Nikon F80 review

Whilst I prefer my blog to be more about the actual craft of photography and some advice for my couples and families who book with me, sometimes I do indulge slightly in the gear side of things.

It’s hard to say whether film is in fact enjoying the renaissance that say for example vinyl seems to be having in the UK and probably in other countries. There does seem to be a bit of a creep towards people wanting something tangible, rather than a digital copy of something. As pretty as iTunes looks loaded up with albums, it lacks all the magic of a record collection on the shelves. I don’t think film’s apparent rejuvenation is quite the same, in fact I think it is in part being driven by it being a beautiful medium in its own and there are plenty of amazing cameras out there which until recently could be had for a song purely because they were film cameras.

So on to the Nikon F80, how does this camera tie into the above? Put simply if you are looking to experiment or move into shooting film, I think this is the best entry point to shooting film if you are currently a Nikon digital shooter, especially for those who have some full frame (FX) lenses. It is very inexpensive and if you don’t get on with it, you won’t have splashed a lot of cash!

This review contains some recent photos taken with my Nikon F80 and a roll of Fuji Pro 400H processed by Canadian Film Lab. All photos were taken on either the 35mm 1.8G or 50mm 1.4G (except those of the F80 itself, see bottom of article.)

Before I recant the technicalities of the F80 and why it’s a good option in my opinion let’s get on with why use this camera in my professional work and what it is like to shoot.

The F80 is not a Nikon FM, it’s not a particularly inspiring camera, It doesn’t feel like a piece of craftsmanship. Perhaps the reason it’s uninspiring is because it’s a good all rounder that doesn’t have any real defining characteristics. But i’d argue that it does have a characteristic – it does nothing badly at an amazing price. I have had my Nikon F80 now for about six years when I bought one boxed, with all the manuals and the likes for £30 from eBay. In that time, they have remained at about that price.

One of the reasons I chose an F80 over the F100 is only a few years before when I was a Canon shooter, I had sold my EOS 3 because I found it too heavy around my neck, so I was a bit wary of getting something that would be just as hefty. I’ll admit this is no longer such a consideration for me as I now also shoot a Pentax 645NII with a 105mm lens on which is heavy!

Venice's Grand Canal from the Academia Bridge

Venice’s Grand Canal from the Academia Bridge

The Nikon F80 is is pretty much entirely made of plastic except the lens mount. The plastics feel a bit cheap but in use very tough and unfortunately the imitation leatherette does tend to go sticky, which can easily be cleaned up and it’s worth noting the F100 has the same issue.

What it does well is fit into your digital Nikon shooting meaning that if you either want to experiment using film or indeed introduce 35mm into your wedding workflow for example, you can get straight on with it. Of course a medium format camera is going to give you a negative with better resolution and overall tonality but you will forego the portability and the ease of just using your existing Nikon lenses.

There isn’t a great deal else to say about the Nikon F80, except to say that don’t overlook it and head straight for the F100. The F100 is without doubt one of the nicest Nikon 35mm SLRs made and will likely survive knocks better, but given my F80 has survived the past 5-6 years with myself is a good sign that it is more durable than given credit for.

Venice's famous gondolas

Venice’s famous gondolas

There are other alternatives, the Nikon F5, F6, F100 and some other even cheaper options (like the F65 or F75) but with the F80 you essentially get yourself a mini F100.

Unless you have a lot of money, the F6 is a luxury that you don’t really need to deliver brilliant client photos using film. Whilst it is undoubtably the pinnacle of Nikon 35mm film SLRs, essentially a film camera is a light tight box and the picture will be affected by the lens and film alone, not whether it was shot on an F6 or an F80.

There is no more I can say – if you want to shoot some film, and have a bag of Nikon autofocus lenses that aren’t of the new electronic aperture (E) designation- the F80 is a great starter.

Will I ever buy an F100, you know I have to be honest and say I don’t think I will. If my F80 breaks, I’ll buy another because there are plenty of low use bodies out there for almost nothing. My tough durable Nikon film body is my Nikon FM which I also use mostly because I can use my Zeiss Planar 50mm 1.4 and Nikkor 10.5cm 2.5 on it for a very classic look. There are only so many cameras a girl needs!

Technical run through

The F80 works with all Nikon autofocus lenses including the G type lenses with full aperture control. The only lenses it won’t work with are pre-AI lenses and the new E-type lenses from Nikon. AI/AIS lenses will mount and work but with no metering.

I currently have 20mm 1.8G, 35mm 1.8G, 50mm 1.4G, 85mm 1.8G and 135mm f/2 DC lenses in Nikon AF mount and all work perfectly on this body. Sure the AF is quicker on say my Nikon D750 but largely I have found the F80 pretty accurate.

The fact this camera will work with my 135mm f/2DC which is a screw driven lens, and all my G type Nikkors means the F80 is the perfect complement to the Nikon D750 digital bodies I own. Not that I own any VR lenses it is perfectly compatible with VR as well.

Autofocus seems pretty primitive, it has 5 AF points but only the centre one is a cross type, the outer ones are there but I don’t use them and instead use focus and recompose which with the 50mm 1.4G or 85mm 1.8G doesn’t seem to cause too many problems with the end result.

The Venetian lagoon is made up of many islands such as Torcello

The Venetian lagoon is made up of many islands such as Torcello

There are some variants of the F80, one which includes date imprinting (not what you want if you’re delivering photos to clients) and data imprinting between frames which may be useful in some instances but for the most part the standard F80 is all you need. These variants rarely cost more than a standard F80, so don’t pay extra for them.

The key differences between the F100 and the F80 that will potentially be noticed in everyday shooting are:

  • The F80 takes CR123 batteries rather than AA batteries – not a major issue, if you don’t use the built in flash it seems to last very well on these batteries but I do tend to find that when the camera says it’s running low on batteries, it dies very soon after, or if you haven’t used it in a while it looks fine but switch it on and the batteries are dead! So make sure you always have some spares. I find it will shoot about 50 rolls per set of batteries with almost no flash usage.
  • It is a lot lighter but less sturdy but mine is holding up if a bit tatty now.
  • It operates in half stops rather than third stops. The latter isn’t really too much of an issue especially with negative film.
  • Top flash sync speed is 1/125th second but again never really found this too much of an issue as I don’t tend to use fill flash outdoors and indoors when shooting at ISO 100, 1/125th max is fine.

Other than that you get a capable camera with spot and matrix metering modes, multiple exposure settings, it’s a bit slow but a 2.5fps frame rate, back button focus when configured and super easy film loading – slot the film canister in, pull the film leader across and close the back, very simple.

Nikon F80 product photos taken on my Olympus OM2n, Fuji Pro 800Z film and Zuiko 50mm f/1.4 lens.
Film processing and scanning by Canadian Film Lab

Russ Tattersall

May 15, 2017

Hello Victoria
I have both a F100 and F80 and agree totally with your view about day to day handling of the F80. Absolutely love the 'look' and composition of your shots.I was in Venice in July this year with a D7200 and much prefer your film shots of the same places I vistited ( Piazza San Marco at 5-30am is the only time you have it largely to yourself). I am intrigued to know whether you routinely shoot at 2 or 3 stops overexposed to get that gorgeous pastel light you have captured on Fufi 400H.
Really love your work

Vicky Lamburn

May 16, 2017

Ahhh film in good light or provided with artificially good light just has a wonderful look that is hard to get with digital I find. I only travelled with my Pentax 645NII and F80 to Venice. Kept things simple.

In terms of shooting, yes I always overexpose Fuji 400H. I can't remember the time last shot it at box speed, maybe 5-6 years ago? 400H loves the extra light and the pastel tones come from overexposure. For the landscape shots I generally set the ISO to 100 on the camera and shot aperture priority with matrix metering.

Paul Ellis

May 25, 2017

Hi Victoria

Enjoy very much your photographs of Venice, as they reminded me of my many visits to Venice and vessels located in the port area.

I like you run Nikon full frame lens, Digital D80 and Film F65 cameras for lightness and easy in working in confined spaces. The film camera was purchased second hand, as an inexpensive alternative to buying a Full Frame camera. What has become clear since returning to film is that marine engineers and insurance assessor’s, who view pictures state that they get a better understanding on how a pump or electric motor failed in service from the clarity and tonal range that film produces. Your photographs show that in bucket loads.

When I see a F80 at an attractive price, I will be joining you and look forward to seeing more of your work.

Vicky Lamburn

June 4, 2017

Thank you Paul and glad to hear you enjoy your F65! Colour negative is indeed a wonderful medium, Sure you don't get as high resolution files as digital but that's not the point, it is all about that that tonality and depth of colour.

I'm very happy with mine!

Danny Schoening

June 9, 2017

Hey Vicky, thanks for this nice review. I've bought an F80 after reading your article. I'm so exciting about this camera.
Keep on going with your great work!

Greetings from Germany!


August 12, 2017

Was just wondering what film you used for the Venice photos? Thanks

Boris Stromar

September 10, 2017

I just got my old F80 out of the closet! The rubber was all sticky but I cleaned it fine with some oil based nail polish remover. I'm very excited to start shooting with it again as it was my first AF SLR. So now I'm reading about the experiences of this capable camera online :D

I'd like to add a few other points about the F80 - the shutter is one of the quietest I've ever heard. Also, it has the ability to use a regular screw-in cable release which I think is a plus.

I also just found out why my viewfinder is blurry - not because of the diopter setting but because it requires batteries to "clear up"! That's very interesting, and a point to remember when buying a second hand F80.

Dave Young

October 11, 2017

Just came across your review looking for info on the F80. I’ve recently swapped over to Nikon with a Df and D750 with a couple of prime lenses including 35 1.4 and 58 1.4. Great to hear I can shoot these with an old F80.

Definitely going to go and find one to have some film fun. Thanks for the inspiration.

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