A problem with lenses of this focal length is that they are really stretching the boundaries of optical possibility, and unfortunately something has to give. In the Nikon P80’s case the lens produces several instances of chromatic aberration in the form of both purple and green fringing. This is especially the case in high contrast conditions, and is visible throughout the image in both the centre and the edges.
Despite the fringing the lens is sharp throughout the focal range, and the VR works well. In fact you can see it working as you frame the images, as the initial shaky image on the EVF quickly snaps to stillness.
Exposures tend to be good though, the matrix metering gets it mostly right most of the time, and only in extreme circumstances did I need to resort to spot metering or exposure compensation. Colour too is very good, with punchy tones remaining just the right side of over saturated. On rare occasions the auto white balance misses the mark just a little, producing some too warm or too cold images, but in normal circumstances it copes well.
Noise lets the camera down, especially in the higher ISO ranges. Up to ISO 200 everything is fine, but by ISO 400 you can often see the noise reduction system working, softening the images somewhat. As the gain is raised the amount of noise is noticeable despite the noise reduction and the automatic nature seems to be inconsistent, sometimes kicking in, sometimes not. It’s worth noting too that the high ISO6400 is a lower resolution of 3MP.
As super-zoom bridge cameras go, the Nikon Coolpix P80 is okay, but there are reservations. While the handling is generally good and instinctual, it feels a bit of a lightweight and it’s not the most responsive in the world. Image quality is average too, with good exposure and colour, but it’s let down by fringing and noise.
These cameras are always a compromise though, to achieve the focal range and high ISO, especially on such a small sensor, something has to give. The loss of pure quality is the price that has to be paid for the convenience.