How does Nikon's contender in the superzoom stakes, the P80, compare to its big lens rivals?
Superzoom cameras are an attractive choice for those looking for a smaller, cheaper option than a DSLR, and in many cases they offer a decent alternative.
There’s been a flood of them recently, with most of the major manufacturers releasing new models. With so much competition, though, each new superzoom needs to offer something unique.
Nikon’s Coolpix P80 has its wideangle zoom, D-Lighting function and EXPEED processing technology. In common with its rivals it features manual control, face detection, high ISO ranges and image stabilisation. Such features have established themselves as must-haves for these types of cameras, as consumers expect more control and functionality with regards to their operation. Some also go one step further, by allowing you shoot in Raw mode or to deactivate functions such as noise reduction.
But which to choose? Well, not everyone will want to shoot Raw images, just as not everyone will have face detection at the top of their priorities. The key is to find a model that provides the right balance of what you need at a price you’re willing to pay.
The following four options range in price from around £250 to £350, which is fairly standard for models of this calibre, but which is the best value overall? And crucially, which model will ultimately produce the best images?
The P80 employs a 1/2.33in CCD sensor with 10.1 million effective pixels, and an 18x optical zoom covering 27-486mm in 35mm terms. The camera also features Nikon’s Vibration Reduction (VR) anti-shake technology, although it is sensor rather than lens-based, meaning that the CCD is moved to counteract camera shake, rather than optics inside the lens. Processing is handled by Nikon’s EXPEED processor – the same chip that’s employed in Nikon’s latest DSLRs.
The P80 boasts some interesting post-processing options, including D-Lighting, which is used to lighten shadows and midtones in backlit or high-contrast scenes. Sadly, the camera only shoots JPEGs, with no Raw option available.
The P80 sports the full range of exposure modes, including Shutter AE Priority, Aperture AE Priority, Program and Manual modes. There’s also a simple Auto mode, plus a collection of scene modes, while the camera comes with a decent sensitivity range of ISO 64 to 6400.
Metering options include matrix metering (the default option) alongside centre-weighted and spot patterns. Spot metering can be linked to the AF area if one so desires, and the AF system includes face recognition as well as the default auto mode. There’s also a manual AF-point selection mode that allows you to select the AF point from a choice of 99 positions. Additionally, you can use manual focusing as well as macro shooting down to one centimetre.
Nikon has also added a distortion-correction feature that is designed to correct any barrel or pincushion effects caused by the lens. Although this system works efficiently it can be turned off if you prefer. Noise reduction, on the other hand, cannot be turned off as the only two settings are Auto and On.
The P80 also offers a reduced resolution continuous shooting mode of 13fps – slowing down to 4fps at the largest setting for up to 30 shots – which is available in its Sports mode.
In addition to a 2.7in LCD display, the P80 also features an electronic viewfinder – both offer a top resolution of 230 pixels, though the button to switch between them isn’t very responsive. The EVF itself is good, though small, with clear and colourful images. The information is also easy to read.
The zoom control can be a little too eager, sometimes needing to be pulled in and out to hit the right focal length when composing a picture. Otherwise it’s a nice camera to use. We particularly like the rear command dial, which allows simple single-step changing of aperture and shutter in their respective AE modes. In manual mode the EV compensation button needs to be pressed to switch between shutter and aperture.
Lens flare entering is a problem on sunny days, so a decent lens hood would have been a welcome accessory. The P80 is supplied with a solid lens cap that needs to be removed before turning the camera on, as the lens extends slightly from the body at start-up.
The lens produces several instances of chromatic aberration in the form of both purple and green fringing – especially in high-contrast conditions. Disappointingly, this is visible throughout the image in both the centre and the edges. Despite this, the lens remains sharp and the VR works well, while exposures are generally accurate with the matrix metering getting it right most of the time. Spot metering or exposure compensation can be employed in really tricky circumstances, though. Colour is also very good, with punchy tones, although on rare occasions the auto white balance misses the mark somewhat, producing images that are either too warm or too cold. Noise is well controlled up to ISO 200, but by ISO 400 you can often see the noise- reduction system working, softening the images. As the gain is raised, grain is noticeable despite the noise reduction, and the automatic nature of the system seems a little inconsistent.
The Nikon P80 is okay, but we have reservations. While the handling is generally good, it feels a bit of a lightweight and it?s not the most responsive. Image quality shows good exposures, but also fringing and noise.