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Take the tour and master the camera!
Welcome to the latest in the Guided Tour series, an Adorama exclusive, where we take you on in-depth looks at today's most popular cameras. We explain all of the buttons, modes, and special functions of specific cameras in detail, and offer hints and tips and photos to help you really get to know this camera.
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Working with the Nikon D80 is like driving a Cadillac. Even though this is a lower-end DSLR (by Nikon standards), it has many features borrowed from the higher-end D200, and offers enough customizable features to keep most hobbyists very happy. You feel like you're driving a luxury sedan even though you paid for a souped-up "K" car.
The D80 is a complex camera, and requires a good owner's manual. While most DSLR manuals seem to be written in engineer-speak, the D80's 148-page manual is well-organized and clearly written, one of the best I've seen. You will find yourself referring to it often and a well-written manual will reduce the likelihood of getting head contusions as a result of banging your head against walls.
The feature set is somewhat more extensive than that of the D80's 10 MP sensor competitors (Canon XTi, Pentax K10D, Sony A100 Alpha) and the body seems to be more ruggedly constructed (although the Pentax K10D will feature a water-resistant body). There are 24 buttons on the camera's body and a few of their functions are repeated in the menu items, so there is the potential for confusion. I often found myself scanning the surface of the camera body looking for the button that I needed right now. Plan on spending some quality time with the D80 memorizing where its buttons are. While we're talking about downsides, Nikon really needs to develop an inexpensive Vibration Reduction "kit" lens to be competitive with Sony and Pentax, both of whom offer cameras with built-in anti-shake.
On the other hand, if you want full control, the Nikon D80 will give it to you. There are 32 custom controls, ranging from ways to change how different buttons fuctions to the degree of exposure compensation. And for more amateur shooters there's the Retouch menu, which gives you unprecedented in-camera image editing abilities. D-lighting will likely be the most used of these features.
In addition, I found the viewfinder to be brighter and a bit larger than viewfinders of other cameras in the D80's class, thanks to Nikon's use of a pentaprism instead of a mirror prism to direct the image. Also, first-time users will appreciate the easy access to well-written explanations of the mode they're in via the "help" button.Flash photographers will make use of the wireless iTTL features, and the Optimize Image feature will let you emulate your favorite film emulsion.
And of course, the D80 as with all Nikon DSLRs can handle almost every lens ever made by Nikon or for a Nikon, and is compatible with Nikon's extensive lineup of accessories. If you are just starting out, this is a camera to grow with. If you need to add an inexpensive DSLR to your Nikon system, the D80 lives up to the legend.
Let's start with the top plate, going from the left.
Most of the controls you'll be using can be found on the Mode Dial, on the left side of the top of the camera. The dial is divided between Point-And-Shoot Modes and Advanced Modes. The modes, going counterclockwise:
Auto: If you want the camera to make all the exposure and focus choices, set it to Auto Pict and flip the MF/AF switch (on the camera to the left of the lensmount) to AF, and shoot away.
There are the standard settings: P (program auto), S (shutter priority), A (aperture priority autoexposure), and M (manual exposure).
P: Program mode lets you adjust either the shutter speed (front dial) or aperture (front dial plus "+/-" button), and the camera compensates automatically for any changes.
S: Shutter Priority Auto exposure. Change the shutter speed by twirling the front dial. Shutter speed is shwon on the upper right of the LCD. Look in the viewfinder: a straight vertical line should appear in the middle of the exposure indicator. If it's not there, it's either too dark or light to shoot.
Tip: Use S mode when capturing action or showing a sense of motion is more important than controlling focus depth.
A: Aperture Priority Auto exposure. Change the aperture by twirling the forefinger dial located in front of the shutter release. The camera will automatically set shutter speeds to get accurate exposure. You can see the aperture setting on the upper right of the LCD screen when in info mode. Look in the viewfinder: a straight vertical line should appear in the middle of the exposure indicator. If it's not there, it's either too dark or light to shoot.
Tip: Use A mode to quickly control focus and/or shutter speed when in fast-changing shooting situations.
M: Manual exposure. For those of us weaned on manual SLRs, this function should feel familiar. Turn the thumb wheel to control shutter speed, and the front wheel to adjust aperture. If you're using an older lens with an aperture ring, turn the aperture ring to "P" and adjust aperture from the front wheel on the camera.
Note: You can also view exposure settings by looking through viewfinder. The information will appear below the image.
Night portrait balances flash with ambient light when taken in dark rooms or outdoors at night.
Night Landscape chooses a slow shutter speed and turns off the flash for optimal exposures at night.
Tip: This is the ideal setting for capturing a city at night--but use a tripod; the slow shutter speed may not be hand-holdable.
Sports chooses a faster shutter speed to capture active subjects. Note that the three frames-per-second burst rate works great in JPEG, but pauses after five shots when shooting in NEF (RAW) format.
Tip: You can also use this mode when shooting with telephoto or tele-zoom lenses, since the faster shutter speed will reduce camera shake, which a long lens magnifies.
Macro chooses the ideal shutter speed and aperture for close-up photography using macro lenses. It will likely select a wide aperture so the background is out of focus.
Landscape selects a smaller aperture for greater depth of field--a desired setting for shooting scenics. The use of a wide-angle and wide zoom lens can further increase depth of field.
Portrait chooses the right exposure combination and makes adjustments to saturation, color balance, and contrast, for more flattering portraits.
The LCD Panel displays just about every setting on the camera--23 in all. Use this as a reference for which shooting mode you're in, as well as frames remaining, exposure, battery status, and more.
The dial in front of the shutter release, called the Sub-Command dial, adjusts the aperture when the camera's in manual exposure mode. You can also use it to move the cursor left and right in some modes.
The Metering Mode/Format button, located behind and to the left of the shutter release and its on-off ring, lets you choose one of three metering methods:
You also use this button to format memory cards the first time they are used in the D80. Press the Metering Mode and Trash button simultaneously.
Note: Use a fresh battery, and don't interrupt the formatting process. Keep in mind that formatting memory cards permanently deletes all photos and data they hold, so make sure to copy and save the data elsewhere. Always format cards in the camera, not in your computer, for optimum performance.
AE metering lets you choose multi-segment, center-weighted, or spot metering.
Tip: Use multi-segment metering for general shooting, center-weighted when shooting portraits or other situations when the central subject is more important than the background, and spot metering for difficult light, such as when shooting a performer on a stage in a dark theater. For off-center subjects, center the subject, then the AE-L button, recompose, and shoot.
Exposure compensation adjusts image brightness when in any mode except manual. Press it and adjust exposure with the thumb dial.
Burst rate adjusts the self-timer, remote control, and single-or multi-shot rate.
AF mode tells the camera to either focus once (AF-S) or keep focusing while the shutter release is pressed halfway (AF-C).
Back of camera controls
Now let's look at the back of the camera, starting with the thumb-controlled dial on the upper right. Called the Main Command dial, this dial controls the shutter speed when the camera's in Manual exposure mode, and can be used to scroll through menus in menu mode.
Just to the left of the Main Command Dial is the AE-L/AF-L button, which locks in both exposure and focus when pressed. This is useful when the camera is set for spot metering and center autofocus sensor only, and is best for capturing off-center subjects in tricky lighting. Point at your subject, press the shutter release halfway down, hit the AE/AF-L to lock it in, recompose and shoot.
Below that is a four-way toggle switch called the Multi-Selector. Use it to navigate through the menus and photos (push right or left), and to control how information related to a photo is displayed during playback mode (up and down).
The Focus Selector switch, just below the Multi-Selector, lets you choose a single active focus point. Simply look through the finder and use the Multi-Selector to move the selection around. A large rectangle surrounding a little square will move around the image superimposed in the viewfinder--that's the point where the picture will be in focus.
The OK button finalizes selections made in menu and other modes.
The Diopter is located on the upper right corner of the rubberized eyepiece cover, and can be adjusted to bring the image in focus.
Now let's look at the six controls to the left of the LCD finder.
The Trash button deletes unwanted images; it's also used with the Metering Mode button to format SD cards.
Image preview calls up pictures on the SD card. Use the Multi-Selector's right-left buttons or thumb dial to scroll through the pictures, and the up-down buttons or front dial to change the information that appears with the picture.
The information screens accompanying image previews includeBasic mode; includes file name, lens, file type, image size, and date and time of exposure. Detailed mode shows all of the EXIF data associated with an image, including: metering, aperture, shutter speed, exposure mode and compesnation, focal length, flash, ISO, and several other criteria--18 in all. Highlight mode, which shows no exposure information but flashes black in extremely overexposed areas of the image; and Histogram mode, which shows both overall and RGB histograms accompanying the image.
Tip: Don't rely on how the exposure looks on the LCD monitor--use the Histogram mode to make sure exposure is accurate. Usually the histogram of an accurate exposure should look like a bell-shaped curve, with the highest point somewhere in the middle of the chart.
Menu accesses over 50 modes and settings, which we'll look at in "Advanced Operations".
The Help/Protect button (with pictures of a "?" and a key") is especially useful for beginners. No matter what mode you're in, press the "?" button and an explanation of what its for will appear on screen, for as long as you press the button down. In playback mode, use this button to mark an image to protect it from being deleted.
Note: This button can also be used to set the camera's White Balance. Press it and use the thumb or forefinger dials to change the WB settings.
ISO/zoom out: Press this button and twirl the thumb dial to change the ISO setting; in image preview, use this button to reduce image size.
Image Quality/Size/zoom is used to choose RAW or some version of JPEG at various rates of compression, using the thumb dial; use the forefinger dial to change file size, from L (10MP) to M (5.6MP) or S (2.5MP). In image preview mode, use this button to zoom in on a picture's details.
Now let's look at the left side of the camera.
Flip open a rubber door to find: the USB port for connections to computers and storage devices; a DC in port for running the camera from household current; and a video out port for connecting to and playing images on a TV. A separate door below that holds a port for a wired remote control unit such as the ML-L3 IR remote control transmitter.
Facing the camera, on the right side, you'll see four controls:
A flash button which pops up the built-in flash and also controls front or rear flash curtain (switch this setting using the thumb dial) and flash exposure compensation (turn the front forefinger dial).
The BKT (bracketing) button varies values between each shot in a sequence of 3 or more shots, and is a fast way to customize the degree of difference in exposures. Use the forefinger dial to control bracketing amounts, and the thumb dial to change the bracketing order (darkest to lightest, lightest to darkest, best exposure first, etc.)
The big button next to the lens is the lens release; the manual/autofocus switch is right below it.
Note: Some Nikon lenses also have a MF/AF switch on the lens itself. Make sure both switches are on the same setting. If either switch is on MF, the lens will focus manually.
Advanced Operations: Menus and functions
The Menus are divided into five areas: Playback, Shooting, Custom Setting, Setup, and Retouch. There are over 50 individual menu items. Let's take a closer look.
The Shooting Menu has many key settings, some of which you may change often, depending on your shooting needs.
Optimize Image lets you set the characteristics of your image, based on combinations of sharpness, saturation and contrast settings, kind of like creating your own virtual film:
One of the most hobbyist-engaging features, however, is the last Optimize Image choice, the Black-and-white setting. While you can choose a simple "standard" black-and-white mode, the real fun begins when you enter the custom settings. Image sharpening should be self-explainitory; Tone compensation adjusts contrast comes in five steps (think contrast filters on variable-contrast paper in a traditional darkroom). Filter Effects emulates the relative tonal shifts that you get when shooting through a yellow, orange, red, or green filter. (Go here to see how these effects work.)
Image Quality lets you choose file format and compression ratio. You can choose NEF (Nikon's RAW format) or Fine, Normal or Basic JPEG files.
Tip: Keep in mind that while higher compression may let you shoot more pictures per memory card, the image quality will deteriorate. We suggest shooting at the highest image quality you can handle. You never know when you'll want to blow up some prize-winner to 16x20 inches!
Image Size lets you choose image resolution. The default is 10MB, but you can select 5.6MB or 2.5MB. The Image Quality/size button on the camera, described above, can access this feature faster.
Tip: If you do not expect to make images larger than 8x10, 5.6MB may be sufficient. 2.5MB is not recommended unless you will only make prints 4x6 or smaller, or only will show your pictures on the Internet. Our advice: again, choose the highest resolution you can handle.
White Balance offers the following settings: Auto, Incandescent Fluorescent, Direct Sunlight, Flash, Cloudy, and Shade.
ISO Sensitivity lets you adjust ISO from 100-1600. The "Hi modes boost ISO even farther--0.3 increases speed to ISO 2000; 0.7 is 2500; and 1 brings the ISO up to 3200.
Tip: When shooting at speeds 800 and higher, use High ISO NR to reduce noise. In the "Hi" settings, that noise will be very noticeable!
Long Exp. NR reduces noise during long exposures, although it increases processing time slightly.
High ISO NR reduces noise when shooting at high ISO settings, as explained above.
Multiple Exposure lets you automatically create in-camera multiple exposures--something few digital cameras can do. You can record 2 or 3 exposures in a single image if the shots are taken within 30 seconds. (Custom setting 28 can change this to as long as 30 minutes). Select multiple exposure, highlight the number of shots, press the multi-selector right, hit OK, then highlight Auto Gain. You're ready to shoot.
CUSTOM SETTING MENU
The Custom Setting menu lets you customize the D80 so it will work most efficiently with your shooting needs and habits. Most of these are set-'em-and-forget-'em items.
Note that by default, only the first 10 items will be listed. To see all 32 custom items, go to Setup, select CSM/Setup Menu and select "Full." We recommend making this change immediately so you can see all the possible customizations available.
Reset changes all custom settings to their defaults.
1 Beep controls camera beeps and audio warnings.
2 AF-Area mode determines how focus area is selected in autofocus mode, similar to the AF button atop the camera.
3 Center AF area determines if center focus area is just the single AF sensor, or a wider zone.
4 AF-assist activates the focus illuminator light in front of the camera, so the camera can focus in very low light.
5 No memory card? By default, the shutter release is locked when there's no memory card in the camera. You can change this...but why?
6 Image Review briefly shows the image for a second after shooting. You can turn this feature off.
7 ISO Auto disables auto ISO settings, and only the value you choose with the ISO button will be activated.
8 Grid display in the viewfinder, this superimposes lines dividing the image in thirds. Very handy for composition.
9 Viewfinder warning displays warnings for low batteries, when there's no memory card, or if the camera is in a Black-and-white shooting mode.
10 EV step changes exposure increments from 1/3 EV (the default) to 1/2 EV.
11 Exposure comp. works in P, S, A and M modes and changes the default Exposure Compensation button from the +/- button to the command dial.
12 Center-weighted changes the area of the center of the viewfinder assigned the greatest weight in center-weighted metering. The default is 8mm; you can change this to 6mm or 10mm.
13 Auto BKT set changes from the default (camera varies both flash level and exposure with each shot) to a choice of varying AE only, varying flash level only, and bracketing white balance.
14 Auto BKT order changes the order in which bracketed images are shot.
15 Command dials reverses the functions of the Command and sub-command dials when setting shutter speed and aperture.
16 Func button assigns a function to the unmarked Function button, which is located in front of the camera, just below the AF illumination lamp. You can choose it to control: ISO display, framing grid, AF area mode, Center AF area, FV lock, flash off, Matrix metering, center-weighted, spot metering.
Tip: If you typically need to access any one of these functions fast, it's a good idea to program the Function button so you bypass the menu.
17 Illumination: By default, when you turn the ring surrounding the shutter release to the light bulb icon the LCD panel lights up; the custom setting is for it to light up automatically while the exposure meter is active. This can drain the battery faster, though.
19 AE lock will lock exposure when the shutter release is pressed halfway (the camera doesn't by default).
20 Focus area is set by default to No Wrap--which means the outer focus areas have less priority in deciding focus than inner areas. You can change this to "Wrap", which allows focus-area selection to "wrap around" from top to bottom, bottom to top, left to right, and right to left.
21 AF area illumination, by default, automatically highlights the active focus area in the viewfinder. This can be turned off or on.
22 Built-in flash lets you change control of the built-in flash from TTL (the default) to manual using a selected power level, and repeating flash, which produces a rapd-fire, strobe-like effect.
You can also use this setting to use the built-in flash as a master flash that controls one or more remote Nikon SB-800, SB-600, and SB-R200 flash units in up to two groups (A and B) using advanced wireless lighting. Called the Commander mode, it is an extremely useful setting for wedding and event photographers working with multiple flash units. Using this mode is beyond the scope of this article but is explained well in the manual on pages 95-97.
23 Flash warning: If there's not enough light, the flash icon flickers in the viewfinder as a warning that flash is needed. You can turn this feature off.
24 Flash shutter speed: By default, the shutter speed for flash photography is 1/60 second. However, you can change this to as slow as 30 seconds via this mode.
Tip: Use this feature to set a slower shutter speed and use it with second-curtain flash when "dragging" the flash. This will provide a realistic subject blur.
Note: This mode doesn't work with the built-in flash.
27 Monitor off chooses how long the monitor stays on when the camera's inactive. The default is 20 seconds, but you can set it to go off after only 5 seconds or after as much as 10 minutes (you'll need an EH-5 AC adapter for the 10 minute monitor-off setting).
Tip: Choose a shorter inactive on time to conserve battery power.
28 Auto meter-off: The camera continues taking light readings for a short time while it's inactive. You can limit this to as little as 4 seconds or as much as 10 minutes (with the Nikon EH-5 AC adapter). The default is 6 seconds.
29 Self-timer sets the length of the shutter release delay--2, 5, 10, or 20 seconds.
30 Remote on duration controls how long the camera will wait for a signal from the remote control--1, 5, 10, or 15 minutes.
Tip: Choose a shorter response time to conserve battery power.
31 Exp. delay mode is primarily to reduce camera shake. It will delay the shutter release for 0.4 seconds after the shutter is pressed.
Tip: Use this mode when doing photomicroscopy or shooting still lifes.
32 MB-D80 batteries: This mode is only relevant if you are using the MB-D80 battery pack. Since the pack takes 4 different kinds of AA batteries, you need to set the camera to match the kind of batteries you're using in the pack so there is no conflict. The MB-D80 uses the following AA batteries: LR6 alkaline, HR6 NiMH, FR6 lithium, or ZR6 nickel manganese.
The setup menu contains basic settings that you will most likely only need to set once, when you first get the camera.
CSM/Setup menu lets you choose which custom menu items appear. By default the camera will only display the first 10 custom menu items; you will probably want to change this to "full" setting to see all 32 settings. Once you've figured out which custom items you will actually use, you can set the camera to show only those items.
Format memory card permanently deletes all photos and files on the memory card.
World time sets the camera's internal clock to local time. You can also set date and date display format.
LCD brightness lets you adjust the monitor's brightness in five steps.
Video mode lets you choose NTSC (USA) or PAL video output device.
Language chooses menu language: English (the default), German, Spanish, Finnish, French, Italian, Dutch, Polish, Portugese, Russian, Swedish, Traditional or simplified Chinese, Japanese, or Korean.
USB chooses a USB option to connect to a computer or PictBridge-compatible printer (PTP).
Image comment lets you add a comment when you take a picture. A keyboard appears when you press the "magnify" button and you can select letters using the cursor and OK button to type a message.
Folders lets you choose, rename, or delete folders using the keyboard area.
File no. sequence: By default, the camera starts numbering at 0001 whenever a new folder is created or the memory card is reformatted. Switching this to "on" means images will be numbered sequentially, even when creating a new folder or the card is reformatted; when the camera reaches 9999, it starts over again at 0001.
Mirror lock-up locks up the mirror so you can inspect or clean the low-pass filter.
Dust off ref photo: This feature maps an image to locate hard-to-remove dust that's on the sensor. Then, using Image Dust Off in Nikon Capture NX software, software will use the image as a reference to locate mapped dust and automatically remove it from images.
Battery info lets you view information about the EN-EL3e Li-ion battery, including charge level, number of times the shutter has been released since last charge, and battery age that shows when the battery is nearing the end of its useful life.
Auto image rotation: By default, vertical images are automatically rotated for more convenient viewing. However, they end up smaller to fit the LCD monitor. Turn this off if you prefer rotating the camera and viewing vertical images larger.
The Retouch Menu is a unique Nikon feature. It lets you create retouched copies of images on the memory card. Some of these modes are designed to fix defective photos. Since it's always better to start off with a better quality photo, where it's relevant we'll show you how to avoide the problems the Retouch Menu items fix.
Small Picture lets you reduce image size for TV, web, or email sizes.
Image overlay lets you create an "image sandwich" effect by overlaying two images. This feature is only available when both original images were shot in RAW with the D80.
Red-eye correction automatically detects and fixes red-eye in subjects where the flash is too close to the lens, causing pupils to shine red.
Tip: Shoot with off-camera flash to greatly reduce the chance of getting red-eye.
Delete will remove individual images, or all of them.
Playback Folder will instruct the camera to display only images in the selected folder on the memory card.
Rotate Tall automatically reorients portrait photos. You can turn this off if you want to see these pictures at full size on the 2.5-inch LCD monitor.
Slide Show plays back pictures sequentially automatically. You can add transitions, panning, zoom effects, and background music (which can be heard when playing back directly from the camera through a TV set).
Hide Image will prevent specific images from being viewed, which may be important for some security-conscious shooters.
That's it for our guided tour. If you've gotten this far and carefully followed along with your camera, you have mastered your Nikon D80's controls. Now, go out and take lots of great pictures!
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