At the recent Photokina show in Germany, Nikon surprised everyone by launching neither a new DSLR nor a DL-series enthusiast compact camera. Instead, Nikon announced a series of small-sensor cameras in the new KeyMission line. These included the KeyMission 360 (optimized for VR), the KeyMission 170 (GoPro-style action camera), and the odd little KeyMission 80. The KeyMission 80 looks nothing like a conventional action camera; it looks more like a box of matches with a lens stuck to the front. Nikon describes it as a “lifestyle camera” (as opposed to an action camera), and I was curious if this little camera was actually something I would bring around with me day to day.
Much like a smartphone, the KeyMission 80 features two lenses and sensors. The larger lens on the front is a 24-mm equivalent with a fast f/2 aperture. This is where the KeyMission 80 gets its name, as this delivers an 80-degree field of view. Behind the lens is a compact-camera-sized 1/2.3” 12-megapixel sensor. The rear camera has a slightly wider 22-mm equivalent f/2.2 lens (for selfies, of course!) and a much smaller 1/5” sensor. The only controls on the camera itself are a shutter button, photo/video toggle dial, and a menu button. The rest of the camera operation is performed using the small 1.75” touchscreen. This display is quite low resolution, but I found it surprisingly bright—and usable outdoors.
One interesting feature of the camera is the included AA-4 holder. This can attach via a small strap to a belt, backpack strap, and many other handy locations. When the KeyMission 80 is snapped from this holder it will automatically power up, letting you start shooting nearly instantly. It is very quick and easy to remove the camera from the AA-4 holder, and I could see this action becoming second nature very quickly.
One of the major advantages of smartphones is the ease of editing and sharing images. While there have been cameras with Wi-Fi for half a decade now, the experience is nearly always clunky. The KeyMission 80 uses Nikon’s new SnapBridge app, one of the best implemented Wi-Fi wireless solutions out there. Without manually sending individual files or a group of files over the network, SnapBridge will automatically transfer your photos and video over to your mobile device as you shoot. The experience is a huge improvement over everything I’ve seen with other wireless-enabled cameras.
After all that talk of features, how is the image quality? Quite good and in line with a higher-end Coolpix camera, albeit one with a fixed lens. Colour is punchy, but not oversaturated, and there is little of the over-sharpening usually seen in smartphone shots. As a video enthusiast, I was a bit disappointed that Nikon’s wonderful ‘Flat’ colour profile is not found on any of the KeyMission cameras. That profile allows you to hang on to much more dynamic range than a standard profile, and the small sensor in the KeyMission 80 could use all the help it can get to keep detail in the highlights and shadows. Come to think of it, the photos could use the ‘Flat’ profile as well for maximizing dynamic range, as there is no RAW capture.
I do have a couple issues with the KeyMission design. For a device made to quickly capture action, the photo/video toggle seems like an unnecessary inconvenience. I would far prefer an independent photo shutter and video record button. Too often I went to shoot a photo only to see that I was still in movie mode, or vice versa. Secondly, I would love to see a tripod mount and time-lapse function, as this could be the perfect camera to leave unattended for an hour while a time-lapse clicks by. It’s so discreet no one would notice it.
So why would you use the KeyMission 80 instead of your smartphone? The KeyMission has a few considerable advantages. For starters, the KeyMission has very effective optical image stabilization, a feature usually on larger, premium smartphones. In addition, the KeyMission 80 is fully waterproof at shallow depths down to 1 metrw. We’ve seen smartphones with this feature as well, but I’m much less inclined to wade into the water with the device that has all my contacts, data and applications on it than I am with an inexpensive, dedicated camera. As well, the KeyMission 80 takes a removable MicroSD card for media, a feature that is sure to make many iPhone users jealous.
Most important to remember, though, is that the KeyMission is much smaller and lighter than any smartphone. It’s something I could wear on the outside of my jacket on a cold or rainy day and have it ready to grab a shot at a moment’s notice, instead of fishing in my pocket for my phone. The photo specs are in line with the best available on in a smartphone, but for much, much less money. If you’re looking for a small camera for those times you don’t want to carry (or risk damaging) a larger DSLR or mirrorless camera, check out the KeyMission 80 at thecamerastore.com or nikon.ca.