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Nikon D40x, D80, D300 comparison

Every once in a while, I get someone at work asking me about digital cameras. I love those questions. This time our IT guy was asking me about SLR cameras for consumer-professional use. Below is a reformatted version of an email I sent him. If you’re a seasoned photo pro, then feel free to skim past the basic photo info. There are detailed comparisons between SLRs in this blog post.

THE CAMERAS AND THEIR COST

MANUFACTURERS
There’s basically two manufacturers to consider: Nikon and Canon. I’m a Nikon guy and come from a Nikon family. I’m lucky because Nikon’s lenses and cameras use better materials and are constructed better than Canon. Canon is a solid bet, but I can’t offer any insight into Canon. If you go with Nikon, then you cannot use Canon lenses cameras and vice versa. There’s other manufactures including Fuji, but those cameras aren’t on the same block as Canon and Nikon.

THE THREE
There’s three Nikon cameras for you to consider: Nikon D40x, Nikon D80, and the brand-new Nikon D300. Do not confuse the D40x with the D40. They are different cameras. The D40 is only 6 megapixels. You don’t want 6 stinkin’ megapixels in an SLR. This ain’t the year 2002!

COST
I like to keep an eye on where to get the most money for my electronics. pricegrabber.com and nextag.com are two of my favorite price comparison sites. nextag even has a line chart showing the price history of any product they have in their database. In the past year, I’ve found that amazon offers the best deals. This is true with the Nikon D40x, D80 and D300.

Nikon D40x (body only). Retails for $800. See “Buy New” price below.

Nikon D80 (body only). Retails for $1000. See “Buy New” price below.

Nikon D300 (body only). Retails for $1900. See “Buy New” price below. (This camera came out at the end of November, so the deals won’t come around until about 2nd quarter 2008)

CAMERA AND LENS BUNDLE
Once you pick a body, you have to pick which lens (or lenses) you want. A lot of places offer a bundled deal where you get the body and the lens for a discounted price. That’s a great place to start. You can get either an 18-55
or an 18-135 lens. Go with 18-135. 18 is a solid, wide angle. 135 is a decent zoom (equivalent to “3x” in point-and-shoot terms). The 18-55 is a lot cheaper than the 18-135, but you’ll be very frustrated with the 18-55. Don’t even consider it! The zoom is weak! Avoid it!

D80 (with 18-135mm lens). Retails for $1300. See “Buy New” price below.

D40x (with 18-135mm lens). Retails for $980. See “Buy New” price below.

D300 (with 10-135mm lens). Retails for $2,285. See “Buy New” price below.

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COMPARING THE CAMERAS

imaging-resource.com offers a great comparison chart. Basically, it comes down to this. The D300 has LCD preview (more info below). I
think this is huge. If size is a concern, then check out the three cameras in person. There’s quite a difference in size. Also, the layout of the controls may be a factor for you. Though Nikon always does a good job of laying out the controls. Oh, the more you pay, the higher quality materials that are used. The D300 will have a lot more magnesium while while the d40will have more plastic. Also, the auto-focus on older lenses will not work with the D40x.

Below are the differences between the three cameras that I could find from just looking at the spec sheets:

SIZE (personal preference)
The D40x is the smallest of the three.

MEGAPIXELS (no biggie)
D300 is 12 megapixels vs. D40x and D80’s 10. The difference is minimal.
Check out this megapixel chart. It’s really neat. It shows how little of a difference there is between 10 and 12 megapixels.

LCD PREVIEW (big deal)
D300 has LCD preview. AWESOME!!!!!!!! D40x and D80 does not. Traditionally, SLR digital cameras do not allow you to preview your subject matter before shooting like all standard digital cameras. You must go old school and look through the viewfinder. However, the D300 lets you preview your image in the LCD. This is a major breakthrough for digital SLR.

WHITE BALANCE BRACKETING (no biggie)
D300 and D80 has white balance bracketing. D40x does not. Not a big deal. You might use white balance bracketing here and there if you have the time and patience to bracket your shot for white balance. I concern myself more with correct exposure.

MAX ISO (no biggie)
D300’s max ISO is 6400. D40x and D80 max out at 3200. When are you ever going to shoot at 6400 and be happy with all the incredible amount of noise in your photo? Almost never, unless you’re going for the over-grainy look. WE can talk about this more later.

INTERNAL FLASH (TBD)
The internal flash modes are different between the three cameras. More research would be required to find out exactly the difference.

SYNC TERMINAL (huh?)
D300 has a sync terminal, D40x and D80 do not. I’m not exactly sure what a sync terminal is (I know it’s related to external flashes), but you can get an adapter for cameras that don’t have a sync terminal:

MEMORY CARDS (no biggie)
D300 takes CompactFlash. D40x and D80 take SD/MMC. Not a concern, unless you’re shooting sports photography where you want to get a superfast card so the images transfer to the card in superfast speed.

MOVIES (no biggie)
Don’t expect to shoot movies on any of the cameras. This ain’t a novelty point-and-shoot camera.

STUFF I DON’T KNOW ABOUT
The D300 has HDMI Out, DC In, PC Sync, and 10-pin Expansion Terminal. The D40x and D80 has only DC input. I have no idea what any of this means.

CAMERA RESPONSIVENESS (no biggie)
Startup time, shutdown time, play-record, shutter lag differ between all the cameras. See chart in imagingresource.com link above for details. Basically, the D40x is the least fast of the three; nothing to be concerned about. The D40x beats the pants off any point-and-shoot in terms of shutter lag.

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I bought the D80 for my wife last Christmas, so as to drag her kicking and screaming into the world of digital — she was a news photog way before digital was around so she held to film longer than she should’ve.

One of the big things for her was the ability to use the Nikkor lenses and other accessories she had for her old N90; put together they cost way more than the camera body. We both love the D80…

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