As Gordon Laing of Camera Labs continues to work on his excellent “Retro Review” series, he took a break to look at an older camera that doesn’t quite reach retro status, the Nikon D80, calling it the “best camera under $100.”
Gordon was also a recent guest on the PetaPixel Podcast to discuss bold predictions for 2024, so be sure to check that out. More of Laing’s “Retro Reviews” are available on his dedicated vintage tech channel, Dino Bytes, and the Camera Labs website.
I’m thrilled that Laing has shone the light on the Nikon D80, as it is such an important camera to me. It was my first ever camera, and I can remember the day I opened it like it was yesterday. That is, and will always be, one of my core memories I hold onto.
The Nikon D80 launched in August 2006, and by the end of that year, I had saved enough money from odd jobs and weekend work to purchase a D80 kit. I also had a bit of generous Christmas help from my highly supportive parents.
After a few months of tinkering with manual mode and learning the basics of photography, my parents gifted me a two-month weekly photography class with a local professional for my 16th birthday. Photography has been a critical part of my personal and professional life since.
Although I’ve sold and purchased many new cameras since then, a “first camera” always holds a special place in every photographer’s heart. However, as Laing shows, make no mistake about the Nikon D80. It may have long since lost its place in my kit, but it remains a competent camera nearly two decades after it first hit store shelves.
Not only is the camera’s 10.2-megapixel APS-C CCD sensor still capable of taking great pictures to this day, the camera’s autofocus system is no slouch, and the D80 sports a classic DSLR shape with great ergonomics. Plus, a D80 can easily be found in working, tested order for well under $100. What an absolute bargain.
Add an older Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 prime into the mix, and a budding photographer could get fully outfitted and ready to go for $150 or less. In an age where a brand-new mirrorless camera kit can easily set someone back multiple thousands of dollars, a used D80 and lens can be an excellent, affordable entry point for those who cannot afford the latest and greatest tech.
No, the Nikon D80 is not as swift as Nikon’s newest mirrorless cameras, and it certainly can’t match their resolving power or high ISO performance. Still, the D80 is a capable camera that can make photography accessible to more people. Even today, the venerable DSLR can help create new lasting memories for beginning photographers, just like it did for me so many years ago.