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Shoot For The Moon
on May 25, 2008
If you don't care to know about the art of photography and you don't like to read manuals, don't buy this camera and you can stop reading right here. Otherwise, read on.
I can take any camera and take bad shots with it. But if I use most modern cameras to their full potential, I tend to end up with great shots. By that I mean using correct focus, exposure compensation when necessary, and selecting the proper ISO, shutter speed, and aperture for the situation. Those are just the basics. There are also other adjustments and tweaks like Face Detection, D-Lighting (Nikon's term for bringing out more detail from dark areas of the photo), white balance, etc..
Essentially, if you know how to use all those things (and your camera lets you adjust them yourself), you can end up with some pretty great shots from any camera. You can get creative in ways that auto-only cameras will not allow. Some people end up with blurry shots because they don't know how to take sharper shots. Better shooters can take sharp shots - or they can make them blurry on purpose for an artistic effect. I personally can't stand blurry shots - except for the occasional shots where only the subjects are a bit blurry (to accentuate motion).
This camera has 6 settings that affect the sharpness of the photo - and that doesn't include aperture. One of them is the macro focus setting. Although normally used for close-ups, you can keep it in "macro focus" in most of the different shooting modes (Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program, etc.). The other setting is the Sharpness setting. By default, the camera is in the middle of the scale. Some might consider the middle of the scale to be too soft. Simply click it up to the "sharp" level, or one more for the sharpest level. There are also two clicks down to increase softness. 1 macro + 5 sharpness levels = 6.
Why would someone want a soft (not so sharp) photo? One example is portraits. In general, people don't like portraits of themselves that show every pore and hair on their skin. Softening particular subjects can also convey a delicate beauty - say a ballerina resting on a chair.
So for those who complain about this camera not taking sharp pictures out of the box, all you have to do is turn it up. For extra measure, use a small aperture and a good tripod. You will see the difference.
Not all sub-SLRs offer as many options as the P80. In particular, I like the high-powered zoom, the camera's ability to correct wide angle distortion, the overall compactness (considering the zoom), and the logical way things are laid out. The image tweaking controls that are most useful are also the easiest to access via the circular multi-control on the back. I also like that the flash doesn't pop up unless I want it to (it has a manual switch to pop it up).
The P80 is easy to carry around and covers all the bases (video, wide angle, super zoom, full manual control, etc.). If you know the features of this camera and know how and when to apply them, you'll end up with spectacular shots. It's that simple.
This camera has nice features that you may not always use, but for those special occasions, they are nice to have. One of these features is the ability to move the focus point around. With your trusty tripod set up, you want to get a surfer off to one side, gazing out over the sea. But you don't want the ocean to be in sharp focus because you want to immediately draw your viewer's eyes to the surfer. By clicking the circular button, you move the focus point over the surfer and set the camera to also meter on the focus point (so that the surfer is perfectly exposed). Add a little flash fill if you like, and Voila! Instant art.
Night shots really benefit from an adjustable focus point. Say you want a shot of a lonely lighthouse on a cliff at night. It's off to one side of your shot to give it a more dramatic frame. With the focus point in manual and the camera set to meter on the focus point, move the focus point closer to the lighthouse until what you see in the LCD looks properly exposed. If you have to keep the exact focus point a little bit away from the lighthouse to get the right exposure, no problem, just set the focus to lock on infinity (I'm assuming you aren't standing right next the lighthouse). The same concept will work for public Christmas tree displays at night. To get the right exposure and focus, move the focus point onto or near the tree that most interests you.
Want to take pictures of your friends, and maybe get in the shot yourself? Switch on face detection, hit the self-timer and take your place next to your friends.
The sports mode will have your friends lining up to get their golf swings and tennis serves photographed. The camera shoots 13 frames per second in the default mode, sacrificing everything for speed (aperture, ISO, etc.). So while your shots from this mode won't make the cover of SI, everyone will get a kick out of seeing themselves in a stop motion sequence (up to 30 frames).
The camera has two modes which help you get the best shot in unusual circumstances. In Best Shot Selection mode, it shoots up to ten shots as long as you hold down the shutter release button. Then it automatically selects and saves the sharpest picture in the bunch, discarding the rest. In Exposure Bracketing mode, it applies three different levels of exposure to the same shot. One of them is likely to be just what you wanted. Exposure bracketing can even be fine tuned to your liking (read the manual to learn how).
With a single press of the shutter release, this camera can automatically take and assemble 16 shots, 1.1 seconds apart, into a single picture. You get a picture made of 16 consecutive "scenes". This is good for things like a cat playing with a ball, or you and your buddy making funny faces.
Do you wonder who or what knocks over your garbage cans when you're not home? The P80 can shoot time lapse sequences, firing once every 30 seconds to once every hour. It turns off between shots to conserve power, or you can buy an external power supply.
Hate crooked pictures? Push the DISP button to lay down a grid which you can align with horizontal or vertical objects. The grid also helps you position subjects according to the "Rule of Thirds", which even amateur photographers should know.
The digital zoom is cool! It doesn't just enlarge and crop - it interpolates to fill in detail that might otherwise be lost. If you go full optical and full digital zoom, you can see the craters and "seas" on the moon! Use a tripod, lock the focus on infinity, turn off VR, and use a 2 or 10 second delay to allow the tripod vibration to settle.
I'm quite pleased with my purchase. If you're the creative type and a camera nut (you actually read the manual and experiment), you'll probably be very pleased; producing countless pictures suitable for framing. If you just like to point and shoot, this camera is probably not for you.
But don't just take my word for it. Go to Flickr and do a search on "Nikon P80" to see what this camera can do.