, quite a bit cheaper than the Nikon version.
Unfortunately the D3100 does not have a built-in receiver to allow a wireless remote shutter release, which I've heard is the usual situation in Nikon DSLRs. Another hobby of mine is home built electronics, so I may cobble a remote shutter release to suit me.
I've had some problems using the built-in timer to get myself into the picture. The D3100 is designed so that when the timer is triggered, the automatic focusing point is locked in as soon as the button is pressed halfway. Then when I walk into the picture, I am often out of focus. Manual focusing has become necessary for these situations.
I carry a Canon SD780IS in my pocket wherever I go. It is smaller than a pack of cigarettes. When I use its self-timer, the automatic focusing continues its operation until the shutter actually opens, so I nearly always in focus when I walk into the picture.
Another problem I have noticed with the D3100 is its choice of ISO speeds when running automatically. The camera seems to choose the very high range of ISOs when a much lower one would have given a better result with acceptable shutter speeds. So I am learning to turn that option off.
I used a Minolta SRT 201 SLR years ago & was spoiled by its very bright and sharp optical viewfinder. The quality of the optical view through the Nikon is poor compared to that. It is difficult to manually focus except in the brightest light. That is the only aspect of this DSLR that disappointed me.
The D3100 produces fine HD video and poor audio due to its built-in microphone and lack of an external mike jack.
I do like it, but my little Canon will always accompany the larger & more expensive Nikon.

basia said...

Oh, let the sneering begin. (I concede that Brits do have the upper hand where sneering is concerned...I'm at a disadvantage with my colonial past)
Digression: Hi Kolin!

Nikons have always been bigger and heavier than Canons. Their original target market was, of course, photo journalists who encountered all sorts of conditions in the field. They were built very tough.

Much as I admire the engineering that goes into Volvos, I don't enjoy the driving experience. Too big, ungainly, tank-like. I feel the same way about Nikons.

When I was in PRL in '83, I left behind my Canon Sureshot with my cousin. Twenty-five years later, the camera still functioned perfectly.
I doubt that he snapped off 35,000 frames in that time (film was expensive), but I was impressed with the camera's durability.
So there.

I'm also probably biased against Nikons because I met many people in the '80s that didn't know the first thing about photography who would hang an expensive Nikon around their necks and put on airs. It quickly became a status symbol.

Sigismundo said...

Soft D80 left and sharp D40 right. Are you sure that's correct?

Is it the lens that produces all that ugly softness? I'm surprised. The Cannon 18-55 IS kit lens is utter sh1te, especially towards the wide end, and probably doesn't compare well with Nikon's equivalent. Must get me some decent L-glass soon!

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Sigismundo: D80 left and D40 right - I confirm. The 18-200mm is a bit of a compromise; it vignettes like crazy at the longer end and has noticeable pincushion distorsion. It is, however, supremely versatile.

@ Basia: I was a Canon user (F1n)for years but switched to Nikon because I was not satisfied with the image quality of Canon lenses.

@ Tresho: The D40 and D3100 are much easier around the neck than a D80 with 18-200mm lens, I can tell you!

Christian said...

I guess that both photos were taken using jpg?
Using default jpg-settings for the D40 and the D80 would give the results we see.
The D40 is meant for people used to pocket cameras and was optimized for jpg and therefore sharpness is cranked up on the D40 picture.
The D80 was targeted at the more advanced user, who wants to post-process their pictures, so it has a neutral default jpg setting.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Christian

Yup - both captured in .jpg format. I've played with NEF (Nikon's RAW); a lot of extra faffing about for little gain.

"Sharpness cranked up" on the D40? It's like saying if you're shooting Kodacolor your camera gives you greater sharpness than if you were shooting Ektachrome? Why can't you crank up sharpness on the D80?

One thing I could do with is swapping my 18-55mm zoom for the newer VR version, to give a couple more stops of sharpness in poor light.

Christian said...

@ Michael

But you can adjust the sharpness of the D80 pictures.

Go to the shooting menu -> Optimize Image -> Custom -> Image Sharpening

There you can fiddle around with the default jpg sharpening.

"Done" is the most important Custom Optimize Image menu item. If you forget to select it and then click to the right to select OK it forgets everything! Always remember to select DONE and OK after you change any of the settings below, otherwise they will be ignored.

I think that by Nikon default the sharpening is set higher in the D40 than in the D80.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Christian - have delved deep into the D80's menu and have altered the default to 'high'. Thanks!