Thursday, May 27, 2010

Long Live the D80!

The camera body is usually not the limiting factor in one's photography.  Gallery quality photos can be achieved with an entry level DSLR.  Yet sometimes, upgrading the camera body makes sense when it can be done affordably and can accelerate your development as a photographer. 

In this regard, if you have an entry-level Nikon DSLR (Nikon D40, D40X, D50, D60, D3000 and D5000), you might consider upgrading to a D80.  If you don't have a DSLR yet and are considering one, the D80 should be on your short list.  It costs about the same as a bridge camera but the performance is far better.

In my opinion, the most important real world benefits of a D80 are:
1. built-in wireless commander: makes it easier to use the flash off-camera which has a huge impact on your photos;
2. bigger viewfinder;
3. brighter viewfinder (pentaprism, not pentamirror);
4. dual command dials;
5. 11 AF sensors.

There are other advantages, but in my view, the foregoing (especially the built-in wireless commander) justify getting a D80 instead of an entry-level Nikon DSLR.  Because the D80 is a few years old and has been discontinued, the incremental cost of upgrading to a D80 from any one of these cameras is so low (if you sell your entry-level DSLR) that in my opinion, upgrading is a no-brainer.  Alternatively, you can get the D80 as a second body (useful if you plan to cover events such as weddings).

To be fair, there are disadvantages:
  • D5000 and D3000 have newer sensors with less noise.  This can be mitigated by noise reduction software.
  • D40 and D50 have sync speed of 1/500. D80's sync speed is 1/200 (there's Auto FP sync at any shutter speed though or you can use ND filters).
  • The D5000 has an articulated screen that is useful when taking shots from unusual angles.


Note: the D70 and D70s also have a wireless commander but can only be used with one flash group, and the popup can't be used to contribute light.  On the other hand, they have a sync speed of 1/500.

If you're buying a used D80, see this used camera checklist.