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

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