On paper, it looks as if the Nikon P80 can do anything you'd ever ask of a camera.

The 18x zoom covers a range equivalent to 27mm to nearly 500mm, and in-built image stabilisation should help keep those long shots steady.

Keen photographers like to fiddle with the shutter speed and aperture, and the P80's SLR-style Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual modes should make this straightforward.

Additionally, the 10MP resolution matches that of most digital SLRs, as does the ISO range, which goes right up to ISO 6400. So, who needs an SLR, when you can get all this for £300?

Lacklustre autofocus

But things aren't quite what they seem. The P80 does everything it claims, but just not terribly well.

The tiny sensors which make these huge zoom ranges possible don't provide the same smoothness and definition as a digital SLR, and really fall to pieces at higher ISO settings.

The autofocus systems are generally slower and the electronic viewfinders used by this type of superzoom are coarse-grained and sometimes hard to make out in bright light.

The zoom range, photographic features and prices of superzoom cameras might still make them tempting. The problem with the P80, though, is that the limitations of this camera type have gone just a little too far in this particular model.

Sluggish operation

There are three issues with the P80: the autofocus performance, the electronic viewfinder and the general handling.

Superzoom cameras don't focus as fast as digital SLRs, and this makes it difficult to tackle the very subjects you might have hoped they'd be good at - sports and wildlife.

The Nikon feels sluggish even by superzoom standards. At longer focal lengths, you need subjects to stay still for at least a couple of seconds for the AF to lock on properly.

The electronic viewfinder is another problem. Unlike the optical viewfinder in an SLR, which is as bright as the subject it's showing, EVFs have a fixed brightness level.

The Nikon's is fine on a dull day or indoors, but becomes quite hard to make out in bright sunlight to the extent that you can't see what's in the darker areas at all.

Cramped controls

The third problem is this camera's handling. The small size means the controls are a little cramped, but they're easy enough to locate and use.

The real issue is that the EV compensation button (the 'right' button on the navipad) is right where the base of your thumb rests while you're holding the camera.

Time and time again the EV compensation slider popped up on the screen just because the button had been inadvertently squashed, and it wouldn't go away until the OK button had been pressed.

Is this being over-critical? It might sound like a minor point, but it was a major source of aggravation.

Clever features

Which is a pity, because the P80 does have some clever features. Its face-detection mode is standard in compact cameras these days, and the D-Lighting system (for lightening dark shadows) will be familiar to anyone who's used other recent Nikon cameras.

But the P80's in-camera distortion correction is clever, removing those bowed horizons and curved 'straight' lines that you normally get with wide-angle shots. The P80 offers some fast continuous-shooting modes, too, though these are at a reduced resolution of 3-million pixels.

The top speed of 13fps is pretty amazing, even if the camera's buffer does fill up after a couple of seconds. The odd thing, though, is that the ISO is restricted to a minimum of ISO 640.

Unfortunately, this camera's good points can't overcome its failings. The slow AF, poor electronic viewfinder and poor handling really do get in the way of the very kind of shots it ought to be good at producing.

Via PhotoRadar