Nikon’s D80; In Camera Editing In A 10+ MP D-SLR Page 2

Our testing method is such that we don't feel the need to get into minutiae unless there's a problem that might get in the way of your making great images with this or any camera, and concentrate on what makes it unique. For the D80 it's the extension of post-processing back into the camera space (even with raw) and its ability to make black and white conversions and other changes onto copies of images already on the memory card. We also wanted to see how it behaved with non-AF Nikkor lenses, as we feel this could be the model that seals the digital deal for those still shooting an older Nikon SLR film camera.

D-Lighting

One of the most interesting Image Retouch menu items is called D-Lighting, which is a one-touch shadow opener. To test it I shot this field of wildflowers against a brighter sky, taking a reading from the sky so the field would go dark and I'd hold highlights. Ordinarily I'd use a Screen mode Levels adjustment layer on this and paint back the sky and adjust the opacity of the field as needed. The first image is straight from the camera (NEF) without any adjustment. I then did a post-process in camera using Enhanced D-Lighting (there's also a Normal mode option) and got a much better rendition on the yellow flowers. To compare I then opened the original in Photoshop and used the Shadow/Highlight tool at close to 50/0 (shadow/highlight) with some tweaking to kick up the flowers even more. The Nikon Enhanced D-Lighting did a very good job without the over-correction that can often plague too much shadow area revelation.

Memory Card Format
Before we begin we do have to mention that this camera takes only Secure Digital (SD) cards. For those moving over from other digital SLR cameras or moving up from earlier Nikon digital SLRs this can be a disappointment, particularly if there's lots of investment in those cards. Card readers are not that expensive, so no big deal there. This could, however, prevent this camera from consideration as a second back-up camera by pros. The SD card will appeal to those stepping up from a digicam to a nicely-featured digital SLR, so what Nikon may lose out on with pros they will certainly pick up with the step-up crowd.

But this camera looks to the future, and SD cards are the future of digital storage. In fact, if you talk with the various card associations, SD far outsells CompactFlash (CF), and many predict that CF cards may well fade away as time goes on. We don't think the drop-off will be as precipitous as the ill-fated and miniscule SmartMedia cards, a media which sunk more cameras than anything than the cameras that held them did right or wrong.

Lens Mount Compatibility
Nikon has always prided itself on having legacy lens mounts, that is, the ability to mount older lenses on newer cameras, AF or non-AF, digital or film SLR. This is the case with the D80, and this could be one major attraction for Nikon film SLR owners to check out digital. To test this we worked with a fairly ancient lens, the manual focus Zoom-Nikkor 80-200mm f/4, a bit of a bruiser in weight and length compared to today's IF lenses, but a workhorse just the same. The lens worked just fine, if you can accept totally manual exposure and no aperture number showing up in the finder. In short, carry around a light meter or easier yet make a test exposure and then adjust accordingly after image review. Of course there's no information in the finder and the EXIF data is fairly blank, and the metering is only center-weighted. The contacts in newer lenses that communicate all that stuff are absent. But overall we found no reason why we couldn't use our full complement of older manual focus Nikkors on the D80.

Black And White, In Camera

One of the most fascinating aspects of the D80 is the degree of post-processing steps you can perform right in the camera. Accessed from the new Image Retouch menu, here's how the in camera processor converts from color to black and white. The original is in NEF (Nikon raw) format, which remains intact, while the copy is, alas, only in JPEG Fine. But it's a fine conversion nonetheless.

In Camera Processing
The post-processing on raw images in camera was a fascinating experience. We tried out D-Lighting, Filter Effects, and Monochrome. D-Lighting is really a shadow "opener" and has two stages from which you can choose, "Normal" and "Enhanced." It worked nicely with images where there was some of the usual sky/ground contrast and the only way to avoid burnt-out highlights was to bias exposure for the highlights, which naturally darkened the ground or shadow areas. In fact, we would recommend it for those who don't want to engage in post-processing in a computer and want to get highlights under control on contrasty days, perhaps with a touch of minus contrast in Image Optimization as well.

Filter Effects was perhaps the most interesting of the lot, as you could either go simply with a warmer or cooler effect, or delve into some fairly rigorous, if one-dimensional color balance changes. When you go into Color Balance a screen comes up with a color space on an X/Y grid, and you can use the camera's toggle button to move the little square all around the grid. There's no nuancing the colors à la Photoshop's Color Balance adjustment layer, and all the treatments are "global," but it's a great quick-fix technique. The same goes for Monochrome, which simply changes the image to black and white.

Perhaps the best part of these in camera fixes is that you do not overwrite the original image, but make a copy that is immediately written onto your memory card. Note that the copies are JPEG Fine, with a 1:4 compression ratio, and not raw (NEF) versions of the original. Perhaps future versions will write these as TIFF files or some NEF variant, which would be preferred, but this is a good start and sure gives you something to play with on the plane or car ride home. Indeed, you can even do Image Overlays with this feature.

Landscape

This photo and many of the other outdoor photos shown here were made in the Valle Vidal in northern New Mexico, an area lusted after by the oil and gas interests but one that many in that region are fighting to keep untrammeled. Called the "little Yellowstone" of New Mexico, it is a glorious area of nature and wildlife. The D80 was great to travel with in this area, as it can be used as easily in nature as on the city streets. This trout fisherman's heaven was photographed at ISO 160 with an exposure of f/13 at 1/320 sec.

All in all the D80 is an excellent traveling companion. It has a solid feel and strong body build, yet is not a drag on your shoulder or pack. Just about everything you need for field work is accessible right from the body, with the menu offering other layers of goodies. At 10+ megapixels it certainly delivers enough resolution for large-scale prints, and the color rendition and sharpness out of the box is excellent. The camera is built to appeal to both the step-up and advanced amateur, what with its Digital Vari-Program modes along with as many overrides and rendition options as even the most demanding photographer could require. And the enhanced battery life is certainly a boon for those taking this camera on a hike or a long weekend's shoot.

For more information, contact Nikon Inc., 1300 Walt Whitman Rd., Melville, NY 11747; (800) 526-4566, (631) 547-4200; www.nikonusa.com.

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