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NEW: Printable PDF version of my D80 User's Guide .(Many thanks to Jamie Gaffney for converting it. It's OK to make one print for yourself, but get permission before doing anything else with it.)
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This lengthy article will teach you to be an expert on the Nikon D80's controls and menus. It also includes a lot of tips, tricks, and the settings I prefer to use.
To get great photos you still need to get yourself to the right place at the right time and point the camera in the right direction, which is a lot harder than mastering the D80. Right out of the box at default settings the D80 does a great job so long as you preset the exposure compensation to -0.7. Making a great photo involves locations, timing, patience and a whole lot more. I cover general photography issues here.
For more examples of why you'd want to change these settings and why, also see my Maui Photo Expedition page.
Below are the basics. Explicit details follow in later pages linked at the bottom.
Many tricks are in the pages below. Feel free to skim to find these great tricks, like inserting your © and contact info automatically into every file, preventing blinking with flash photos, making the zoom preview image go away immediately and Auto ISO.
I share this, free for the reading, because I love to help. This guide, like everything on this site, is copyrighted and registered with the United States Library of Congress. It is forbidden to reproduce, print or do anything else with this without written permission, especially if you have any plans to hand it out to anyone for any reason. As the judge in in the Napster case ruled, all because it's easy to commit a crime today doesn't make it legal.
It's OK to make one print for your camera bag. I would love to create a PDF for you to print on paper, but I'll have to convert all the crosslinks into something navigable on paper, i.e., a printed index at the end. The mechanics of resaving this as a PDF is the easy part; the re-writing is the busywork part. If you feel like creating this in a sensible PDF let me know and I'll share that here for everyone, too. I have a guy working on a formal conversion.
I leave most settings at their defaults.
I shoot with the top left mode dial in P, Program Exposure mode.
I reset everything every time I use my camera, much as a pilot uses a checklist before flight to prevent any switches from being in the wrong position. When I don't check first, I often have left my D80 in some screwy mode from shooting in the dark the night before.
Nikon has an easy reset feature. I use it every time! My standard operating setting is only a few clicks different from the defaults.
Find the two buttons with green dots next to them on the top right of the D80. They are the +/- * and AF * buttons. Hold them both down for a few seconds. The top LCD blinks and everything is back to normal.
I do this every time I use my D80. If I forget, I may have the resolution or White Balance or ISO or God knows what set to something screwy and spoil all my shots. I'll see WB problems on the LCD, but I won't notice if I left my D80 at ISO 1,600 from the night before. That's why I always use reset.
Reset leaves the detailed menu tweaks alone. It's smart enough to reset only the big dumb things I might have moved overnight.
Reset resets flash exposure compensations and sync modes, but doesn't reset any screwy settings you may have made in Custom Setting 22 for remote or manual flash. Reset resets mostly everything tactical, which is mostly you see on the top LCD. It leaves alone strategic items like languages, file numbering and Optimize Image settings.
I use Large, JPG, BASIC.
Reset brings you to NORMAL JPG. Once I've reset I'll immediately change to my preferred QUAL setting: BASIC. Do this by pressing the QUAL button (bottom left rear) and spinning the rear dial one click to the right. This shows as L and BASIC on the top LCD. L stands for Large image size (3,872 x 2,592 pixels) and BASIC JPG compression.
I'm a data cheapskate. I prefer small files. For most people not shooting hundreds of throw-away images a day, feel free to leave it in NORMAL. NORMAL makes files twice as large with a tiny bit less blockiness if you're looking closely at the files printed 3 feet (1m) wide. I prefer smaller files in exchange for almost invisible levels of blockiness.
See my D200 Quality Settings page for more explicit detail and examples of these settings on a D200. My D80 does the same thing, but lacks the Optimize Quality JPG Compression mode I prefer on my D200.
I set my exposure compensation to -0.7 because my D80's metering firmware is defective. It usually overexposes.
Set -0.7 by holding the +/- button we just used for reset and turning the rear dial two clicks to the right.
Sadly we'll often have to adjust this depending on the subject. It's no big deal: just look at the image on the LCD and click it towards the left (+) to lighten the image, and to the right (-) to darken it for the next shot. This is why I prefer my D200, which has a superior meter because it rarely needs any fiddling.
Shutter Advance Mode
I use Continuous (the bearded rectangle). I get one shot with one press of the shutter, and if I hold the shutter button my D80 shoots three frames per second. I do this in dim light so I can pick the sharpest image. For most shots of moving things I fire several rounds and pick the one with the best expressions and gestures. Of course I use a professional sorting tool on a 30" screen to make selecting files trivial.
These are the only things I change from the reset mode. Everything else I tweak below is unchanged by reset.
I use 100 and Auto ISO. Auto ISO increases the ISO automatically as it gets dark so I don't have to. It shoots at ISO 100 in good light, and at 1/15 of a second (or any speed you choose) it starts ramping up the ISO to a maximum of 1,600 (or any ISO you choose) as it gets darker. Only if it gets still darker will it let the shutter speed go below 1/15 at ISO 1,600, exactly as I'd do manually.
I explain how to set Auto ISO and select the shutter speed at which the ISO starts to increase and the maximum ISO to which it will increase in the Custom Setting 07.
I set Auto ISO to 1,600 max because the noise from the D80 at ISO 1,600 looks much better than blur. I set 1/15 because my Nikon 18-200mm gives great results down to 1/15. I adjust the lowest shutter speed setting in the AUTO ISO menu if I change conditions or lenses. Unlike film, my D80 looks great at high ISOs, so I use them anytime I need them. More details, including how to set ISO to 3,200, at the ISO Button.
I use AUTO and a clear UV filter to protect my lens. The D80 has a much warmer color balance than earlier cameras like the D70 so I don't need the 81A filter or the -3 trim. See examples of different settings here and details on my White Balance page. White balance is how you set the color balance, and color is critical. It's also personal preference. Use whatever looks right to you. My D80's LCD is very accurate. If it looks different in print or on your computer, your printer or computer are out of calibration.
Luckily AUTO works great most of the time. I look at my LCD, and if it's not right, I'll set it to whatever looks good. Usually that's the Direct Sun or Cloudy positions. These settings give much warmer results than earlier cameras. I rarely use the warmer Shade setting on my D80 while I used Shade often on my D1H and D70.
I go to MENU > Shooting Menu (green camera icon) > Optimize Image > Custom.
Here's how I set each item under Custom:
Image Sharpening: Auto (default).
Tone Compensation (contrast): Auto (default). The D80 automatically adjusts its contrast and dynamic range to each and every shot. It works great.
Color Mode: IIIa (three-a). This is critical: this gives brighter colors than the default of I. No, color mode II is pronounced "two" and not to be confused with 11 (eleven). You don't want Mode II even if you could use it. Details are here.
Saturation: +, of course. This gives brighter colors in addition to the boost from Color Mode III.
Hue: 0 (Default). Don't touch this! it will subtly mess around with your colors. Leave it at 0.
After setting this it's critical to save it by selecting " Done" and clicking to the right actively to select OK. If you forget to hit OK it won't remember all these settings!
Read more at Shooting Menu.
I use the default of AF-A. This mode automatically selects between the two older modes, AF-C and AF-S. These are explained under AF Area Modes.
I use Matrix. You set this by holding the rectangle-with-a-dot-in-the-middle button to the left of the +/- button near the shutter release. Leave it at its default of Matrix, shown on the top LCD as the same weird icon as on the button.
Seeing how poor the matrix meter has become in the D80 (it requires constantly varying levels of compensation) I intend to try center weighted metering. With my intimate knowledge of the Zone System, it might let me nail the correct exposures more quickly. That would be a big step backwards; center weighting went obsolete in the mid 1980s then the Matrix meter was invented.
See my Exposure page for details on getting perfect exposures.
Many lenses have no switches or settings. If so, don't worry.
If the switch says "M/A - M " then use M/A. This gives autofocus, and if I grab the focus ring it instantly lets me make manual corrections. As soon as I tap the shutter button again I get autofocus. This M/A setting, if the lens has it, provides both kinds of focus without ever having to move any switches. It's the best.
If a lens has an "A - M" switch, leave it at "A." To get manual focus you may or may not have to move the switch on the lens, and/or the switch on the camera.
Different lenses require different settings on the camera and lens to get manual. Some, like the old 300mm f/4 AF, required moving both the camera and lens switches! Others, like the new Nikon 18-135mm, require no switching and you may grab the manual focus ring at any time, even in the A mode. Read your lens' manual, or in the USA ask Nikon 24/7/365 at (800) NIKON-UX.
Non-G lenses will have an aperture ring on the base of the lens where it's attached to the camera. Set this this ring to the smallest aperture (largest number), usually 22, if not 32 or 16. This number will be orange on autofocus lenses. There usually is a lock to keep this ring set there, since if it comes off that setting you'll get an error message from most cameras.
My D80 User's Guide continues below.
No one pays me anything to write all this. I do it because I love to help. If you find this as helpful as a book you might have had to buy or a workshop you might have had to take, please help me share more.
EXPLICIT DETAILS back to top
These were the basics. Keep reading for explicit details.
KNOBS, BUTTONS and CONTROLS < NEXT
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