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Nikon D80. enlarge
Red Text: Updated 11 November, 2006, Saturday. Additions from 09 November, 2006 have returned to black.
Memory Card and Download Speed Tests, featuring the D80 and D200.
Camera LCD Monitor Comparisons, featuring the D80 and D200.
WHICH SHOULD YOU GET?
(see also my D80 versus D70 and D50 Comparison.)
Easy answer: They both give the same image quality. You pay extra for minute convenience features a few people, like me, find helpful, and durability and speed in the D200.
The D80 has the D200's 10 MP image sensor,* the look, quality and color of the D200's images, the D200's huge viewfinder and the D200's almost three-dimensional 2.5" LCD. This makes the D80 the best DSLR at any price under $1,600, and especially for $999. The D200 is $1,699.
(* OK, it's the Sony ICX493AQA sensor, which is a two-channel version of the four-channel Sony ICX483AQA used in the D200. The difference is one has more pins so it can read out data quickly enough for the D200's 5FPS, otherwise it's the same data and image quality.)
The difference is mechanics: the D200 is solid, heavy and mostly metal. The D80 is plastic like the D70s. My D200 is a solid tool while the D80 is a very high quality toy. Don't worry: I've made tens of thousands of images on my 2-year-old D70 and it still works like new. Plastic bounces if you drop it. Any of these cameras will be obsolete in a few years - they are not investments like film cameras were.
Nikon D80 vs. D200. Roll mouse over to compare.
They have the same color rendition. They also have the same resolution and noise performance. See my Nikon D80 / D200 / D70 / Canon 20D / 30D Noise and Resolution Shootout for all the explicit comparisons.
Get the D80 if you have any concerns about cost, size or weight. Spend your limited funds on a great lens and don't waste it on a fancy body. Lenses last for years while digital SLRs go obsolete every 12 - 18 months. I'd get a D80 and the 18-200mm Nikon lens and never look back. Lenses stay current for 5 - 10 years and Nikon warrants them for 5 years in the USA, while bodies only have a year warranty.
If price matters, get the D80 over the D200. Heck, if price matters, even a D50 is 99% of what anyone really needs. Use the money for a better lens, or keep it to fund a photo trip. The lens is more important than the camera, and lenses don't go obsolete in a year. I'd prefer a D80 (or D50) and the magic Nikon 18 - 200mm VR lens over any other body with any other lens for practical photography.
Get the D200 if you don't care about price, want a solid, metal camera, shoot mostly sports, or if you need any of the convenience or trick features I cover below. I prefer the D200, and that's because I use it every day and appreciate many of the little features it offers over the D80. Most people wouldn't even notice!
People compare the D80 to the D70, but that's misleading. The D70s is history, although it still sells new and is a good value for the price. Nikon does this to claim "New!" for everything, but the good news is that all this has already been in the D200. The D80 is most of a D200 inside a plastic D70 body at a D70 price, and that's great.
I use these features daily. Your prioritization will vary.
Why I care:
Battery Life is how many shots I get in real use, which includes a lot of playback and menu twiddling but not too much flash. My D80 has triple the battery life, and has the same big, crisp, bright, colorful, view-from-any-angle screen as my D200. The D200 runs twice as fast, has shutter springs twice as taut, has with double the processing power, so it sucks twice the gas. The huge D2Xs gets much better battery life, but takes gigantic special batteries. The D200 and D80 take the same small battery, which I love because I can swap them.
Rear Nav Thumb Button: The D200's button has a center position. The D80 doesn't have this or any equivalent. I use the center click a zillion times a day, every day in shooting, playback and menu navigation.
In shooting, the center push returns me to the center AF area. Otherwise I have to click my path backwards to get back to center with the D80.
In playback it toggles between full zoom at my favorite magnification and the full image. On the D80 I have to count six pushes of the zoom button to zoom in, and the OK button to return.
When working in the menus the center click selects "OK."
The D200 allows scrolling in all four diagonal directions, while the D80 requires you to go left-right and then up-down in separate button pushes. The D80 multi-selector only moves in four cardinal directions, while the D200 has all eight directions and an additional (and very important) center click.
This button alone makes the D200 the choice for pros: time is money. The center click of the D200 is settable to do many other things; these are my preferences.
ISO in Finder: I use this all the time. It lets me know what Auto ISO is doing, and lets me set manual ISOs without taking my eye from the finder. The D80 does this by default if you tap the FUNC button, however I prefer to set the FUNC button to Flash Exposure Lock instead to keep people from blinking. You set the FUNC button on the D80 as MENU > CUSTOM SETTING > FUNC BUTTON > (ISO or FEL). When set to FEL there is no ISO in the finder.
Exposure mode in finder: P, S, A and M are shown in the D200 finder so I can adjust this with my eye on the finder. The D80 requires taking the camera away from my eye, or gambling and setting it by feel and cunning.
Meter mode in finder: This lets you change the meter mode without taking your eye from the finder. I always use Matrix, and this lets me know if I moved the meter mode switch by accident.
Exposure in full stops: I prefer to change f/stops and shutter speeds in full stops, except in manual mode. Full stop increments save me many clicks. The D80 only offers 1/3 or 1/2, but not full stops. The D200 offers all three choices.
ISO in full stops: I only bother with full stop adjustments of ISO. Being able to adjust in full-stop clicks saves me time spinning dials. The D200 offers this in 1/3 stops (the film standard and the only way the D80 works), 1/2 stops and full stops. If you really care, the 1/2 stop settings of the D200 get you to weird sixth-stop increments like ISO 140, halfway between ISO 125 and 160.
Playback auto-zoom to AF area used: A secret feature of the D200 is that it's smart enough to center your playback zoom on the AF area used for the shot. This means if you used a side AF sensor that you zoom directly to that part of the photo, making it much easier to check focus when you use the other AF areas. The D80 isn't that smart, so with anything other than the central AF sensor you'll need even more clicks to scroll to that part of the image. To my amazement, the newest Canon SD800 point-and-shoot has this feature!
AF Area Mode switch: The D80 has no such switch. On the D200 it lets me change my selections of how the D200 chooses among its many AF areas between the ones I use for action (dynamic) and still (single). The D80 requires a menu. To the D80's advantage, the D80 has a new mode which automatically guesses (rather well) if the subject is still or moving and makes the selections automatically. This is the D80's AF-A mode, which selects AF-S or AF-C for each shot all by itself.
ISO, WB and QUAL buttons: The D200's buttons have only one function. They work whenever they're pushed. The D80 shares these buttons with other playback functions. On the D80 you have to tap the shutter first for these to take effect, otherwise you'll lock an image instead of changing the WB, swap to the four-screen mode instead of changing the ISO, or zoom in instead of changing the QUAL settings. This always bugs me on the D50, D70 and D80. It's not as much of an issue if you turn off automatic image review.
Moderately Important Items
These are minor features. They may be more important to you than they are to me.
Memory It used to matter what kind of cards a camera used, because cards were expensive and small. You needed a pocket full of them. Today cards have grown far faster than camera resolution, so I can shoot all day on one card. Camera connections are faster, so I download directly from my cameras instead of a card reader. Therefore I rarely take cards out of my cameras, so I don't care what sort of memory they take. You may. I like SD cards - they're tiny!
Manual Lenses: The D80 lacks an aperture feeler, so it won't work with manual focus lenses. The D200 works great with them, and has an easy way to enter lens data to get full metering and lens info in the EXIF data.
Color Filters in B/W Mode: Both have B/W modes. The D80 adds the ability to record the B/W image as if it was shot through your choice of colored filters. Choose the RED option for the most stunning results. I don't shoot B/W, and if I did, I'd shoot color and convert later in Photoshop to give me even more options. If you shoot this way in-camera you eliminate options. See also Making great B/W in Photoshop.
RGB Meter Segments: This spec doesn't mean much by itself. 420 segments is plenty. What matters is the firmware which interprets all this input and derives an exposure from it. Oddly my D80 seems to overexpose about a half stop. This is bad - it ought to be right on. I need to work more to see it it's simply a matter of having to leave the compensation at a constant -2/3 stop, or if it's inconsistent, which would be a big problem.
Auto AF Area Trick Selection Modes: In addition to manual AF area selection, the D80 allows Dynamic (selected AF area moves around magically to track moving subjects) and full automatic AF selection, for handing your camera to a stranger. The D200 adds Group Dynamic, CSP, and wide/narrow sensor options at all positions. I don't use the fancier stuff on my D200. I explain these here.
Mirror Lock-Up: The D200 has this mode as explained at D200 Mirror Lock-Up. What looks like this mode in the menus of the D80 is actually only for cleaning the sensor. Both cameras have an "exposure delay" mode which is a 400ms delay for shutter release after mirror up.
Focus Priorities You can set the D200 to go off the instant you hit the shutter (Release Priority,) or tell it to wait until you get perfect focus (Focus Priority). I can't see any way to change them in my D80. I set my D80 to AF-A and then my D80 luckily is in the mode I prefer, Focus Priority, all the time. The D200 defaults to shutter priority in AF-C mode, making most people's sports shots out-of-focus unless set as I explain here.
Auto AF-S AF-C and Switch The D200 has a direct switch to select AF-S, AF-C or M. The D80 has a switch for A or M, but uses a more complex single button and knob to select between AF-S and AF-C.
The D80 has a magic mode which automatically selects either the single (AF-S, for fixed subjects) or continuous (AF-C, for sports and moving targets) focus modes. These can be set manually on both cameras, but require a menu on the D80 compared to a dedicated switch on the D200. Take your pick: pretty good automatic selection but a menu to set it yourself in the D80 vs. no automation, but an easy dedicated switch on the D200
I don't care about or use any of these. You may.
Flash Sync: too close to call.
Max Shutter Speed: I never use above 1/2,000 for anything.
Flash GN: Too close to call.
Max Write Speed: too close to call, and doesn't matter since these cameras all have big buffers.
Uncompressed NEF: You don't want to use uncompressed anyway.
Buffer: Either of these is big enough. If you're shooting fast enough to want a big buffer, get the D200 since it runs at almost twice the frame rate for sports.
Shutter Lag: Too close to call. When shooting sports you need to anticipate your body's own perceptual offset, and you take shutter delay into account along with this.
AF Area Display: The D200 can show you which AF areas were used when you shot an image. So what?
Select What's Displayed on Playback: No big deal, the D80 doesn't have enough superfluous playback screens to warrant needing to alter which ones show or not.
Meter Mode selection: I always use Matrix. I prefer the D80 because it requires two fingers to set, while I can knock the D200's meter switch by accident. if you change this setting you would prefer the D200.
Authentication Support works with Nikon's pay-for software to try to prove that an image hasn't been altered after it came from the camera.
Display Image w/o text means the D200 has a screen which has no numbers on the top right of the playback image. Not a big deal, but the D80 always has at least a frame counter overlayed at the top right of the image that looks like "1/8." Other D80 display modes are either zooms which don't show the whole frame at once, or the blinking highlight mode.
In-Camera Editing allows cropping, resizing, shadow lightening, redeye reduction and other tricks. I think these are silly. I prefer to do this on my computer.
"Image Comment" on top LCD: I always have my cameras add my contact info to each file. The D200 lights up a "COMMENT" indicator on the top LCD when you do this. The D80 lacks this indicator. So what? I always have this on and both cameras can add this comment as you can read here for the D200.
Many thanks to Joseph Holmes for help on this page.
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