The Good Excellent color rendition and noise levels; large feature set; highly customizable; lightning-fast performance.
The Bad Full raw editor costs extra; flash sync of 1/200 second.
The Bottom Line Nikon scores big with the D80, its new 10-megapixel, sub-$1,000 dSLR.
The last time Nikon updated its sub-$1,000 mid-range dSLR, a handful of minor, but certainly welcome, updates gave us the D70s. Now, Nikon has given the camera a serious overhaul, including a new 10.2-megapixel CCD imaging sensor, an 11-area AF system (up from 5), the obligatory larger LCD screen (2.5 inches, up from 2 inches), and a pile of in-camera editing and custom functions. With this newest revision, Nikon has put the camera more in line with its expected audience, which spans lower-end enthusiasts, all the way down to SLR newbies who crave more power than they can get with the company's entry-level dSLR, the D50.
The only downside to this slight shift in focus, is a slower top shutter speed--the D80 tops out at 1/4,000 second instead of 1/8,000 second--and a slower flash-sync speed of 1/200 second instead of the 1/500 second that the D70s offers, which was significantly faster than its competitors' in the first place. This may irk sports shooters, who may appreciate the extremely fast shutter of the D70s, or other action shooters, who like to freeze movement with a fast burst of flash, but the majority of photographers won't notice the difference. But, given that more advanced enthusiasts now have the Nikon D200 to quench their needs--a D200 equivalent didn't exist when the first D70 came out--the advances in almost all other areas of this camera should outweigh these couple of changes.
The camera body is technically slightly smaller in all dimensions compared to those of the D70s, but current owners will find the design very similar. Most of the buttons are the same and in the same places, and there are dedicated buttons for many commonly used functions. For example, a cluster of buttons next to the shutter let you change metering mode, exposure compensation, drive mode, and AF mode. Meanwhile, the buttons to the left of the 2.5-inch, 230,000-pixel LCD screen let you change white balance, ISO, and image size and quality settings without diving into menus. About the only function without its own dedicated control is AF zone selection, though the camera's programmable function button can be programmed to cover that if you so choose. The default for this button is to display the current ISO setting.