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Nikon Coolpix P80 review: Nikon Coolpix P80

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MSRP: $349.95

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.

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7.1 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Image quality 7

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.

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.

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