In operation the D80 feels superb. The shutter release action is smooth and light, and the mirror action is quieter and smoother than either the E-400 or the A100. The already popular AF-S DX Nikkor lens focuses quickly and quietly and is a pleasure to use.
The control interface is necessarily complex, combining as it does the high level of exposure control demanded by enthusiasts with some easy-to-use features for less advanced users, including a full-auto mode and a small selection of scene programs.
Compared to the wonderfully quick and intuitive monitor-based control interface of the Olympus E-400, the proliferation of multi-function buttons on the D80 is very complicated, and their layout seems almost random, with some of them very awkwardly placed. I’ve used a number of Nikon SLRs before, but even so I found myself hunting around for things like the flash mode control or the AE lock. With practice of course this will become easier, but it would be daunting for an inexperienced user.
Unlike some other current DSLRs, the D80 has a top-panel LCD display for all the main shooting data. It has a manually-activated backlight, but even so I found that some of the symbols were quite small and difficult to make out in dim light. The data readout in the viewfinder is limited but useful, showing the exposure settings, flash status, shots remaining and exposure compensation level. The pentaprism-type viewfinder itself is excellent, with approximately 95 per cent coverage and optional superimposed grid lines. It is very clear and bright with a nice big focusing screen and dioptre adjustment. I would say that it’s slightly larger than the viewfinder in the A100, and quite a bit bigger than the E-400.
Of course people will buy a digital SLR expecting a wide range of features, and the D80 is absolutely loaded. It has the same acclaimed 3D Colour Matrix II metering and advanced manually-selectable 11-point AF system as Nikon’s top-of-the-range professional DSLRs. Centre-weighted and spot metering are also available, as of course is exposure compensation, but to an exceptional +/- 5 stops in 1/3 or ½ of a stop increments.
Shutter speeds are from 30 seconds to 1/4000th of a second plus B in all manual modes, and ISO values from 100 to 1600 are available, with three additional settings of H 0.3 (ISO 2000), HI 0.7 (ISO 2500) and H 1.0 (ISO 3200) also manually selectable, although these settings have a separate noise reduction option. Shutter speed and ISO are selected in 1/3 stop increments.
There are six preset white balance options, plus manual setting and dial-in Kelvin colour temperature values, with white balance bracketing. Auto exposure and flash output can also be auto-bracketed in increments of 1/3 to 2 EV.