Disassembling my Nikon D80

My Nikon D80 finally failed on me. I couldn’t help but take every last piece apart to see how it worked.

I bought my first DSLR, a Nikon D80, a few days before it was released in 2006. I managed to find a camera store in Jakarta that hadn’t quite finished construction. I think the owner was a little short on cash, having invested in the building and expensive inventory. I called and said I wanted to buy a D80 when it’s available next week, so he offered to sell it that afternoon.

This camera went everywhere with me on an extraordinary number of adventures. The screws on the outside of the housing had rusted from exposure to the elements. All the rubber grips had been replaced because the glue had melted and the rubber stretched from being squeezed in my hot hands.

It was parked on the back shelf in 2012, after I upgraded to a D800. I pulled it out occasionally to do time-lapse shots, or other random duty.  After ten years of service the mechanism that lifted the mirror started locking. I first tried to fix it using the official repair manual and a couple of youtube videos as reference. When I realised that a key part was worn beyond repair, I knew there was only one thing left to do… a complete teardown.

Every possible space inside the body is crammed with electronics of one sort or another. Here the main board is lifted off revealing a second board that houses the sensor.

I’ll be honest, I have no idea how these electronics do their magic. It’s the mechanical pieces that intrigue me the most. Here’s a look under the top of the housing. When power is applied to the blue cylinder, the coil creates a magnet which pulls the piston downward, pulls the white lever, and releases the pop-up flash.

What I love about DSLRs, especially Nikons, is the mechanical feel to them. Unlike shooting with a phone, there’s something about the manipulation of physical controls that I like. Here’s the mechanics behind the front dial operated by my right index finger to control the aperture. As I turn the dial, it’s moving physical switches. The order in which the needles make contact tells the computer which way I’ve spun the dial.

The autofocus sensor was located underneath the lens.

Somehow, this little box of mirrors and sensors was able to determine the focal point with an incredible precision.

Here are the plastic and metal gears that control the mirror and shutter mechanisms. It was one of these little gears that was stripped, causing the mirror to lock up in mid-frame. Nikon DSLRs still use a physical shutter to control the exposure of the sensor to light.

After playing with all the parts, I put them back in the original gold box I had been saving all these years and took it for recycling. I was sad to see it go, but I have a new appreciation for the engineering behind my camera.

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