But use the D80 for a couple of hours and you soon realise it’s a seriously good piece of kit. For a start, the controls are exactly where you’d want them, and they allow you to quickly adjust all the key settings while barely needing to take your eye from the viewfinder. The best inclusion is the exposure-bracketing button, which works with the front and rear command dials, so you can set the amount of compensation and whether to bracket either side, or only under or only over.
There’s also the fully configurable ISO auto mode that allows you to set the minimum shutter speed at which ISO sensitivity is increased, as well as the maximum allowable setting. Unlike the Pentax’s similar system, there’s also a 3200-equivalent mode: detail is sacrificed in favour of noise reduction, but it lets you take shots in very low light.
Another feature missing from all but the D40x is an AF-assist lamp, which doesn’t use the flash. Plus, the D80 is the only one to boast a screen protector, which stops the 2.5in LCD becoming scratched. In addition, there’s a backlit mono LCD on top, which relays plenty of information when the camera is on and the number of shots left on the SD card when it’s off. The final competition-beating feature is the lens’ full-time manual focusing, which lets you override the auto focus without fear of damaging the mechanism.
And aside from some noise at the highest ISO settings and some colour fringing in the corners of wide-angle shots, the D80’s image quality was excellent. It bettered the Pentax’s images for sharpness, and delivered superb detail and faithful colours.
Our main gripe concerns the fact that Nikon doesn’t bundle a decent RAW conversion package with the D80. Unlike others, you can’t adjust white balance or digital exposure compensation, which means you’ll have to spend extra on a “proper” converter.
If you want the sheer picture-taking power that the D80 offers, it’s well worth the extra money over others here, but it can’t match the likes of Canon’s 400d for outright value.
A superb DSLR that’s a joy to use, but the high price and poor software damage value
• Price: $1295 (time of review) • Camera type: DSLR • Megapixels: 10.2MP • Max resolution: 3872x2592 • Optical zoom: 3.9x • Lens max aperture: f/3.5-f/4.5 • Shutter speed: 30-1/4000 • ISO range: 100-3200 • RAW mode: Yes • Weight: 1062g • Manufacturer: Nikon • Supplier: Camera Warehouse