Thread: Nikon Coolpix P80 Review
06-29-2008, 10:26 AM #1
- Join Date
- May 2006
- San Diego County, CA
- Rep Power
Nikon Coolpix P80 Review
When digital imaging first came into being as a viable consumer technology, I was firmly ensconced in the "death before digital" camp. At some point curiosity got the better of me and a Sony Mavica F717 came on board, followed later by a Nikon Coolpix 5400. Considering that I had a closet full of Nikkor lenses for my three film SLRs, going DSLR was a no-brainer, but even so, the compact digital still held some allure as a light and easily portable alternative. Around 2004 Nikon introduced the Coolpix 8800, and it seemed the perfect compact camera: a magnesium-alloy body, stabilized 10x ED glass zoom lens covering the 35 to 350mm range, and JPEG and RAW shooting options. Shutter lag proved disappointingly slow, but even with that most noticeable wart, the 8800 remained my favorite Nikon compact until the Nikon Coolpix P80 arrived.
Right out of the box for our "First Impressions" piece the P80 looked promising: image and color quality are good and Nikon has left out the pokey shutter of the 8800. Several weeks have passed and the P80 has been exposed to a more extensive shooting profile – has it been able to sustain those initial high hopes? Read on and find out.
The P80 features a current-generation EXPEED processor and 10 megapixel sensor, but the star of the show has to be the 18X optically stabilized zoom lens that covers the 35mm equivalent focal range of 27 to 486mm. Here's what that big focal range can do in the real world:
There's also a 2.7-inch LCD monitor and viewfinder, full manual controls to complement the automatic and scene shooting options, automatic in-camera red-eye fix, face detection technology, and the handy D-Lighting shadow/highlight adjustment tool. D-Lighting, which can be applied post-shot, adjusts shadows and highlights, producing a more balanced, pleasing image in high-contrast situations, especially. Here's an example of D-Lighting at work:
ISO sensitivities range from 64 to 6400 (with 3200 and 6400 at a much reduced resolution). The camera has about 50MB of internal memory and accepts SD/SDHC memory media. Nikon includes a battery and charger, camera strap, lens cap and cord, USB and A/V cables, user's manual, quick start guide, and CD/ROM software with each camera.
There are eight primary shooting modes:
- Auto: User can specify image size and quality, camera adjusts all other settings
- Program: Camera makes aperture and shutter speed decisions, but user can vary these via a "flexible program" feature; user has wide variety of other image modification settings
- Shutter Priority: User sets shutter speed, camera sets aperture; user has wide variety of other image modification settings
- Aperture Priority: User sets aperture, camera shutter speed; user has wide variety of other image modification settings
- Manual: User sets aperture and shutter speed; user has wide variety of other image modification settings
- Scene: User selects from fifteen subject scenes, camera automatically optimizes settings for selected subject
- Sport Continuous: Permits shooting rates up to 13 frames per second at reduced (3 megapixel) resolution, about 1.1 fps at full resolution; user can specify image size and quality only
- Movie: Captures movies at 640 x 480 and 30 fps; 640 x 480 or 320 x 240 at 15 fps; time lapse at 640 x 480; sepia or black and white, 320 x 240 at 15 fps; movie length is not limited, but file size for any one movie is capped at 2GB
For a detailed listing of specifications and features, please refer to the specifications table found at the bottom of the review.
The P80 is laid out in the "mini DSLR" configuration that seems to be in vogue with most ultrazooms right now.
Styling and Build Quality
The camera is compact and light as far as super zooms go – Nikon claims it's the most compact of any ultrazoom with an 18x lens as of March 18, 2008.
The plastics used in construction of the body are fairly plain, but the camera seems well built otherwise.
The P80 won't fit in a shirt pocket, but a coat pocket or small purse/fannypack is more than enough.
Ergonomics and Interface
Given the camera's compact size, it's no surprise the little finger of my right hand has nothing to do or hold on to during shooting sessions. However, the ring and forefingers have a deeply sculpted handgrip of tacky material to curl around and grip, and the index finger falls naturally to the shutter button.
At the back of the camera, a patch of tacky material is positioned perfectly for a thumb rest. Controls are well spaced, but changes to major shooting settings such as ISO, white balance, image quality, etc., required going to the internal menu, which proved readily accessible and quite intuitive.
The 2.7-inch LCD monitor is composed of around 230,000 dots and is adjustable for five settings of brightness. It can be difficult to use in bright outdoor conditions, particularly if smudged. The monitor offers about 97 percent coverage in shooting mode, and 100 percent for playback.
The P80's electronic viewfinder features a diopter for eyesight adjustment, and 97 percent shooting coverage/100 percent playback coverage. A dedicated button on the back of the P80 provides for switching between the two display options.
The P80 produced mixed results in the performance arena, primarily in the speed with which it performed certain functions.
Timings and Shutter Lag
You won't win any quick draw contests with the P80 – it takes about two seconds for the camera to power up using the monitor (and a snail-like six seconds if you're using the viewfinder), and acquisition of focus in good lighting conditions takes about 0.8 seconds. Single shot-to-shot times (shoot, write, re-acquire focus, shoot) ran about three seconds with both a standard SanDisk card and a San Disk Extreme III.
The P80 offers a continuous shooting capability by means of the "sport continuous" mode, and there are four shooting rates available: 1.1 fps for nine shots at full resolution and normal image quality, and 4, 6, or 13 fps for 30 shots at 3 megapixel resolution and normal quality. You can specify basic or fine quality as well, and while the shooting rate remains the same you'll get fewer shots with fine and more with basic quality levels before the buffer becomes saturated.
Shooting in the full resolution continuous mode can be challenging because there's a split second blackout (both monitor and viewfinder) between shots, and tracking moving subjects becomes somewhat of an exercise in anticipation of where they'll be next. The high-speed modes have minimal to no blackout. Whether using full-res or high-speed, continuous shooting applies focus and exposure from the initial shot of any sequence to all subsequent shots in the sequence
Continuous shooting modes can also be accessed via internal menu in P, A, S, and M modes – the 1.1 fps continuous rate is available, as are best shot selector, multi-shot 16, and interval shooting options.
Shooting in continuous mode (fine quality images) with the Extreme III produced six shots in 6.3 seconds before the buffer paused to make some room. The same six shots took about 6.45 seconds with the standard card. After the camera paused for the buffer, another shot could be taken in 2.2 seconds using both the standard and Extreme III cards: the P80 doesn't seem to wait to entirely clear the buffer at the full resolution rate before becoming shootable again – it lets you go as soon as there's room in the buffer. If you go to any of the high speed modes (4, 6, 13 fps) and fill the buffer, however, the camera won't shoot again until the buffer clears completely. This took about eight seconds with either the standard or Extreme III cards.
Shutter lag was pretty good – averaging around 0.05 to 0.06 seconds. The P80 throws you a curve with the shutter, though, in that it seems slower than it actually proves to be when you check it with a timer. When you go full-press on the shutter, the camera starts making the capture, and then produces the shutter sound – it's that delay between the press and the sound that seems to trick the senses into thinking things aren't progressing as quickly as they actually are.
Lens and Zoom
The P80 lens features a maximum aperture range of f/2.8 to 4.5, making it fairly fast across the board.
To look at it another way, Nikon's stabilized 500mm lens for its SLR/DSLR cameras has a maximum aperture of f/4, so the 486mm equivalent of the P80 doesn't give up too much speed to its big brother (which can be yours for only about $7500 more than a complete P80).
There are face priority, auto, manual, and center AF area modes available, and my preference was for center since it allowed me to designate the point of focus in any particular image. AF times tended to fall into the 0.8 second range in good light at both wide and telephoto settings, but the telephoto end would sometimes need a second or third half-press to correctly acquire. It almost seemed as if the lens at telephoto was covering such a small area that using the single center point would sometimes not produce enough contrast for the AF to lock. The auto option seemed to diminish this tendency, since it allowed the camera to hunt across the screen for an area in which to acquire focus. If you're shooting a general scene where point of focus doesn't need to be precise, auto AF area mode might be the way to go.
The camera has an LED AF assist illuminator to help with dim light, but AF times predictably lengthen under those circumstances, particularly with the lens zoomed towards the telephoto end of the spectrum. The AF assist illuminator has a maximum effective range of about 9.5 feet at wide angle, and just over six feet at telephoto.
The P80 flash range is listed as 28 feet at wide angle, and 18 feet at telephoto. Flash performance was good, producing accurate colors in images.
Recycle times seemed to be in the two to four second range with partial discharges, and as long as seven to eight seconds with full discharges. The difficulty in timing the cycles more precisely arises because the camera doesn't display an ongoing status light for the flash – you get an indicator of flash status with a half-press of the shutter button, but if the status indicates "charging" (a blinking light) and you keep the shutter half pushed, the camera won't update the "charging" status until you release the shutter and go back to another half push.
Optical image stabilization (Nikon calls it VR – Vibration Reduction) is on by default for still images but may be disabled via internal menu, which is recommended if the camera is mounted on a tripod. VR in Nikon lenses is typically credited with as much as a three-stop improvement in shooting speed, but Nikon doesn't specifically address this issue with the P80's supporting documents.
Traditionally, the term "optical image stabilization" has tended to describe systems where lens elements are moved to counter camera movement and help produce sharper images. By contrast, "mechanical stabilization" is the term generally applied to systems that move the camera sensor to achieve the same result. Nikon calls the system in the P80 "optical," but in the days leading up to the camera's introduction there was conflicting information on the Nikon Japan and USA websites: Japan mentioned "sensor shift" stabilization while the USA site said "optical," which now appears to be the official description on both sites.
There is also "electronic VR" (eVR) for use with movie modes other than time lapse, but Nikon doesn't say much about this VR either. However, in reviewing the Nikon S210 a few months ago, I also came across eVR. DCR.com editor David Rasnake had to go directly to Nikon on that one, and here's what he found:
"Nikon's ‘eVR' applies specific movement data to image processing algorithms during processing to turn blurred images into beautifully clear results." Or, as David explains in language even I can understand, "Basically, it's using a gyro (like a traditional mechanical system) to get motion data, and then applying a sharpening algorithm to compensate."
I'd bet the eVR in the P80 is something similar.
Nikon rates the P80's rechargeable lithium-ion battery for about 250 shots, and that's in the ballpark with the performance I observed.
Since a fully depleted P80 battery takes about two hours to fully charge, you'll want to have a spare or two on hand for all-day shooting sessions.
Image quality is one of the P80's stronger points.
Default images out of the P80 were good, with accurate color and generally pleasing sharpness, particularly if you were able to fill the frame with the subject. The automatic and scene shooting options allow anyone to pick up the camera and just shoot with the expectation of getting back nice images with most subjects, yet the camera offers a nice range of image adjustments to users who are able to make use of the manual shooting modes (P, A, S, M).
Exposure, Processing and Color
When I shot the P80 briefly for the "First Impressions" piece, surf shots under cloudy conditions looked promising in that detail in the white water portions of the waves seemed to be retained better than in earlier cameras. With more extensive shooting in sunlit conditions, the camera seems to behave more like earlier (and most) cameras, tending to lose highlights in the admittedly difficult bright and high contrast white water/dark water shots. The camera does a better job with more evenly lit and average subjects/scenes.
The EXPEED processor seems to have improved the dynamic range of the new Nikon DSLRs, but I can't say the same for the P80 – it looks more traditional in performance in this regard. Fortunately, the P80's manual controls allow the user to overcome high contrast problems: in the photos that follow, the boat was shot in "sports" scene mode and lost highlights in the bow wave and wake; the surfer was shot in aperture priority with one stop underexposure.
Sports scene preset
Aperture Priority mode
While the camera offers very little leeway for user inputs during auto and any of the scene shooting modes, there is a nice range of adjustments available for users shooting in P, A, S, or M modes. These include image color, contrast, saturation and sharpness as well as an option to shoot simultaneous color and black and white images. If you don't like the default images out of the P80, there's a pretty good chance you can come up with a combination of settings to produce images that suit your fancy if you're willing to use the manual control modes.
Here are shots using the Normal (default) color mode, then Vivid, and More Vivid.
Next, Normal color mode again, along with Normal with enhanced saturation, Normal with high contrast, Normal with high sharpening, and finally Normal with all three values at maximum.
Normal, maximum saturation
Normal, maximum contrast
Normal, maximum sharpening
Normal, maximum saturation, contrast, and sharpening
Finally, here's the simultaneous B&W/color option.
Auto white balance was used for the majority of shots in this review and worked well with flash, cloudy and direct sunlight; predictably, auto shot quite warm with incandescent light. Daylight, cloudy, flash and incandescent settings were also quite accurate in their specific roles, and the P80 allows for a custom WB setting as well.
There is some barrel distortion (straight lines bow out from center of image) present at the wide end of the lens, and a slight bit of pincushioning at the telephoto end. The pincushioning is fairly difficult to notice unless the shot happens to be of an ocean horizon or some other frame-wide line, and even then the curvature is slight. Chromatic aberration (purple fringing) is present at the telephoto end, but is generally fairly minor and primarily of concern with large images or severe cropping. There is some slight edge and corner softness to the lens that can be easily overlooked in most images, and overall performance is good, especially considering the focal range provided.
The P80 has a "distortion control" feature that causes "distortion at frame peripheries" to be "corrected." Here are shots of the wall that illustrate some barrel distortion without and with distortion control applied.
Wide-Angle, Distortion Correction Off
Wide-Angle, Distortion Correction On
Sensitivity and Noise
The P80 has a full resolution ISO range of 64 to 2000, with ISO 3200 and 6400 available as 3 megapixel captures.
With a 10.1 MP sensor of the 1/2.33" size, high ISO performance didn't figure to be out of the ordinary in the P80, but the full sized images looked quite good up to ISO 800, and a quick glance at 1600 and 2000 didn't seem to have them falling too far behind – certainly usable ISO levels if you only need a postcard or 4x6 print and flash is not an option
Crops brought things back into perspective – 64 and 100 are virtually indistinguishable, but things are getting noisier at 200 and 400, and the deterioration accelerates at 800 and again at 1600. Overall, I'd judge the P80 to be about average in the noise department – not a bad thing, but if only Nikon had seen fit to put in a 1/1.6" sensor...
ISO 64, 100% crop
ISO 100, 100% crop
ISO 200, 100% crop
ISO 400, 100% crop
ISO 800, 100% crop
ISO 1600, 100% crop
ISO 2000, 100% crop
With so many auto shooting modes that take ISO control out of the user's hands, the manual modes are the way to go if you hope to optimize image quality by staying in the ISO 64 to 100 sensitivity area that is clearly the P80's best performing range.
While we didn't shoot the low resolution ISO sensitivities in the studio, here are "real world" shots at 3200, 6400 and 64 ISO for comparison purposes.
Additional Sample Images
After a brief shooting period with it, the P80 moved to the top spot on my list of favorite Nikon compacts. After some three additional weeks, the P80 still holds down the top spot, but it's not the runaway champion I'd hoped it would be. And in the world of competition with other brands, the P80 established itself as a basically sound ultrazoom, but didn't distinguish itself as the "must have" camera in the class.
Image and color quality are good, as is shutter lag, but AF acquisition times are average at best. ISO performance is typical for most cameras in the class. Continuous shooting rates at full resolution are typical; speedy rates are only available at reduced image sizes. Flash recycle times look to be average to slightly below average for the class.
Camera size and weight are excellent – the P80 will fit (carefully) into a pants pocket, then come out and give the user a 27 to 486mm focal range. That range and the decent shutter response, good image quality and ability to customize camera settings to impact image quality tip the scales in the P80's favor in my book, despite the sometimes iffy AF performance. It's a solid if unspectacular performer, but worthy of consideration if there's a new ultrazoom in your future.
- Excellent lens focal range
- Good shutter lag
- Good image quality, color
- AF acquisition times a bit slow at best
Sensor 10.1 megapixel, 1/2.33" CCD Lens/Zoom 18x (27-486mm) zoom, f/2.8-4.5 LCD/Viewfinder 2.7", 230K-dot TFT LCD Sensitivity ISO 64-6400 Shutter Speed Not Specified Shooting Modes Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Manual, Auto, Scene, Movie Scene Presets Portrait, Night Portrait, Sports, Landscape, Party, Beach/Snow, Sunset, Dusk/Dawn, Night Landscape, Museum, Fireworks Show White Balance Settings Fluorescent, Incandescent, Flash, White Balance Preset, Auto, Daylight, Cloudy Metering Modes Not Specified Focus Modes Face-Priority AF, Multi-Area AF, Contrast AF Drive Modes Normal, Burst Flash Modes Slow sync, Red-eye reduction, Redeye reduction with slow sync, Flash cancel/ flash off, Auto, Auto with red-eye reduction, Anytime flash Self Timer Settings 10 seconds, 2 seconds, Off Memory Formats SD, SDHC Internal Memory 50 MB File Formats JPEG, AVI Max. Image Size 3648x2736 Max. Video Size 640x480, 30 fps Zoom During Video No Battery Rechargeable lithium-ion, 250 shots Connections USB 2.0, AV output, DC input Additional Features Vibration Reduction optical image stabilization, D-Lighting, Time Lapse Movie, In-Camera Red-Eye Fix
06-30-2008, 11:11 AM #2
- Join Date
- Jun 2008
- Rep Power
Re: Nikon Coolpix P80 Review
Your review fails to cover the P-80's Video Mode. . .
Reading all the reviews and specs. for the Nikon P-80, I thought it would be the next step up from my 4+ yr old Fuji S-602. I wanted a 'super zoom' with a stabilized chip/lens system. In addition, I wanted a camera with a video mode that would allow the use of the zoom and VR while recording video. My S-602 video mode captures EXCELLENT quality video [no zoom or VR though]. . . better than any dedicated non-high resolution camcorder I have tried [Samsung, Panasonic, Sony & Canon]. This is probably due to the fact that Fuji used a larger than usual [for most compact digital cameras] digital chip in the S-602.
I am a Nikon fan and still am using my Nikon FTN, but will not recommend the P-80 for any one wanting/needing to use the Video Mode [why pay for something that you won't use]. Over the past six weeks I have purchased and returned, 3 P-80's from different vendors, on line and local. Over the past few years, I have come to rely on using the video mode when taking photos. The video clips are a great 'mode' to include in my slide shows and presentations. Not having to cart around a camcorder makes this work quite well!
All three Nikon P-80's have a inherent problem in its video mode, when using the 'full time' focus option. A relatively loud clicking sound begins once the 'program' knob is turned to video mode and continues while recording in the video mode. The clicking sound is recorded and is quite distracting during play back. In addition the quality of the video is also very sub-standard and grainy. . . unusable in low light situations. You will find the ‘full time’ focus option by putting the program knob to video and pressing the menu button.
Why would one not want Full Time focusing in video mode?
Apparently the reviewer did not even look at Nikon's Specs or even think the video mode is important, since his 'overview' states "not specified' whether the zoom is available in video mode or not. . .???
I had hoped the problem [I really wanted this camera to perform up to expectations] was either specific to the cameral or vendor, but it seems the problem lies with Nikon.
If you are really wanting this Camera, I would suggest looking at other websites where you can see other user reviews. . . many users are having issues with the P-80.
Last edited by KZMike; 06-30-2008 at 11:16 AM.
06-30-2008, 05:55 PM #3
- Join Date
- Nov 2007
- Rep Power
Re: Nikon Coolpix P80 Review
Our reviewer did what we always do, which involves shooting some fairly generic test video outdoors, indoors, and in dark rooms. Per his evaluation, the P80 was unremarkable but not terrible, providing pretty grainy video in low light, but performing up to the standards of most other cameras we test elsewhere.
Digital still cameras are inherently poor video shooters as a rule (some, like the example you provide, being the exception and not the rule). We don't spend much time on video and rarely comment on its performance unless it is exceptionally good or exceptionally bad - the reason being that in our view video is still largely more of a novelty than a serious capability on digital still cameras (likewise, we don't tend to spend too much time with face detection technologies for the same reason).
(As an aside, cameras locking focus at the first frame in video mode is nothing unique to the Nikon: the majority of the cameras we test perform in this way - one of the many limitations as I see it for video with digital still cameras.)
Obviously, you're free to disagree with the approach we take and our limited focus on video performance, but until video (and especially the audio that goes with it) improves substantially across the board, we'll continue to focus the bulk of our attention on what we feel is most important: still image performance.
None of this is to defend the P80. It proved to be an average camera all around, but in a crowded field, not one that stands out in most areas.
11-17-2008, 06:12 PM #4
- Join Date
- Nov 2008
- Rep Power
Re: Nikon Coolpix P80 Review
Very nice review, and quite helpful. I'm thinking about upgrading my 8800, but am not in a huge rush. For the time and the money, I really did not find better, and it's been a very good all around digital camera (replacing about 30 lbs of film camera equipment on many travels). So, my question: in your article you said:
"in the world of competition with other brands, the P80 established itself as a basically sound ultrazoom, but didn't distinguish itself as the "must have" camera in the class".
What in your estimation is the "best of the best" in this class??
11-27-2008, 04:54 PM #5
- Join Date
- May 2006
- San Diego County, CA
- Rep Power
Re: Nikon Coolpix P80 Review
I still have my 8800 and it's a very good camera, particularly if you shoot NEF (RAW).
I'd hesitate to name a "best in class" because I've personally shot only the Sony H50, Canon S5 IS, Canon SX10 IS and the Nikon P80. There's also cameras from Olympus and Panasonic that I've not gotten my hands on, and I don't like to pass judgement on equipment I haven't used.
Of the ones I've shot, I'd probably pick the Canon SX10 IS because it's the newest and has the biggest lens, but I'd be happy with the P80 as well, and image/color quality is pretty even. I think DCR.com has done reviews of the others in the class, so you might take a look at those and see if anyone of them seems to jump out from the rest.
Users Browsing this Thread
There are currently 1 users browsing this thread. (0 members and 1 guests)