The D90 is the current version of what I refer to as the "consumer flagship" series of cameras. The D80 was the previous model.
It's the most advanced camera you're likely to find in a consumer store, before moving up into the "prosumer" range of camera (advanced consumer/hobbyist, low-end professional series).
The D200 is a professional camera, a lighter and less-expensive model than the professional flagship body, often used as the backup body by a pro. It's actually a couple of models old now, the D300 and now D300s were its replacement.
In terms of color quality, I actually prefer the D200 to the modern D300/D90 series bodies. The D3 and D300 both seemed to be attuned to their higher ISO speeds, in the 1600-6400 range. On the flip side, ISO 100-800 always seemed to be overly contrasted and overexposed, and somewhat color-shifted yellow. I shot with a D3 for about 18 months, but I would only use it at night or indoors. For outdoor color, the D200 is hard to beat.
I mention all this because the D80 and D200 share the same image processing. The D80 also has gorgeous colors in decent light. It fairs well indoors, and it can even push into higher ISO 1600-3200 with adequate results. Not great results in high ISO, but at least as good as old Kodak 1000 film. Maybe not quite as good as Fuji 800 pushed to 1600-3200.
If your friend shoots casually, in a non-journalistic environment, I can see why he enjoys the D80. It's going to be hard to replace. Great outdoors, great for some indoors, okay in lower light.
For my needs, I'd be crippled with a D80 -- I'd miss shots. It's too slow, the dummy-type controls are clumsy, and my large hands cover the whole tiny body. I swear some of these consumer cameras are designed for dainty little Japanese girls, and not men. To truly have good control, I use the MB-D200 grip on my D200. So I'd have to argue with him about the D80 being all the camera anybody would need.
The only thing found in the D90 not present in the D80 is video recording function. Honestly, it's still a gimmick. Even in the higher end Canon 5D MkII, it's a bit gimmicky. I read about DSLRs in industry video magazines almost monthly now, with producers chronicling their experiences. What you end up with is a really crappy video camera (in terms of controls), with professional grade lens abilities, with only modest recording quality. The Nikon D3s is the first camera I've seen that looks like it might be a winner for the video function. It's still a growing feature, in its infancy. It needs about 3-5 more years to get where it needs to be. You'd be better off with a good DV or HDV camera for video.
Yes, still using the D200 quite a bit -- it's my only camera right now. I skipped baseball/softball and football/volleyball seasons this year. Did a wedding, some modeling work, some various promotional shoots, some scenic hobby stuff. I may get into high school and college basketball seasons, which start soon.
Most of my lenses are "old" lenses. I only own two DX lenses, a Tokina 12-24 f/4 and a Nikkor ultra-wide. My older Nikkor lenses all work great -- they were and still are stellar quality glass, especially the ones I bought in the late 90s. My old Tamron, Sigma and Tokina lenses did not fair so well. Although those lenses were gorgeous used on an F5 film body, the ultra resolution of today's 10MP+ digital cameras start to really enhance glass impurities. Some of those old non-Nikkor lenses are unusable at lower f-stops, being too soft or showing too much chromatic aberration (CA). A couple were unusable, period.
The most important thing to watch for on the new cameras is if they'll work with older lenses. The new G-type bodies (like the D40) won't work with lenses that have aperture rings. Only new electronic lenses work on them. The D80 worked with older lenses, so the D90 probably does too.
I was not too impressed by the Nikkor 18-200, and I resold it for the same price I bought it. I'd rather have the $600 put towards something else. I suggest that lens only to people who are non-photographers who can't handle changing lenses, but need to "grow up" beyond the $100-200 point-and-shoots. The lens is soft, and exhibits various distortions at the wide and far range. The far range at max aperture has a lot of softness and CA. It's unnacceptable for pro work -- but then it's not necessarily a pro lens, either. The VR feature never really helped me. Compared to my Nikkor 80-200 AF-S f/2.8, that 18-200 was a piece of crap, for the 80-200 range. Then again, I'm comparing a $600 lens to a $1500 lens.
For $700, you can get a $570 Sigma f/2.8 24-70 and a $130 70-300 instead. Yes, you have to change lenses, but you gain 100mm at the long end, and a wider aperture at the front end. Of course, you lost that 18-24 range, but 24mm is still fine. A later addition of a Tokina 12-24 would fix that, if the budget has $400 in it.
You can get some real steals on D200 bodies these days, so that's one place that the budget can be re-finagled to allow more money for better glass.
I guess it really depends on what you want to shoot, how heavy you want it to be (or not be), if changing lenses is an issue, etc.
A Nikon D90 with a 18-200 is NOT a bad camera, by any means. And it might be perfect for you. I'm mostly just sharing what I might do differently.
My next body will either be a D700 with the grip, or the D3s.
And for good measure, the following links help support this site:
These days, I buy most of my gear from Amazon
. Right now they've having a special no interest, no payments offer through 11/22.
has some good deals and finance offers, too.
- Next I'll check out Calumet.
- Then I start to look at Adorama
- I'll browse Abe's, see if there's a good offer or coupon. (FRIEND10 for $10 off $75 order)
is my last choice for camera gear, they're too often out of stock, and it seems they're unavailable several days per week.