The Nikon D5100 was well received by beginners and mid-level enthusiasts. Can the new Nikon D5200 go one better or does it simply lower the price of its predecessor to make it more affordable? Read on to find out...
Up until recently, the Nikon D5100 has been the popular choice for beginners and mid-level enthusiasts who’d like a few more perks than the most basic DSLR in Nikon’s range, offering a good blend of excellent image quality and impressive features at a reasonable price. The introduction of the Nikon D5200 raises two questions; has Nikon improved on an already successful model and do the latest features justify the extra expense?
Nikon D5200 review – Features
When the Nikon D5100 arrived on the scene, the main talking point was its 16.2MP sensor, which was lifted from the Nikon D7000. In keeping with the tradition of fitting a new sensor inside each new Nikon D5000 series of DSLR that’s launched, the Nikon D5200 features a 24.1MP CMOS chip. Although the maximum 6000 x 4000 pixel output may share similarities to the Nikon D3200’s 6016×4000 pixel resolution, the sensor the D5200 is built around is entirely new and offers a similar ISO range to the Nikon D5100. Before entering the Hi1 and Hi 2 settings, the ISO can be set between 100-6400. If a shooting situation calls for you to use a higher ISO it’s possible to push beyond the native limit to settings that are equivalent to 12800 (Hi1) and 25,600 (Hi2).
Another development is the inclusion of an EXPEED 3 image processor. This latest processing engine is also found within Nikon’s full frame DSLRs and allows the Nikon D5200 to shoot a continuous burst at 5fps – a 1fps improvement over the Nikon D5100. Adding to that, the processor promises to render colour extremely accurately and helps to enhance the cameras movie capabilities with it now being able to fully support full HD video at 60i and 50i frame rates.
The Nikon D5200 is available in three colours – black, red or bronze. It’s available body only or with Nikon’s 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 G VR kit lens.
The Nikon D5200 advances in other areas too. It incorporates a more complex 39-point AF system that offers a much-improved AF coverage across the frame. It uses the same Nikon Multi-CAM 4800DX auto focus sensor module that was first introduced into the Nikon D7000 and features nine cross-type sensors as opposed to the Nikon D5100’s single cross type point in the centre. Though some people say you can never have too many AF points, there is the option to set the camera to an 11-point array from within the Custom setting menu, which can help move the AF target more quickly from one side to the other.
An invaluable feature for sports, action and wildlife photographers is the Nikon D5200’s 3D focus tracking capability. Not only does it shift the focus point automatically to follow the movement of a subject in the frame, it’s intuitive enough to forecast the position of the subject at the moment the image is captured based on the measurement of the subject’s movement and speed. This predictive AF-area mode is supported by five other AF-area modes that include single-point AF, dynamic-area AF (9, 21 or 39 points) and auto-area AF. As for focus modes, there’s a choice of four – auto-servo AF (AF-A), single-servo AF (AF-S), continuous-servo AF (AF-C), not forgetting manual focus.
There are subtle differences in the design of the body between the Nikon D5200 (left) and the Nikon D5100 (right).
The Nikon D5200 also embraces the 2016-pixel metering sensor as used within some of Nikon’s more advanced DSLR’s. Both the D7000 and D600 use this tried and tested metering system and it’s an example of a more advanced features slowly filtering down to more affordable cameras. Elsewhere, exposure compensation can be set to +/-5EV in increments of 1/3 or 1/2EV and there’s the option to use it when creating video should the lighting situations change partway through a recording.
The Nikon D5200 differs to its entry-level cousins by featuring a vari-angle display. This aids high and low angled shooting but it’s not a touch screen like Canon’s EOS 650D – one of the Nikon D5200’s key rivals. The screen measures 3in from corner to corner and has a 921k-dot resolution. Two inbuilt features that the Nikon D5200 sadly lacks are GPS and Wi-Fi. With more and more CSCs and DSLRs offering this connectivity built in as standard, you could say Nikon are slightly lagging behind the times. If these features are of interest, the Nikon D5200 will support them but you’ll be required to spend more on the GP-1 GPS unit (£199) and WU-1a wireless mobile adapter (£49).
To make it attractive to moviemakers, the Nikon D5200 features an impressive full HD video specification. As mentioned earlier, there’s 60i/50i recording at 1920×1080, which is backed up by 30,25 and 24fps frame rates. A point to note here is that the camera uses a central crop of the sensor area when recording in 50i. To help compose your video, an opaque border is displayed around the outer edge of the screen when this setting is selected. Movie files are captured in the user-friendly .MOV format using the H.264/MPEG-4 compression and when Live View is activated you’re given the option to select full-time servo, which lets record and autofocus simultaneously. To add to all this, there’s also onscreen audio monitoring and a 3.5mm port to attach an external microphone, however there’s no audio-out port to monitor sound through headphones.
Other than some very minor changes, the D5200’s body is unchanged from the D5100. This reinforces the fact that Nikon has focused its mind on updating the internals rather than unnecessarily experimenting with a new exterior design. As with all tests, there’s no better way of comparing the design of one camera to another than in a side-by-side comparison so we called in the D5100 to draw our own conclusions.
From the front, it’s hard to identify the design tweaks that have been made to the D5200 when you put it up against its predecessor – the D5100.
Interestingly, the D5200 is 45g heavier than the D5100, despite it sharing almost identical dimensions and the same footprint The handgrip is marginally chunkier than its entry-level cousin but it is not as beefy to hold as the D7000 so it an ideal compromise between the two.
As we discovered when handling the camera, users with large sized hands may find that their little finger drops off the bottom of the grip and rests on the underside of the battery compartment. This is a minor point however on an otherwise comfortable and well-sculpted handgrip. Ergonomically, little has changed in terms of button arrangement. There’s no top plate LCD display and a mode dial takes its place, with a toggle-type Live View switch around the perimeter. This makes for an intuitive way of accessing Live View, however others may prefer a more conventional button beside the screen.
The D5200 features a clean and uncluttered arrangement of buttons of buttons at the rear.
One new button is located to the right of the Live View switch. It offers access to continuous shooting and self-timer settings. Ideally, we would have preferred this to control ISO as unfortunately there’s no dedicated button for this on the body. Instead you have to assign it to the function button that’s found to the side of the pop up flash or head to the graphic user interface (GUI). On the subject of the GUI, the redesigned dark guise makes the dials and settings clearer to read. Shutter speed, Aperture and ISO are displayed at the top, with the exposure indicator, AF area mode and other settings listed beneath. Nikon has paid close attention to detail – the graphic which displays aperture even mimics the lens blades opening and closing in relation to the aperture you set. It makes for a very intuitive operational experience and we envisage it won’t be the last time we see it featured on Nikon DSLR’s.
At the rear, there’s a renewed d-pad that’s less plasticky than the previous version. As with most DSLRs at this price point, there’s only one command dial which means you’ll need to hold down the exposure compensation button when you want to switch between changing shutter speed and aperture. This does affect the handling somewhat, particularly if you’re familiar with using a DSLR with two scroll dials. It’s a compromise you have to make if you desire a smaller body that’s more affordable.
The good news for anyone upgrading from the D3100, D3200 or D5100 is that the camera uses the same EN-EL14 battery and accepts all types of SD card. What’s more, the simple and effective design lends itself to both newcomers and those who may be looking at it as an upgrade option from an older Nikon DX-format DSLR.
Nikon D5200 review – Performance
The Nikon D5200 is a camera that’s capable of great shots in demanding shooting situations. Tested with a variety of DX-format lenses and a pro-spec telephoto zoom, the AF system performs admirably and does a top job of following subjects at speed when the 3D tracking mode is deployed. Although the 18-55mm kit lens may be adequate for beginners, it doesn’t set the world alight in terms of its speed or performance. To get a taste of what it’s like to own a DSLR with a fast and accurate AF system, you will need to pair the D5200 with premium glass.
The coverage of the Nikon D5200’s AF points across the frame is in a different league to what we’ve seen before on a DSLR of this spec. As we discovered, there’s rarely a time when an AF point doesn’t cover your subject. In Live View it’s a similar story – the AF target can be positioned anywhere, even to the far edges of the frame. Our only gripe was the speed it takes to move the AF target around. When you move the AF target from the bottom right to the top left of the frame for instance, it takes six to seven seconds by which time a photo opportunity could have easily passed you by. You’ll find there is the option of centralising the target by hitting OK, but sporadic movements need to be made faster. Live View focusing is noticeably slower than when you compose through the viewfinder, however with the mirror flipped out of the way the contrast-detect AF provides good accuracy after its locked on for pin-sharp results.
Despite some criticisms being raised in various quarters of early samples producing better sharpness in Live View than when the mirror moves during an exposure as a result of using the optical viewfinder, we experienced no such issues of this in our tests. The only Live View omission we picked up on was the 18-55mm kit lens having a tendency to hunt and whir a little. During our video tests these whirring noises were picked up by the stereo microphone and easily traceable when playing back video footage.
The creative effects modes have also been carried across from the Nikon D5100. Some of these include night vision, selective color and silhouette. Just like its forerunner though, there is some lag when previewing the colour sketch and miniature effect modes in real time on the LCD display, which became rather irritating over time.
Loaded with a SanDisk Extreme Pro card, the D5200 managed to capture six frames at 5fps shooting Raw+JPEG before the buffer prevented more being taken. After a six second breather the camera was ready to record an identical burst. Switching the image quality to Fine JPEG revealed it can shoot an unlimited amount of images at 5fps, which is an impressive performance by consumer DSLR standards, especially when you consider the 24MP resolution of the images.
As for the Nikon D5200’s screen, it’s clear, sharp and can be tilted to compose shots from almost any shooting angle. The 921k-dot resolution isn’t as impressive as some of its closest rivals, but is sufficient for assessing image sharpness. The independent zoom buttons make it quick to inspect images under close inspection and the button to the left of the command dial is handy to protect images from being accidentally deleted.
Nikon D5200 full resolution image (above).
Nikon D5200, detail view at 100% (above).
Tone and Exposure
Adopting the 2,016 pixel RGB sensor from the D7000, the D5200 provides matrix, center-weighted and spot metering modes. With the metering mode set to matrix for general shooting, the D5200’s images appear well exposed on screen and a study of the histograms in Photoshop and Camera Raw confirms that the metering system works well.
We found ourselves rarely dialing in any exposure compensation to produce accurate exposures in scenes with a wide dynamic range. If you’d like the camera to help restore more detail from a high contrast scene, Active D-Lighting is also available and applies automatic digital processing to the brightest or darkest areas of the image. Six settings are available in total – auto, extra high, high, normal, low and off.
White Balance and Colour
The Nikon D5200 produces bright and vibrant images straight out of the can. Colour accuracy is a good representation of what your eye sees at the point of capture, but JPEGs are fractionally more saturated than Raws as a result of some in-camera processing. From the shooting menu the picture control can be set to Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Landscape. As we found out though, you’ll want to use Standard or Neutral for the most faithful results. Colour saturation remains vibrant at high sensitivities – you’ll find there are no obvious signs of muted colour at ISO 25,600 but there is a subtle magenta cast.
Sharpness & Detail
The 24.1MP sensor delivers highly resolute images with impressive levels of detail when it’s coupled with premium lenses. Attached to our Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG test lens, the D5200 managed to resolve 32 lines per millimeter on our resolution chart at ISO 100, with the aperture set to its sweet spot of f/8. This high level of detail offers plenty of scope for cropping into images without detrimentally affecting image quality.
With so many pixels crammed onto its APS-C sized sensor, how would the D5200 perform at high ISO? The good news is that it handles luminance and colour noise commendably. It’s not until you push beyond ISO 800 that you begin to notice the faintest traces of noise creeping in to images when they’re viewed at 100%. ISO 1600 and 3200 are both perfectly useable and so is ISO 6400 after the luminance noise reduction slider is increased to 35 within Adobe Camera Raw. You’ll want to stay clear of the extended settings. Chroma noise becomes more obvious at ISO 12,800 and 25,600. The two highest equivalent ISO settings also have an adverse affect on edge sharpness.
Costing £649 body only, or £719 with the 18-55mm VR kit lens, the D5200 works out at £300 more than the D5100. With the latter rapidly dropping in price since the D5200’s release, the D5100 can be picked up very reasonably for £419 with a kit lens. The developments to the D5200’s internals – most notably the adopted 39-point AF system and 24MP sensor – result in a truly impressive specification for a consumer model. It delivers stunning image quality and it’s a pleasing camera to use, but is it really worth splashing out the extra on the D5200 when Nikon is still making the D5100, which is cheaper to buy?
The D5200’s redesigned graphic user interface makes it a more intuative DSLR to use when you’re setting up the camera settings.
If you plan to take advantage of the higher resolution, 50i video frame rate and Wi-Fi compatibility with the optional WU-1a adapter, then yes it is. If you can survive without these features and feel you can cope with an 11-point AF system, we’d personally opt to save our money and settle on the D5100.
The D5200 features a 3.5mm port for attaching an external microphone. There’s no additional 3.5mm port however to monitor audio as it’s recorded.
To summarise then, the D5200 is a well-received addition to Nikon’s DX-format family of DSLR’s. It brings more advanced functionality to a smaller and more affordable model, overlapping some of its latest features with the Nikon D7000. It may not be a camera that offers many innovative features that we haven’t witnessed before, but nevertheless it’s a great performer for the audience it’s aimed at. It picks up a 90% overall score and a Gold award.
The view looking down at the D5200’s mode dial and top plate buttons.
Alternatives and Rivals to the Nikon D5200
£419 (with kit lens)
Launched two years ago, the D5100 features an APS-C sized sensor much like the D5200. It features a lower 16.2MP resolution but maintains a similar ISO range which runs up to ISO 6400 and beyond to 25,600 in the expanded settings. The EXPEED 2 image processor can’t keep up with the D5200, shooting a burst that’s 1fps slower in comparison. The screen is identical as are the creative effects, but the D5100 has an older graphic user interface that’s no where near in the same league or as intuitive as the D5200’s. Price wise, it’s £300 cheaper when you compare the kit lens bundles and is a valid alternative if the D5200 is out of your budget.
£609 (with kit lens)
At the time of writing this review, Canon’s EOS 650D costs around £110 less than the D5200. If you opt for it over the D5200 you’ll benefit from a touch screen display that boasts a higher 1,040k-dot resolution. This can be used to tap focus in Live View and use swipe gestures when reviewing images. What’s more it has a higher native ISO range that spans from 100-12,800 and is extendable up to 25,600 just like the D5200. The disadvantages of the 650D are that it only has a 9-point AF system; it’s around 10% larger in size and has a slightly lower resolution output with an 18MP sensor as opposed to 24.1MP.
£719 (with kit lens)
There’s little to separate the Nikon D5200 from the Sony A65 in terms of price but there are differences in their specifications. The A65 relies on a sensor-shift image stabilisation rather than optical and has the ability to shoot full resolution images at a breathtaking 10fps. Behind the A65’s translucent mirror lies a 24.3MP EXMOR sensor. It can shoot up to ISO 16,000 and offers 100% viewfinder coverage. The viewfinder is electronic rather than optical and although the A65 has a less complex 15-point AF system, it can automatically stitch a panoramic image and geotag your shots with GPS data.
Not one for lifting their foot off the gas after the recent arrival of the D600, Nikon has launched their second DSLR in as many months. The arrival of the Nikon D5200 expands the company’s lineup of mid-range DX-format DSLR’s and rather than replacing its forerunner, the D5100, it’s intended to run alongside.
The 16.1Mp sensor that was previously used in the D5100 and also the D7000 has been replaced by a 24.1MP sensor. Completely new and entirely different to the D3200’s 24.2MP sensor, the D5200’s chip is partnered alongside an all-new EXPEED 3 image processor and provides an ISO range that stretches between 100 and 6400. Expanding this to the Hi 1 setting allows you to shoot at an ISO equivalent of 12,800 and if you push the sensitivity to the Hi 2 setting you’re able to shoot at ISO 25,600.
For AF the D5200 adopts the same AF system that’s used within the D7000. The 39-point layout of AF points is a vast improvement on the D5100’s 11-point AF system that only featured one cross type sensor in the centre. In contrast the D5200 now has nine cross type sensors for increased AF speed and accuracy. The AF system isn’t the only feature the D5200 adopts from the D7000 either. The 2,016-pixel RGB metering sensor and scene recognition system have also been used, with the latter optimising exposure, autofocus and white balance all at the same time before the shutter is fired.
The D5000 series of Nikon DSLR’s differ to their entry-level cousins by featuring a flip out screen. The D5200’s screen measures 3in from corner to corner and has a 921k-dot resolution. The guided user interface (GUI) is another area that has seen modification. The dark guise is designed to make the dials and settings clearer to read and Nikon has paid close attention to detail – even the aperture blades open and close in relation to the aperture setting you use.
The Live View switch around the circumference of the mode dial is very similar to the D3100’s design. Full HD (1920×1080) video at a variety of frame rates are offered (60i and 50i included) with full time servo AF (AF-F) for focusing on moving subjects whilst recording. There’s also an in-built stereo microphone, 3.5mm external microphone port and audio level monitoring.
Just like the D3200, Nikon’s WU-1a wireless mobile adapter has also been made to be compatible with the D5200. This miniscule device plugs into the side of the camera and allows you to transmit images directly to an Apple or Android smart device such as an iPhone or iPad.
As for the speed it shoots, the D5200 is capable of a 5fps continuous burst – a 1fps improvement over the D5100. If you’d like to get really creative there’s a range of seven special effects. Some of these include selective colour, miniature, high and low key as well as silhouette. These are applied to images and movies in real time through Live View so you can see what your final creation will look like before you shoot it. In addition, in-camera High Dynamic Range (HDR) and D-lighting capture detailed images of high-contrast scenes, increasing creative possibilities.
At the same time of the D5200 launch Nikon also announced a new wireless remote and wireless transmitter. Using the 2.4GHz radio frequency, the WR-R10 and WR-T10 let you control the camera remotely.
Aimed at hobbyists and photographers who want to get creative with their imagery, the D5200 will be made in black, red and a more unusual bronze colour. Body only it’ll cost £719 or £819 with the 18-55mm kit lens.
A sales start date is expected for December so be sure to check back to What Digital Camera.com for the full review.