The Nikon D200 - the successor to the Nikon D100; it looks the part and has the specs to match. So how does the D200 fare when put to the test? The What Digital Camera Nikon D200 DSLR review investigates...
Nikon D200 Review
The Nikon D200 follows the D100, a camera released over three years prior and that proved popular with pros and semi pros alike, but has long since been past its sell-by date thanks to the new generation of cameras with better specification, better sensors and, importantly, better prices. Even Nikon has outclassed much of the D100’s features with models like the D70, while the Canon EOS 5D has introduced an extra element into the professional market with a full-frame sensor at an almost reasonable price. At last, Nikon has responded with the eagerly awaited D200. We knew it was coming, as there’s always going to be a new version of any camera; we just didn’t know when. Well the time is now. The What Digital Camera Nikon D200 DSLR full review investigates…
Nikon D200 Review – Features
On board the Nikon D200 sits a 10.92 million-pixel sensor that operates with 10.2 million effective pixels. Each of those are placed onto a Nikon DX-sized sensor, to produce a 1.5x magnification ratio. Okay, so it’s not full frame like Canon’s latest, but there are many arguments for and against either sensor format. Unlike Canon too, Nikon has gone for a CCD in this model, though the company uses CMOS in the D2X. It seems that Nikon is keen to use whichever sensor best suits the needs of individual models rather than try to cram one type into everything.
The Nikon D200 offers up to 5fps shooting in continuous mode, aided by the sensor’s fast four-channel data output, which quickly streams the information from the sensor to the LSI processor and on to the high-speed memory buffer before saving to a card. Nikon claims that when using a SanDisk Extreme III CompactFlash card the D200 can record a burst of 22 RAW files or 37 JPEGs.
Camera start-up speed is impressive too. The Nikon D200 starts up in 0.15sec, with a viewfinder blackout time of 105 milliseconds, and shutter lag of 50 milliseconds. On the shutter speed front the camera offers between 30 and 1/8000sec, matching top of the range models.
Similarly the D200 has a wide ISO sensitivity, covering ISO 100-1600. A boost mode named Hi-1, in 1/3 stop steps, is also available.
The Nikon D200 has a new autofocus module, the Multi-CAM 1000, which offers 11 individually selectable focus areas, dropping to a seven-sensor wide area AF with dynamic AF in continuous server mode to aid in tracking moving subjects as they move across the viewfinder or towards the camera. There is also a Closest Subject Priority Dynamic AF function where the camera will pick out and focus on the closest subject in the frame.
Technology developed for the D2X has been added to the D200, notably the 3D Matrix Metering II, the updated version of Nikon’s metering system. If you prefer to use good old centre-weighted metering, you can, and 2% spot metering coupled to the active AF area is also available. There’s also the usual blend of Program, Aperture priority AE, Shutter priority AE and Manual exposure modes. Each of these can be partnered with a choice of drive modes including two continuous high-speed options.
In the innards of the D200’s menu system we find a large choice of options, including the choice of Adobe RGB or sRGB profiles. These can be further fine-tuned with the three optimised colour modes for portraits, landscapes and wide colour gamut. Each are labelled as Mode I, II and III. There are also more fine-tuning options for sharpening, tone, contrast and colour.
Unlike many of the sub-£1000 cameras, the Nikon D200 has reviewed the situation and offers a couple of multiple exposure options. The camera can record up to 10 multiple images on a single frame. Alternatively you can blend two selected images together in camera, with opacity controls to get the balance right.
Design & Performance
Nikon D200 review – Design
The D200 has a magnesium alloy body, with a rubberised coating and grip. This is further enhanced with sealed seams to protect the camera from dust and moisture. The result is a strong-feeling camera that still maintains some lightness for carriage. Larger lenses will obviously add to the weight, but unlike with the D2X or Canon 1DS MkII, there’s less need for a spinach-enhanced diet to carry the kit around.
The D200 controls are well placed, with fast access to the necessaries such as WB, ISO and file quality controls on the left of the top-plate. These settings can also be changed in the menu, but that’s much slower to do.
The general high-quality build is continued with the various ports. All the D200’s ports are protected by a couple of tough rubber covers, while the flash socket has a standard screw-in button cover. On the left is the CF compartment, which is locked and released by a secure flip switch on the back of the camera.
Nikon D200 review – Performance
There’s not much to dislike about the Nikon D200. The controls are comprehensive and well placed. Start-up speed is good: turn it on and you’re ready to go. The frame rate is good too at 5fps, but this slows down to around a frame a second once the buffer is full. I was still able to rattle off 144 frames in a minute, using the best quality JPEG and recording to a SanDisk Ultra II 1GB card.
A speed issue which really impresses me is the AF; the D200 has few problems in most instances, though it struggles when trying to focus on a flat surface such as a blank wall. That’s par for the course though, the AF needs some area of contrast to recognise the subject. There’s a built-in AF illuminator, which can be turned off if you want to be less intrusive. Even when the feature is turned off, the camera manages to focus quickly in low light.
The 2.5in LCD is okay but I found that, for JPEGs at least, the brightness needs to be dropped by –2 in the set-up menu to match the results on my calibrated PC monitor. If you try to use the LCD as a guide to exposure then you are likely to end up with underexposed pictures, as they look brighter on the LCD. However, in bright light the monitor can be difficult to see.
The D200 menu follows the same style as previous Nikon systems, such as the D70 and is therefore easy to read with large type and with helpful explanatory comments accessed by pressing the Help (?) button. There is a vast array of choices to customise the camera, from digital control of colour and contrast for example, through to Folder naming, flash sync speed settings and ISO and EV increment options of ±1/2 or ±1/3. In short, you can make this camera handle the way you want, making it very user friendly.
Image Quality & Value for Money
Nikon D200 Review – Image Quality
There’s something odd going on under the hood of the Nikon D200, especially as regards the JPEG images. Images are generally underexposed, but I don’t think it’s because the meter is wrong, but because the camera is trying to save the highlight information. Whenever there is a certain amount of whites in the image it seems to underexpose. However, the images can be corrected and perfect results obtained. You can compensate in-camera by following the retrospective histogram, but it depends on a wide range of experience of knowing how the D200 will react in different situations. You expect to do a certain amount of work with RAW images – so this is not really a problem, and in this respect I think the D200 is a camera that is designed for, and should be primarily used as, a RAW shooter. In fact, most users will probably prefer to shoot RAW anyway to gain maximum quality.
One of the most impressive things is the D200’s lack of image noise; even at ISO 1600 the results are remarkably good, with very little of the luminance noise I’d normally expect to see, even in shadow areas. The D200 has a boost function which, at ±1EV, has some interference but still less than we’re used to seeing. This is an outstanding strength of the camera, and one worth shouting about.
The image quality of the D200 is difficult to judge – the camera performs in different ways than we normally expect, with some strange-looking histograms, but exceptional images are possible, they just need work to achieve them.
Nikon D200 review – Value for Money
A 10MP DSLR for little over a grand seems pretty good value to me, especially if you consider the leap in price to the next camera class, such as the Canon EOS 5D or the Nikon D2X. Obviously the Nikon D200 doesn’t have the build quality of the D2X, but the build and performance are impressive nonetheless. If you are a dedicated Nikon user, maybe upgrading from the D70, then the D200 is a good value leap.
The Nikon D200 is a lovely camera to use, but be prepared to put some time into image editing and processing as it’s really geared for RAW rather than JPEG. In terms of what can be achieved, the D200 is very capable and offers bagfuls of potential.