In October 2006, I finally bit the bullet and decided to buy a digital SLR camera. Since the digital SLRs started coming to market in 1999, I had been waiting for an affordable, full frame digital SLR. And in August 2005 we saw Canon announce their first full frame digital SLR camera Canon EOS 5D. But that was still way over my budget. My trusty Nikon Coolpix 4500 which I acquired in 2002 was getting old and out of date. Its startup time, response time was very slow, LCD screen was dim and it was just not the same as using an SLR. I was using Canon EOS Elan II before I went digital. So Coolpix was just a toy for me. I was still waiting for something more affordable and comparable to my Canon EOS Elan II. But late in 2006 I still couldn't find any affordable full frame digital SLR. So I finally decided to go into digital SLR world with an APS frame size camera. I was not considering anything outside Nikon and Canon. These are the two brands I trust. So I had a few choices. On Canon side I had EOS Rebel XTi, EOS 20D, EOS 30D, and of course EOS 5D (too expensive for me). On Nikon side I had D70s and D80. These are all pro-sumer cameras. I was not even thinking of pro cameras.
One thing I have learned about SLR cameras is that the lens contributes more to the picture quality than anything else. So it makes sense to spend more on the lenses than on the camera and other accessories. So any camera body beyond $1000 was not for me. That left me with only 5 choices: On Canon EOS side Rebel XTi, EOS 20D and EOS 30D; on Nikon side D70s and D80.
I wanted to have the flexibility of cropping images when required and to do that and still keep good enough image quality for 8x10 or bigger prints you really need lot of pixels. So 10M pixels was obvious choice. So I was left with only 2 cameras to really consider. Canon EOS Rebel XTi and Nikon D80. Rebel was almost $200 cheaper than Nikon, so I was seriously considering it. However after reading several reviews and comparisons (see below), I finally came to the conclusion that the $200 more I had to spend on D80 was well worth it. Here's what tipped the scales in Nikon's favor for me:
- Nikon D80 provides Auto ISO feature. The camera raises the ISO if the light is not adequate.
- Nikon D80 built-in flash can also work in commander mode, for using Nikon Creative Lighting System using wireless flashes.
- Nikon speedlights are about $100 cheaper than Canon at comparable feature sets.
- I felt much comfortable with Nikon D80 in my hands (though a little heavier)
- Nikon D80 has an additional LCD screen on the top side that shows all the necessary information.
- Most used features like exposure, whitebalance, ISO, flash adjustments can be done through dedicated buttons on the body, for Canon you have to navigate through the menu system.
- Nikon D80 provides 2 sub-command dials which come in handy when working in full manual mode.
- Nikon D80 has a custom function button that can be assigned to a frequently used settings from an assortment of settings.
- Many reviews reported that Nikon D80 has much better performance with respect to noise in higher ISO/low light situations.
- Nikon D80 sports a much better focusing system with an additional 'spot' metering mode (3% coverage), 11 focus points,
- Nikon D80's auto-focus system provides an additional AF mode that switches automatically between fixed and continuous focusing depending on the situation.
- Nikon D80 has much better and brighter viewfinder.
Canon EOS Rebel XTi does provide some really nice features that I would have liked to see in Nikon D80, for example a low pass filter for auto dust removal, very good image editing software (you've to pay $150 extra for Nikon Capture NX) for editing RAW files. But these were not enough for me to go with Rebel XTi.
After deciding on my camera I had to think about what lenses I would want. One thing I had decided already was I was not going to spend any money on digital only lenses. The reason is simple. I know in a couple of year's time Nikon will come out with a full frame digital SLR. When they do, and I decide to buy one, all my digital only lenses will be useless with that camera. I wanted to stick with pro-sumer lenses and not buy cheap kit lenses. Most of them have serious distortion problems and other deficiencies; but pro-sumer lenses are not cheap. I wanted to invest in lenses that I could use for a long time. So finally I decided to only use full-frame lenses that I will be able to use with future full-frame digital camera I buy. I zeroed-in on following lenses:
- Nikon 35mm f/2D AF - On digital camera this is equivalent to a 52mm focal length which would be considered a normal focal length lens. This is an excellent lens. It leaves nothing to be desired in any department. Yes at ~$400 it is expensive, but worth it I think.
- Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF - On digital body this is equivalent to a 75mm focal length which is good for portraits. At f/1.8 this lens is FAST! I was able to shoot excellent portraits indoors without using flash with this lens. This is Nikon's cheapest (~$110) standard lens. But that doesn't mean it's not as good as the 35mm one. This lens is a great deal!
- Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G ED-IF AF-S VR - This lens is not as high quality as the above two lenses, but it provides VR (vibration reduction). VR compensates for camera shake and is very useful in low light situations or when using powerful zoom range. I was able to take very sharp pictures at 1/8 shutter speed indoors without using flash with this lens. This is an internal focus lens with a silent wave motor. Autofocus is lightning fast and quiet. At ~$520 this is not cheap, but performance is very good. This has become my primary lens and stays on my camera most of the time; I change it only when I'm indoors and don't want to use flash and want extra sharp images.
I also have bought a few accessories accessories:
- Nikon SB-600 AF Speedlight - This is more than enough for my needs. Provides excellent light for indoors and works well in wirelss mode with buil-in flash.
- Extra battery - I always like to have a backup battery.
- Hoya filter kit - UV, circular polarizer and 81A warming filter - The UV filter always stays on on my 24-120 lens.
Checkout some nice photos from my D80.
[G2:20448 class=g2image_normal aframe=notebook] All photos in this album are shot with 35mm and 50mm lenses.
[G2:22456 class=g2image_normal aframe=notebook] All photos in this album are shot with the 24-120 VR lens.
Nikon D80 Reviews
Nikon D80 Comparisons
Nikon 35mm f/2D AF Reviews
Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Reviews
Nikon 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G IF-ED AF-S VR Reviews