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For the longest of time, it had been something I was thinking of at the back of my mind: getting a dSLR.
I thought for a long time - to get, or not to get. Being a Nikon fan, it was a choice between the D40 and D80. For those of you who don't know yet, there's the D40X which is coming out in April/May in Malaysia.
Addendum: D40X is a 10 Megapixel version of the D40X. Don't expect it at the same price, in the US, it costs at least USD200 more than the D40.
D80, and the bag. Definately a lot more luggage compared to the Nikon 7900 previously. Picture courtesy of The Girlfriend
At first, I settled for a D40, but when I had the chance to try the D40 and D80 out side by side, it was love at first sight for me. I immediately knew I had to have the D80. The D40 just wasn't going to cut it.
dSLR: To get or not to get?
I'm putting this ahead of my first impressions in response to some questions I've had. Some readers have been asking if a dSLR is a good investment, and wanted me to post pictures to see the quality for themselves.
DSLRs aren't for everyone. Let's face it: if you got something like a D40 for the same reasons Kenny Sia got his, it's all the wrong stuff. You're spending a lot of money for a very capable camera, and you're probably not going to use much of its capabilities. It might be useful when you want to impress girls. But you won't make any good use of it. It's almost like buying a Ferrari to drive on kampung dirt roads.
DSLRs are for people who tweak shutter speed and aperture, who understand what what is exposure compensation. It's for people who want to take a lot of control in how their picture turn out. I'll be honest - even I don't know what I'm supposed to do half the time. But I'm committed to learning it, and I've been doing a great deal of reading and research.
If you think that having a DSLR would help you take better pictures, or that you will instantly become a great photographer, don't buy one. I have taken absolutely stunning pictures on my Nikon 7900 I'm not sure I can reproduce on this dSLR. Pictures are simply pictures - unless you know how to tease a good picture out of the dSLR, just owning the camera does you no good.
It's heavy. You need to buy lenses. Cleaning kits. Filters. Speedlights. Rings. It's a life long hobby that require a commitment to investment, both in material and in time. Just buying a D40 or D80 without adding lenses will do you no good. The macro shots I use to be able to do on my older Nikon 7900, will require a new macro lens. If you plan to have a decent set of lens and other gears while on the D80, count of spending at least RM 8000-9000 in total.
But are you able to also do this with that camera, and easily? Whenever you want? It's this level of control that separates compact digitals and dSLRs.
I have this colleague who uses a film camera without any special functions. And he takes the bestest ever black and white pictures. Goes to show what pictures you take has nothing to do with what camera you use.
And in case some people don't know yet - most dSLRs, including D40 and D80, don't allow you to compose a picture on the LCD - you use the viewfinder.
D80: First Impressions
I'll be clear here: I'm not a pro. I'm a beginner, a newbie to the world of dSLRs. I just figured out what aperture means. And I'm just getting the hang of changing shutter speeds to suit the light conditions.
As a result of that, I'm not using the word review in the title of this post. I'll call it my first impressions instead, because I don't think I have sufficient knowledge to do a review that'll do justice to the camera. And consistent with the newbie theme, my impressions are based on what a newbie would look out for, and not technical in nature.
How I use the camera
While I'm a newbie to the D80 and dSLR generally, I have decided I will only use the PASM modes (Program-Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority and Manual) for my photo shoots from now on.
Like most Chinese dinners in hotel, the first course is usually brought out to a dark room. f/5, 1/8 s
I use the kit lens, without external flash, and for the night shots, a tripod, because I have very unsteady hands. I believe an investment in a VR lens will be good for someone with hands as unsteady as mine.
D80 is a great, responsive, camera. It fits well in my hands, and all the buttons and dials appear to be placed well. By comparison against the Sony and the Canon DSLRS I have also tried, the handgrip appears to be the best.
Pretending to look like pro. You can't even imagine how tiring it can be to use this camera for a whole day ! Picture courtesy of The Girlfriend.
If you're used to a cute little compact digital camera, this one will shock you. But in overall terms, I think for a dSLR, it has a very good, compact size.
In terms of weight, with the kit lense (Nikkor ED 18-135/f3.5-5.6), the camera weighs around 600+ grams. It's heavy. My girlfriend held the camera to review the photos for just around 10 minutes, and she felt the strain. Those graduating from convenient compact digital cameras should note this. As for me, it weighed comfortably heavy - I wasn't quite strained, but I did notice the camera is there !
Delicious Nasi Lemak @ Madam Kwan's taken without any flash under pretty dim lighting. f/7.1, 1/25 s
There's a clear difference here between the D80 and the Nikon 7900 - responsiveness. With my old Nikon, I used to have moments when I pressed the shutter release, and it took almost a second or two to capture the shot.
In this shot, I switched on the camera there and then, and just snapped while trying to keep the boy in the focus. The whole shooting, from the brain saying I need to take this pic, to the time I snapped the pic, probably lasted a good 1 second only. And no flash, although it was getting dark (notice lights in the background had been turned on already).
D80 is ready to shot in less than 1 second. By the time I turned it on, I'm ready to take pictures before I can even put my eyes to the viewfinder. And when I click, it snaps. Instant - no delay, no feedback. Same with the autofocus - it's instant !
Low Light Conditions
Here's a picture I took at KLCC Park. No flash used, no lighting available except the bit from the picture itself. I took 5 different pictures with 5 different shutter speed settings. This one turned out best, and it's all great.
I'd say the D80 is excellent under low light.
I noticed the D80 tends to underexpose pictures a bit, which is quite the contrary to what I discovered from Ken Rockwell. Maybe he and I have different opinions with regards to this. Anyways, the D80 is very customizable, and I use Vivid color settings, and boost the hue by 3 degrees. I leave exposure compensation to the default 0.
But just look at the details this camera can capture ! It's incredible - at the telephoto end, you definately need a tripod, but I doubt any compact digital camera would be able to create this image with ease ...
Here are some other sample pictures from my photo trip to KLCC.