Review: Canon Digital Rebel XTi compared to the Nikon D80

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Review: Canon Digital Rebel XTi compared to the Nikon D80

Side by side digital camera review
Canon EOS Rebel XTi
Nikon D80
Canon EOS Rebel XTi/400D review
Nikon D80 review
SLR (19.4 oz body and battery)
SLR-type (23.6 oz body and battery)
10Mp / 3888 x 22592/ CMOS
10Mp / 3872 x 22592/ CCD
100-1600 (Hi-3200)
3 fps (appr. 50 JPEG or 12 RAW)
Motor drive
23 fps (appr. 40 JPEG or 7 NEF)
2.5 inch (230.000 pixels)
2.5 inch (230.000 pixels)
Full specifications
Full specifications
As a d-SLR of the latest generation the Canon EOS Rebel XTi has a compact polycarbonate body which is molded around a metal frame. The rubber inlays provide a better grip for the thumb and fingers of the right hand. For pro's and semipro users and people with big hands the body may be perceived as rather small and light. For those familiar with digital compacts the Rebel XTi is a very handy camera, It feels well balanced in the hand and is easy to carry either in a camera bag or around the neck.
The consumer d-SLRs of Nikon are known to be solid cameras. The Nikon D80 is no exception to that tradition. Although it is significantly smaller than the D70s the D80 is bigger than the EOS Rebel XTi. Despite it's more compact format the D80 remains a very robust, well balanced camera with a professional look thanks to the texture of the polycarbonate body and rubber handgrip.
Despite the compact body sufficient space remains for the most essential buttons. At the top you'll find the Program-dial as well as  the wheel to change parameters like aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation. The buttons at the back have been arranged around the large LCD-screen. The 4-way navigator buttons give easy access to the most important parameters, such as white balance and ISO. Buttons to pop-up the flash or preview the depth of field are located on the left side of the lens. As those buttons have not been sealed you have to be careful in rainy weather. The caps covering the slot of the memory card (CF) and the battery are well constructed and access to both card and battery is easy. The rubber cover hiding the connections for USB and TV is well constructed but closing it is not very  easy.
Buttons, caps and covers
The body of the D80 offers sufficient space for the available buttons. The buttons have been placed on every side of the body, except the bottom. On top it has a status LCD on the right while the Program dial wheel is located on the left. Under the shutter release and near the thumb position you find two dials to change the various parameters. With the 4-way navigator you can quickly navigate through the different menus. All buttons are well engineered, but just like with the EOS Rebel XTi, they are not waterproof.
The covers for battery and memory card are reasonably solid, but the caps covering the connections for USB and remote control seem less suited for everyday usage and are difficult to close.
The viewfinder of a SLR camera is known to be very clear and bright and therefore very suitable for perfect framing and manual focusing. The XTi viewfinder fits these characteristics, and although it is small, it has no limitations in practical use. At the bottom of the viewfinder you find  data about aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, flash mode and flash compensation settings. The viewfinder itself contains 9 focusing points.
The LCD-screen at the back is large (2.5 inch) and has high resolution (230.000 pixels). It is very bright and has a good view angle. Its purpose is not only to view back the pictures and set menus, but it also functions as the status LCD, which is normally at the top of a d-SLR. As soon as you put the camera in front of your eye, the LCD turns off automatically.
Viewfinder and LCD
The viewfinder of the Nikon D80 is very bright and clear and larger than the viewfinder of the EOS Rebel XTi. You can see the difference when you use the cameras next to each other, but when you use only one of the cameras, you get used to the viewfinder very quickly.The D80 viewfinder is able to show gridlines. Although this is a useful option the image gets somewhat crowded when used in combination with the 11 focus points andcenter circle. The indications for shutter speed and aperture are less bright and somwaht less readable than with the EOS Rebel XTi.
The LCD-screen at the back has the same dimensions and number of pixels as tthe EOS Rebel XTi. It's bright and has a good viewing angle. The menus are better readable than those of the EOS Rebel XTi. On top you find the status LCD in which most image parameters are displayed (no ISO!). It's well readable and can be illuminated.
The obvious characteristic of a d-SLR is that you can change the lens and choose the one that best fits your subject. The Canon EOS Rebel XTi can operate with all lenses with an EF or EF-s mount (analogue and digital respectively) of which Canon has a wide variety available for both consumers (<$1000) and professionals (>$1000). The number of lenses is still growing and image stabilization gets better all the time. The Rebel XTi is also suited to take lenses of third parties like Sigma, Tamron and Tokina.
The Nikon D80 is suited to operate with both analogue and digital (DX) lenses. Nikon has a large lens collection though less extensive than Canon. The number of lenses with image stabilization (VR) is lower as is the number of contemporary fixed focus lenses produced with the latest technologies. There is hardly any difference in price and performance with Canon lenses. Nikon-mount lenses are also available from Sigma, Tamron, Tokina and even Zeiss.
Although the EOS Rebel XTi has full-auto and several scene exposure modes, in daily practice you will be able to achieve the best results using the P, A and T settings. In addition to the full manual-mode (M) you can choose for the so-called A-dep mode to obtain maximum control over the depth of field. The available metering modes are Evaluative (Matrix), Center weighted and Partial. The Rebel XTi has no real Spot metering. Depending on the subject the exposure can be corrected with the exposure compensation plus or minus 2 Ev with steps of 1/3 Ev.
The ISO range varies from 100 tot 1600, with steps of 1 Ev. It is not possible to set noise reduction for higher ISO's values. However, noise reduction is offered for exposure times over 1 second.
Exposure and ISO
The Exposure programs on the D80 are similar to the EOS Rebel XTi, although the typical A-dep option is absent. In P-, A- and S-mode and full manual setting you can choose for Auto-ISO. If the chosen exposure can't be achieved at a given ISO, the program chooses a higher ISO, up to a maximum range which you can set yourself. This a a great feature, but beware of unexpected noise. The Exposure compensation varies from -5 to +5 Ev, with steps of 1/3 Ev. The Matrix- and Center Weighted metering, is completed with a real Spot metering. The diameter if the CW metering can be adjusted.
The sensitivity of the sensor ranges from ISO 100 to ISO 1600 with steps of 1/3 Ev. In Hi-mode ISO can be further increased in three steps to ISO 3200. The camera provides noise reduction in 3 levels for the higher ISO's as well as a noise reduction for long exposures. As with the Rebel XTi, some noise reduction is always applied with every ISO when shooting in JPEG, even if the setting of the noise reduction is zero. Strong noise reduction may lead to undesired results.
Depending on the selected lens and light conditions, the focusing of the Canon Rebel XTi is instantaneous and very accurate, even with low light. The camera uses the internal flash as focus assist lamp, which can be annoying. With a switch on the lens, you can switch from auto to manual focus. In addition the the so called One shot Auto Focus mode you can select Ai Focus and Ai Servo for moving objects. The AF follows the object up to 20 mph. You can choose from 9 AF-points or alternatively let the camera pick one of these automatically.
The Auto focus of the Nikon D80 is very fast and accurate and equals the Rebel XTi at this point. In very low light it uses an AF assist lamp, but it is so intense that it can be disturbing. To switch from auto to manual focus, there is a switch on the body near the lens mount. The Auto focus has three modes: Single servo, Continuous servo and AF-A mode which automatically switches between the Single and Continuous mode. The D80 has 11 AF points, which can be selected either manually or automatically.
Digital mirror reflex cameras are known for their speed. The XTi's start up time and shutter delay are very short and focusing is fast, but in addition the camera has a fast continuous mode. With a fast memory card the EOS Rebel XTi shoots over 50 images (JPEG, fine) or 12 RAWs without any interrupt at a speed of 3 frames a second. After 50 images it clears its buffer within seconds (you can take a single image) and it is ready to take off again!
Motor drive
The D80 is a very responsive camera and with 40 JPEG/fine or 7 NEF (RAW) at a speed of 3 frames per second it almost equals the ' motor drive' of the EOS Rebel XTi. After such a burst the buffer is written to the memory card. During that time the camera is available for a single shot. All numbers and speeds mentioned heavily depend on the transfer speed of the memory card and the nature of the composition (file size of the JPEG).
The EOS Rebel XTi supports two color spaces: sRGB (internet and consumer print) and AdobeRGB (professional print). The colors of JPEG-images can be fine tuned to your personal taste. Canon has implemented Picture Styles to achieve this. You can create several different 'color profiles'. Canon has supplied preset  setting for subjects like Portrait and Landscape. Picture Styles also contains a very extensive B&W mode, which lets you control contrast and color by applying color filters (red, yellow, green) and tone i.e. Sepia or Blue.
In addition to the automatic white balance and 6 presets you can set your own white balance. However, you can't choose a numeric color temperature. The AWB can be fine tuned to a high degree.
Color and white balance
Just like the EOS Rebel XTi the Nikon D80 has two color spaces: sRGB and AdobeRGB. The sRGB color space has two versions: Ia (Portraits) and IIIa (Landscapes). In the personal setting you can choose yor own values for sharpening, contrast, color tone and saturation. Further more there are 5 Presets, such as Softer and More Vivid. In the B&W mode you can set contrast and sharpening and you can use the color filters Red, Orange, Yellow and Green for different results. No toning such as Sepia or Blue is available in the record mode.
The D80 has a tunable Automatic White balance, 6 presets WB and a manual WB. You can also set a color temperature which is ideal for studio photography. However, it's a pity that it lacks a PC-sync for studio lighting. This has to be achieved with a remote trigger.
Pictures can be saved in JPEG or RAW format as well as  a combination (RAW+JPEG L/M/S, fine). Resolution can be adjusted from 3888x2592 (L) to 2816x1880 (M) or 1936x1288 (S) at two quality levels, Fine and Basic.
New on this EOS Rebel XTi is the sensor dust prevention and the sensor cleaning, which helps to keep images free of annoying dust spots, even if you change lenses often. The sensor is cleaned every time the camera is turned on and off. The cleaning procedure stops when pushing the shutter release, so at start up you don't have to miss a moment due to sensor cleaning. The option can be deactivated. In the software supplied with the camera (DPP 2.2) dust can be removed automatically based on a specific 'dust profile'. All these options do not only prevent dust, but also keep you from the trouble of having your camera cleaned or the risk of cleaning it yourself. The camera still has the option to lock up the mirror and open the shutter, so you can look at the sensor for inspection purposes.
To reduce all vibrations you can lock up the mirror in combination with the self timer.
The Canon EOS Rebel XTi has several flash modes: Auto, On (1st and 2nd curtain), Red eye and Off. Flash power can be compensated with +/- 2 Ev. The hot shoe can hold external flashguns and is E-TTL II when used with the dedicated flashes of Canon. The EOS Rebel XTi has no PC-sync for connection to studio flash units.

The D80 can capture JPEG and NEF (RAW), separate or combined in every possible setting of resolution (L, M, S) and quality (Fine, Normal, Basic), which gives you numerous possibilities.
There are no arrangements on the D80 to prevent dust to get to the sensor nor does it provide an automatic in-camera sensor cleaning. The only option is to lock up the mirror and open the shutter and clean the sensor manually.
To prevent unsharp pictures caused by vibration of the camera it is possible to lock up the mirror and get pin sharp macro images.
The Nikon D80 has several flash modes: Front and Rear curtain, Red-Eye, Red-Eye Slow and Slow. Together with some custom settings the flash performance is better than with the Rebel XTi. The hot shoe on top can take third party flashguns, but with Nikons SB 600 and SB800 you benefit fully of the integration with the complex metering of the camera.
The Nikon D80 is able to make multiple exposures of 2 or 3 images.

All important controls can be quickly accessed and changed with the 4-way buttons or the main dial. ISO, White balance, AF mode en AE mode have a one-button access. Exposure program and Exposure compensation are within finger distance. Instead of a top panel LCD, the EOS Rebel XTi shows the value of it's parameters on the large LCD on the back with black characters on a white background, which is unusual, but very readable.
With this comprehensive information, you never take pictures with a wrong ISO setting or Exposure value. The menu in the LCD-screen is nice to read thanks to the size of the LCD, but not as clear as with the D80. Navigation through the menu's is very easy and after leaving the menu at a certain point, it returns to this position the next time the menu is activated. This saves you a lot of navigation.
In addition to parameters for Recording, Playback and Tools, the EOS Rebel XTi has 11 Personal settings. With Picture Styles it is possible to ' save' certain settings for Saturation, Contrast and Sharpening, but you can't save a complete set of personal settings.
Parameter setting and menus
Just as with the EOS Rebel XTi it is very easy to change capture parameters, although for WB and ISO you need one hand to press the button and the other to turn the dial. With the EOS Rebel XTi this is a one hand operation. Most parameters are displayed in the status LCD. The value of ISO isn't present, which can lead to mistakes.
The LCD screen on the back is perfect to navigate through the extensive menus. Within no time you find your way to the desired setting. You can reduce the number of menu options in a personal menu to make navigation even easier. However, there is no possibility to get an overview the most important parameters. If you want to know what color temperature or color space you have set in an earlier session, you have to dig deep in the menu structure to recall the setting. With this number of parameters you would love to have a (customizable) one-page info screen to prevent shooting with completely wrong settings. It is not possible to save a set of custom settings.
The EOS Rebel XTi offers three choices to playback your pictures: full screen clean image, one with Shutter speed and Aperture and one with Histogram, Clipping highlights and all image settings. Zooming in on an image is very easy and fast. Zooming out you get 9 thumbnails and with Jump you can move through the images with steps of 9 thumbnails or 10 full images. In playback mode images can be rotated, marked and you can display a slideshow.
In Playback there are three ways to view your images: Full image with clipping or date/time/file number/quality, Full image with record data in two pages and Small with histogram. Although all data are available in these three modes the D80 lacks the option of the Rebel XTi which gives you clipping, histogram and exposure data in one screen. The Nikon D80 requires a lot of navigation to keep an overview of all image aspects.
Zooming into an image is a one button action and you don't have to turn a dial simultaneously as was the case with the D50 and D70/D70s. You can zoom out to 4 or 9 images, but you can't jump through more images at a time.
In Playback there are several post-processing options. In the Retouch menu you find D-lighting, Red-Eye removal, Trim, Monochrome, Small copy, Filter effects and Image overlay. However, most users will prefer to use Photoshop to obtain more control.
A d-SLR should be fast and the Canon EOS Rebel XTi fulfils this requirement. It has almost no startup time or shutter delay, fast auto focus and fast data transfer (high continuous mode). The camera is very responsive and you don't have to miss any photo opportunity.
The Nikon D80 is a lightning fast camera and never requires a moment of waiting. Although the continuous mode is a bit slower than that of the EOS Rebel XTi you don't have to miss a photo opportunity.
color and exposure:
The Evaluative mode is very effective and in 90% of the subjects the exposure is correct. For subjects with high contrast containing a white element, the Rebel XTi tends to underexpose to keep the highlight within the histogram. A little over exposure is needed then.
Colors are very good and with JPEGs pictures can be fine tuned to your own taste with Picture Styles. The automatic White balance tends to warm (yellowish) images, without creating a colorcast.
The 10 billion pixels capture an amazing amount of detail (RAW and fixed focus lens). The quality of the zoom lens and the algorithms of JPEG lower this detail and images need sharpening. The default in-camera sharpening is very moderate, so in some cases (Landscape, Macro, Product) you have to increase the sharpening value. In combination with noise reduction and JPEG compression this can lead to pixel errors and therefore quality loss.
Lens distortion:
The level of vignetting, corner unsharpness, Chromatic aberration and distortions are lens related and not a 'problem' of the camera. Generally fixed focus lenses perform better than zoom lenses and from an optical perspective most lenses are at their best at f/8 or f/11.
With 10 billion pixels on a APS-sensor the signal must be amplified to get the right exposure which may result in noise (chroma and luminance). This noise is more evident at higher ISO's. At all ISO's noise reduction is applied for JPEG images, which decreases the amount of detail and the visual sharpness. The noise levels of JPEG of the Canon EOS Rebel XTi are very low, even at ISO 1600 and these images are very usable for prints at 12"x8".
Image quality
color and exposure:
With the Matrix metering setting 90% of the subjects are well exposed. In high contrast situations with white elements in the subject the Nikon D80 needs a bit of underexposure to 'solve' the clipping problem in those circumstances.
Colors are very natural, but can be fine tuned with the D80 to the personal taste of the user. The Auto WB tends to make images cooler (more blue), without giving a color cast.
Many pixels in combination with a good lens deliver a lot of detail. Default sharpening of JPEGs is very modest to keep the influence of noise reduction on image quality low. In default mode images look a bit too soft and need a higher level of sharpening in some circumstances. Still JPEGs are very useful for prints at 16"x12". For larger prints you have to shoot NEF.
Lens distortion:
See the remarks with the EOS Rebel XTi.
Nikon applies, just as Canon does, noise reduction at all ISO's. They use very good algorithms and even at ISO 3200 you get useable pictures for the internet or small prints. Nevertheless the noise reduction impacts the sharpness of the JPEGs at all ISO-levels. At ISO 1600 image quality of the D80 and EOS Rebel XTi are at par.
You will buy and use a d-SLR to get the best possible combination of control, flexibility, speed and image quality. The Canon EOS Rebel XTi and the Nikon D80 both live up to that expectation. Even the most demanding amateur photographer will not be disappointed by those cameras. Both cameras can be operated automatically, but offer full manual control for  high levels of accuracy in exposure, focusing and color. The Nikon D80 has more features, but the Canon EOS Rebel XTi is easier to operate. Due to the exchangeability of lenses all subjects can be captured with great ease from super wide angle to super tele and for special subjects like macro to tilt&shift. Canon offers a broader line-up of lenses , often with image stabilization. The speed of the cameras is almost equal. No noticeable start up or shutter delay, fast and accurate AF and a 'motor drive' of 3 frames per second up to 40 or more JPEGs (about 10 RAWs). Image quality of these 10 Mp cameras is very high. Resolution is fabulous and noise levels are moderate even at ISO 1600. In RAW format mode with a fixed focus lens you will get the highest image quality, in which case the EOS Rebel XTi performs a bit better than the D80. Image quality seems no longer restricted by the sensor, but by the JPEG-settings and the applied zoom lens. Every zoom lens below $750 dollar reduces the 100% quality of the images. Because of the fact that high levels of sharpening in combination with noise reduction and JPEG compression tend to significantly reduce the image quality, the default in-camera sharpening of both camera is very modest and may lead to ' soft' images is some cases. JPEGs are suitable for high quality prints up to 16x12" and for prints up to 40 to 26 inch RAW is the best image format.
If you want the highest image quality, user friendly operation and sensor cleaning the Canon EOS Rebel XTi is your camera. In addition the price is $200 lower than of the D80. The EOS Rebel XTi comes standard with good RAW-software, which is optional for the D80 at extra cost. In case you want a camera with a robust body, extra features and better flash performance, the Nikon D80 is a very good choice. But, as said before, none of these two cameras will disappoint their user.
If you have a D50, D70 of D70s an upgrade to the D80 may be an option: more pixels, higher responsiveness and better image quality at higher ISO values can give the photographer more satisfaction. For the same reasons an upgrade from the EOS 300D to the Rebel XTi may be worth the investment. Even from the EOS 350D the step to the Rebel XTi will be interesting. The answer to the question which camera of those two is the best, is very simple: 'The camera with the best lens', because in this comparison operation, speed and image algorithms are not the real restrictions in use and quality.
Canon EOS Rebel XTi samples Nikon D80 samples
October 28, 2006
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