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Nikon Coolpix P80 review: Nikon Coolpix P80

Nikon Coolpix P80

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Advice

I've been reviewing hardware and software, devising testing methodology and handed out buying advice for what seems like forever; I'm currently absorbed by computers and gaming hardware, but previously spent many years concentrating on cameras. I've also volunteered with a cat rescue for over 15 years doing adoptions, designing marketing materials, managing volunteers and, of course, photographing cats.

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5 min read

For megazoom shooters, the Nikon Coolpix P80's 18x zoom, 27-486mm-equivalent f/2.8-4.5 lens likely sits at the top of the list of the P80's attractions. The range provides a good combination of wide-angle and telephoto views at relatively wide maximum aperture values. Nikon supports the lens with an agreeable and functional design. Weighing almost 14 ounces, the P80 is no feather, but that is common for this class. It's relatively compact, with a comfortable rubberized grip and thumb rest.

7.1

Nikon Coolpix P80

The Good

Optically stabilized, wide-angle, long zoom lens; comfortable shooting design; voice annotation; time-lapse mode.

The Bad

Poor noise handling above ISO 200; no raw support; relatively slow performance.

The Bottom Line

One of the better 18x megazooms, nevertheless you should consider the Nikon Coolpix P80's sluggish performance before you commit to it.


A mode dial makes it easy to get to select shooting modes--manual, aperture- and shutter-priority, Program, and scene exposure, as well as movie capture.

My one pet peeve, which I've mentioned with regard to other cameras, is having to access the setup menu from the dial. I always find myself hitting the menu button to make it go away, ineffectively, of course. If you only had to go into the menu once during the initial setup, it wouldn't be so annoying. However, that's where Format resides, and you have to format regularly.


The navigation switch is large, with a clear, tactile delineation between the inner OK button and the outer navigation controls. The body, though made of textured black plastic, doesn't feel particularly cheap or fragile.

Like its competitors, you summon most of the frequently used shooting controls via a dedicated button, including exposure compensation, focus modes (macro, infinity, and manual), self-timer, and flash (including red-eye reduction, fill, slow sync, and rear curtain sync). You can also navigate via the back dial, which also controls your shutter, aperture, and exposure-compensation adjustments in the various shooting modes. The display and LCD/EVF toggle buttons feel oddly small given the size of the camera, though.

Other controls you access from the shooting menu. Most notable are an array of ISO sensitivity options. In addition to complete Auto and manual 64 through 6,400 (ISO 3,200 and ISO 6,400 are reduced resolution modes); it offers High ISO sensitivity Auto (64-1600) and Fixed-range auto, which lets you choose one of three ranges: ISO 64-100, 64-200 or 64-400. Given how aggressive the blurring gets at ISO 400, I suggest you stick with the 64-200 modes if you're going to use the automatic mode.

In addition to matrix, center-weighted, and spot metering, the P80 offers spot-AF area for use with the AF-area modes. The AF-area modes include face priority, auto, manual, and center. As usual with these technologies, I find the face-priority setting too inefficient, the auto makes undesirable choices, and the manual AF-point selection is only useful if you're shooting the same composition repeatedly. The center-focus-and-recompose approach, albeit old fashioned, is still the most efficient. Other shooting options include image size and quality, Optimize image (custom and preset settings for contrast, sharpening, and saturation), white balance, single or full-time AF, flash exposure compensation, noise reduction, and distortion control (which reduces frame size). Lack of support for raw files is a big hole in the feature set, though.

Unfortunately, the P80's performance is quite disappointing. Its 2.9 seconds to wake up and shoot isn't awful for a megazoom, but the 1.1 seconds it takes to focus and shoot in decent light is slow for any class; in low-contrast circumstances, its 1.4-second time is closer to average. The camera has a concomitantly high shot-to-shot time of 2.4 seconds, which seems to be fueled by slow memory writes. While the 2.8-second flash shot-to-shot performance may not be worst in class, it's still on the high side. Burst shooting, at a typical rate of 1.3 frames per second, also comes in near the bottom of its class. In practice, the slow performance means the subject can move or someone can walk into the frame of the photo before you get the shot. It's definitely not your best choice for shooting sports, children, or animals.

The P80's lens isn't bad. Barrel distortion is about what you'd expect at the widest angle of 27mm-equivalent, however, it exhibits visibly more pincushioning in the middle of the range (around 150mm-equivalent) than the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18. Zooming doesn't feel smooth, it vibrates a little disconcertingly as you zoom through the range. However, it's responsive, given that it's stepped (as most are), and the optical image stabilizer works as well as we've seen from Nikon's other VR lenses.

The 2.7-inch LCD is pretty good, it has a wide viewing angle and doesn't wash out in direct sunlight. It's supplemented with an electronic viewfinder; both displays update fast enough so that they don't interfere with shooting, although the EVF only displays 97 percent of the scene, compared with 100 percent for the FZ18. While the battery didn't conk out too soon, its 250-shot-per-charge rating (CIPA standard) seems underpowered compared with the FZ18's 400 shots or the Canon PowerShot S5 IS's 450 shots (with AA nickel metal hydride batteries).

Photo samples from the Nikon Coolpix P80

As frequently happens, I'm ambivalent about the photo-quality rating. The 10-megapixel P80's strongest point seems to be the saturated, more-frequently-than-not spot-on colors. Exposures tend to be quite good, though in bright sunlight it seems to produce more than its share of blown-out highlights. But even when printed, the photos had a slightly crunchy digital look that I didn't see in shots from other cameras--including the recent Coolpix S600 or older Coolpix P5000, as well as other megazooms such as the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H10. Furthermore, Nikon's aggressive noise suppression kicks in at ISO 400 and blurs most of the detail away; if you have a lot of detail in your scene, the photos are borderline at ISO 400 and unusable by ISO 800. So depending upon what you shoot, the P80's photos can range from great to just OK. For the image-quality rating, I split the difference. (See the slide show for image samples.)

For movie capture, the P80 also offers a neat time-lapse mode, though I wish you could choose shorter intervals than 30 seconds. There's also a 30fps VGA movie mode, which produces reasonably good AVI clips at a bitrate of about 1.1 megabytes per second, but it's pretty limited: no optical zoom or VR available while shooting.

Among the handful of 18x megazoom models--the Panasonic FZ18, old-ish Olympus SP-560UZ (we haven't yet gotten in the 20x SP-570 UZ) and the Fujifilm FinePix S8000fd--the Nikon Coolpix P80 ranks as one of the better ones. But if speed and solid high-ISO photo quality are really important to you, consider stepping up to a dSLR with configurable lenses.

Shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Time to first shot  
Typical shot-to-shot time  
Shutter lag (dim)  
Shutter lag (typical)  
Canon PowerShot S5 IS
1.3 
1.6 
0.8 
0.5 
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-H9
2.1 
1.4 
1.3 
0.6 
Olympus SP-560 UZ
2.4 
2.1 
1.5 
0.6 
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18
1.8 
1.7 
1.1 
0.7 
Fujifilm FinePix S8000fd
3.1 
2.6 
2 
0.8 
Nikon Coolpix P80
2.9 
2.4 
1.4 
1.1 

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

7.1

Nikon Coolpix P80

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 6Image quality 7
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