It's a bird; it's a plane; it's a superzoom. Nikon's latest edition to its Coolpix range is the P80, sporting a 18x zoom lens and some nice features. Available for around £230, would you nab this snapper out of the sky?
For superzoom shooters, the Coolpix P80's 27-486mm-equivalent, f/2.8-4.5 lens likely sits at the top of its list of attractions. The range provides a good combination of wide-angle and telephoto views at relatively wide maximum aperture values. Nikon supports the lens with an agreeable and functional design.
Weighing almost 365g, the P80 is no featherweight, but that's common for this class. It's relatively compact, with a comfortable rubberized grip and thumb rest.
The 69mm (2.7-inch) LCD is pretty good. It has a wide viewing angle and doesn't wash out in direct sunlight. It's supplemented with an electronic viewfinder. Both displays update fast enough so that they don't interfere with shooting, although the EVF only displays 97 per cent of the scene, compared with 100 per cent for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ18.
Like its competitors, you summon most of the frequently used shooting controls via a dedicated button, including exposure compensation, focus modes, self-timer and flash. You can also navigate via the back dial, which also controls your shutter, aperture and exposure compensation adjustments in the various shooting modes. The display and LCD/EVF toggle buttons feel oddly small given the size of the camera, though.
Other controls you access from the shooting menu. Most notable are an array of ISO sensitivity options. Given how aggressive the blurring gets at ISO 400 -- more on that later -- we suggest you stick with the 64-200 modes if you're going to use the automatic mode.
In addition to matrix, centre-weighted and spot metering, the P80 offers spot-AF area for use with the AF-area modes. The AF-area modes include face priority, auto, manual and centre. As usual with these technologies, we find the face-priority setting too inefficient, the auto makes undesirable choices and the manual AF-point selection is only useful if you're shooting the same composition repeatedly.
The centre-focus-and-recompose approach, albeit old fashioned, is still the most efficient. Other shooting options include image size and quality, white balance, single or full-time AF, flash exposure compensation, noise reduction and distortion control, which reduces frame size. Lack of support for raw files is a big hole in the feature set, though.