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DCRP Review: Nikon D200
by Jeff Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: February 22, 2006
Last Updated: March 29, 2008
The Nikon D200 ($1699 body only) is the long-awaited upgrade to their popular D100, which was introduced way back in 2002. The D200 is a vast improvement over that camera, so much so that they're not really comparable anymore. The closest competitor is probably Canon's EOS-30D, which was just introduced.
There are so many new things on the D200 that I'll just list some of the highlights. It has a new 10.2 Megapixel CCD, which is quite a jump from the 6MP sensor on the D50/D70/D100 models. The LCD display got bigger, too: it's now up to 2.5" inches and it's one of the best ones I've seen. Camera performance is also superb, from nearly instant startup speeds to its 5 frame/second burst mode. Heck, even the battery life is impressive. And of course, the D200 has all the manual controls and optional extras that make a D-SLR so desirable.
I'll be covering those features and plenty more in our full D200 review, which starts right now!
What's in the Box?
At this point in time, there is only one kit available for the D200, and it does not include a lens. Here's what is included, though:
The D200 does not come with a lens or a memory card, so unless you already have those, you'll need to factor them into the initial price of the camera. In the lens department you have a huge number of choices, covering every conceivable situation. I used the new 18 - 200 mm VR (vibration reduction) lens for a while, and it was a good everyday shooter (though not perfect -- blurry corners did pop up). The only thing to remember is the D200's crop factor, which gives you an effective field-of-view of 1.5X of what it says on the lens. For example, a 50 mm lens will have the field-of-view of a 75 mm lens on a 35 mm film camera.
Now let's talk about memory cards. The D200 uses CompactFlash cards (including Type II cards like the Microdrive), and I'd suggest a 1GB card as a good place to start. A high speed memory card is definitely a good idea, with 66X the minimum speed that I'd recommend.
The D200 uses the all new EN-EL3e lithium-ion rechargeable battery, and it packs a punch. The battery holds 11.1 Wh of energy, which is about as high as you'll find in a digital SLR. Digital SLR manufacturers don't like to use the CIPA industry standard when taking about battery life, so numbers are not comparable between cameras. Nikon gives two very different battery life numbers for the D200: one is 1800 shots per charge, the other is 340. My guess is that the real number is somewhere in between.
The usual caveats about proprietary batteries like the EN-EL3e apply here. For one, they're expensive -- $40 a pop. Also, if you run out of juice "in the field", you can't just pop in some AAs to finish the day. The only D-SLRs that use AA batteries are from Fuji and Pentax.
D200 with optional battery grip; image courtesy of Nikon USA
Another power option that is available is to use the optional MB-D200 battery grip ($170). The grip can use two EN-EL3e or six AA batteries, so you get twice as much battery life. If you're near a power outlet then you can also pick up the EH-6 AC adapter (which is $75... sheesh).
When it's time to charge the EN-EL3 battery just snap it into the included charger. It takes a little over two hours to fully charge the battery. This isn't one of those handy chargers that plugs right into the wall -- you must use a power cable.
The beauty of a digital SLR is that nearly any accessory you can think of is available. First and foremost are lenses, and Nikon has tons of them. Same goes for flashes. The SB-600 ($185) and SB-800 ($315) are fully compatible with the camera's i-TTL flash metering system. Numerous eyepieces are available, and so is a handy "angle finder" ($185). The D200 supports several wired remote controls ($54 and up), and you can even connect a GPS unit (adapter is $100). And finally, Nikon has a leather case available for $60 so you can protect your investment.
Nikon includes version 1.6 of their PictureProject software with the D200, and it's a mixed bag. The interface is reminiscent of Apple's iPhoto, and I found the software to be responsive and stable. The default view can be seen above, and it's your standard thumbnail setup.
A view showing exposure info is also available. Double-clicking on an image enters the image edit window:
Here you can adjust things like brightness, color, and sharpness. You can also straighten images or use Nikon's D-Lighting feature to brighten up dark areas of your photos. Auto image enhancement and redeye removal features are also available.
One thing you can't do, amazingly enough, is edit RAW (NEF) images. For those who don't know, the beauty of RAW is that you can adjust image properties like white balance, exposure, sharpness, and color without affecting the image quality. It's like being able to take the shot again. Unfortunately PictureProject can only opens the NEF image -- and that's it. For that you'll need Nikon's optional Capture 4 software (see below) or Photoshop CS2, which has an excellent RAW import engine.
Other features in PictureProject include the ability to e-mail or print your photos, and you can burn them to a CD as well.
Also included is a trial version of Nikon Capture, which lasts for 30 days. After that you'll have to pony up $100 to keep using it, which is a shame, considering the price of the D200.
Nikon Capture lets you do all kinds of things, from editing RAW properties to removing dust from your photos. While it's interface isn't as user friendly as PictureProject, it's a heck of a lot more advanced.
Something else that Nikon Capture lets you do is control the D200 over the USB connection. You can adjust any of the camera settings and when you take a photo the image is sent right to your Mac or PC.
While it's not what I'd call user friendly, the manual included with the D200 is thick and complete. Don't expect things in layman's terms, but you will find answers to any question you may have about the D200 inside it.
Look and Feel
The D200 is a fairly large D-SLR with excellent build quality. When you pick up the camera you won't be thinking "wow, this doesn't feel like a $1700 camera" -- this is a high quality piece of equipment. The camera has a magnesium alloy body with a sturdy plastic cover on top, and all the seams are sealed for dust resistance.
The D200 is quite a bit larger than the EOS-20D
The camera fits well in your hands. There's a perfectly sized right hand grip, and my left hand found a nice spot underneath the lens barrel.
Now let's see how the D200 compares to other D-SLRs in terms of size and weight:
While the D200 is smaller than its predecessor, it's also quite a bit heavier. In fact, it's one of the heaviest D-SLRs on the market. That doesn't bother me at all, I think it's just right.
Enough about that, let's move on to our tour now!
The front of the D200 has a lot in common with Nikon's other D-SLRs. The lens mount is an F-mount, and virtually all "CPU" Nikkor lenses will work. If you have some ancient Nikon lenses you may want to check with tech support before assuming that they'll work with the D200. Again, I'll remind you about the 1.5X focal length conversion that I mentioned at the start of the review.
To the right of the lens mount is the lens release button. Below that is the focus mode switch that I'll discuss later. Above it, under a plastic cover, is the port to which you'll attach an optional wired remote control.
On the opposite side of the lens mount are two more buttons. The one on the top is the depth-of-field preview, while the bottom one is the customizable Function button. I'll tell you what options you can store in that button later in the review.
Above those buttons is the AF-assist lamp, which is used by the camera as a focusing aid in low light. It's nice to see a D-SLR with a dedicated AF-assist lamp, as more and more of the competition is going to a flash-based system.
To the left of the DOF preview button (just above that red triangle) is one of the two command dials on the D200.
Now let's look at the pop-up flash, which is at the top of
the picture. The flash, which is raised manually, has a guide number of 12/39,
which translates to 3 meters (9.8 feet) at F4 and ISO 100, which is very good, and about the
same as on the 20D. For more flash power, less redeye, and more flexibility,
you can attach an external flash by using the hot shoe or flash sync port that
you'll see later in the review.
[Paragraph updated 2/22/06]
This may sound funny, but the first thing I noticed about the D200 wasn't it's photo quality, construction, or performance. It was the LCD. The D200's 2.5" LCD may very well be the best one I've found on a digital camera. It's big, bright, and very sharp (230,000 pixels). As a reminder, LCDs on most digital SLRs are for post-shot review and menu navigation only -- and not for composing pictures. Nikon includes a plastic LCD protector with the camera, and believe me, it comes in handy: I crunched the back of the camera against something (can't remember what) and it cracked the protector instead of the LCD.
Directly above the LCD is the D200's optical viewfinder. The viewfinder shows 95% of the frame, and a diopter correction knob helps to focus what you're looking at. Below the field-of-view is a status display showing the current camera settings, and the eleven focus points are superimposed on the frame as well. If you're not satisfied with the built-in viewfinder, Nikon offers various magnifiers as well as an angle finder as accessories.
Now it's time to talk about the numerous buttons and dials on the back of the camera. I'll start with the two buttons just to the left of the viewfinder. The one on the left activates the D200's bracketing functions, while the one on the right deletes photos. You can bracket for exposure or white balance, taking up to nine shots in a row. On the exposure side you can select intervals between shots of ±0.3EV, ±0.7EV, and ±1.0EV. For white balance each increment is equal to about 10 mired.
Over on the opposite side of the viewfinder we find the AE/AF lock and AF-on buttons as well as the main command dial. Wrapped around the AE/AF lock button is a dial for controlling metering, with choices of 1005-point matrix, center-weighted, and spot. The AF-on button does just as it sounds -- it makes the camera focus.
Now let's look at the buttons around the LCD, starting with the five on the left:
The D200 has the same in-camera help system as the D50 and D70s. To use it you just select the menu item you need help for and then press the help button. A brief description is then shown on the LCD. Good stuff!
Over on the right side of the LCD you'll find the four-way controller (with a lock), focus mode selector, and a release for the door over the memory card slot. The four focus modes are dynamic area with closest subject priority, group dynamic, dynamic area, and single area. If you use either of the last two options you can use the four-way controller to manually select one of up to 11 focus points.
Yes, there are even more buttons and dials on top of the D200, so let's jump right into it, starting on the left side.
Those three buttons on the left side adjust the following:
The D200 has a boatload of white balance options. There are the usual presets as you see listed above, and each of those can be fine-tuned if you desired. You can also set the color temperature manually, with a range of 2500K - 10000K. If that's still not enough, the preset mode lets you use a white or gray card for perfect color in even the most unusual lighting conditions. As I mentioned earlier, you can also bracket for white balance.
Those bizarre"H" ISO options simply boost the sensitivity above ISO 1600. You can go 1/3, 2/3, or a full stop above ISO 1600 (which is up to 3200).
Under those three buttons is a dial for selecting the drive setting. You can choose from:
Those are some very impressive continuous shooting numbers!
The next thing to see on the top of the camera is the hot shoe, which is one of two ways to attach an external flash. Here you can put any external flash, though Nikon's SB-600 and SB-800 models will work best. The D200 supports wireless flashes, so you have them set up all over the room for some pretty neat tricks. If you're using a non-Nikon flash you may have to manually set the exposure on both the camera and the flash. The D200 can sync as fast as 1/250 sec with an external flash.
To the right of the hot shoe we find the LCD info display, which shows you virtually every camera imaginable. In low light situations you can use the power switch to turn on a backlight, so you can still see the screen.
Speaking of the power switch, that's above the info display, and it has the shutter release button inside it. Below that are buttons for Mode and Exposure compensation (-5EV to +5EV in 1/3EV or 1/2EV increments).
The mode button is the D200's mode dial, and it has just four options -- no scene modes on this camera. Here they are:
That's probably the smallest shooting mode table I've ever done, and it's on a $1700 D-SLR no less!
And with that, we're done with the top of the D200.
I have to admit, the D200 looks pretty funny with the stubby 50 mm lens attached!
Anyhow, here's what you'll find on this side of the camera, starting on the left and working my way down. The first button is the release for the pop-up flash, while the button below that selects a flash setting and also adjusts the flash exposure compensation. The flash settings on the D200 include front curtain sync, redeye reduction, redeye reduction w/slow sync, slow sync, and rear-curtain sync. The range for flash exposure compensation is -3EV to +1EV in 1/3EV increments.
Jumping down a bit we find the focus mode dial. The choices here are continuous, single, or manual focus. Back to the upper-right now, where under that plastic cover there's the PC flash sync port. This is the second way in which you can attach an external flash to the camera.
Below that, under rubber covers, are the rest of the I/O ports on the D200. Let's take a closer look:
The ports include (from top to bottom):
The D200 supports the USB 2.0 High Speed standard, for speedy transfer of photos to your computer.
On the other side of the camera you'll find the CompactFlash slot, which is kept behind a plastic door of questionable strength. As I said at the start of the review, the D200 supports both Type I and Type II CF cards, including the Microdrive.
On the bottom of the camera you'll find a metal tripod mount as well as the battery compartment. The door covering this compartment is fairly sturdy.
The included EN-EL3e battery is shown at right.
Using the Nikon D200
Just like with the D50 and D70s, the D200 is ready to start taking pictures as soon as you turn it on.
While autofocus speeds will vary depending on your choice of lens, I have no complaints after using the D200 with my 50 mm and the loaner 18 - 200 mm that Nikon provided. Typical focus times were 0.1 - 0.3 seconds, and barely longer if the AF-assist lamp is used. Low light focusing was excellent.
As expected, shutter lag was not noticeable.
Shot-to-shot speed is excellent as well. You can keep shooting as fast as you can compose your shots until the buffer fills up. That takes quite a while, especially with a high speed CompactFlash card (buffer capacity ranges from 19 - 76 images, depending on the quality setting used).
After you take a photo, you can hit the delete button to review and/or delete the shot you just took.
Now, let's take a look at the image size and quality choices on the D200:
That's a lot of options! As you can see, the D200 can record in JPEG and RAW format, or both at the same time. I explained why RAW is cool back in the first section of the review. The TIFF format is not supported on the camera.
Images are named using the following convention: DSC_####.JPG for sRGB images and _DSC####.JPG for AdobeRGB images, where #### is 0001 - 9999. File numbering is maintained ever if you switch or erase memory cards.
Enough of that, let's move onto menus now.
The menu system on the D200 has been refined a bit since the D50 and D70s, and it looks beautiful on the 2.5" LCD display. The menu is divided into five "tabs", which include playback, shooting, custom settings, setup, and recent settings. Here's a look at all of the menu items and what they do:
Well that was quite a list. There is a fifth "tab" in the menus, which contains the menu items which you have adjusted recently. This is a handy way to get to things that are frequently accessed, but buried in the menu structure.
I do want to mention a couple features that were listed above before moving on to photo tests. The first is the image overlay item, which will let you combine two RAW images into one. You can adjust the "gain" for each image, which allows you to blend the two photos fairly easily. Next up is the multiple exposure setting, which does just as it sounds. You can take up to ten photos in a row and they're combined into one. The interval timer mode allows for time-lapse shooting. Just choose the start time, interval between shots, number of shots taken, and you're off. The optional AC adapter is highly recommended for this feature.
The last thing I want to mention is the battery info screen, which displays battery life, "charge life", and how many photos you've taken. I don't think I've seen anything like this before on any digital camera.
Okay, let's move on to the test photos now. Since there's no lens bundled with the D200 I will be skipping the distortion test. I'll tell you what lens I used under each test photo.
The macro test shot turned out quite nicely. The subject has accurate colors (though I notice a slight reddish cast to the white background), good sharpness, and the "smooth" appearance that is a hallmark of digital SLRs.
The minimum focus distance will depend on the lens you can use. Nikon makes lenses specifically for macro shooting, which you'll probably want to look into if you're serious about close-up shots. I used the Nikon F1.8 50 mm lens for this test.
You can see how long ago I took this photo! Anyhow, the D200 did a great job with the night test scene. The camera brought in plenty of light (maybe a tad too much -- my fault), and everything's sharp and clean. Noise levels are low, and purple fringing was virtually nonexistent.
Using that same scene, let's take a look at how adjusting the ISO sensitivity affects the noise levels in images. I used the new Nikon F3.5-5.6 18 - 200 mm VR lens for the night tests.
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You'd be hard-pressed to find see any major differences between ISO 100 and 400. Details start to go bye-bye at ISO 800, and there's noticeable loss of detail at ISO 1600. In fact, the noise levels at ISO 1600 are pretty disappointing, and I'm not sure what kind of print you'll be able to squeeze out of that shot. I didn't test the ISO 3200 setting for the night shots, but you will see it in the other ISO test below. I should also point out that there are many steps in between the sensitivities that I showed above.
And here's the other ISO test. Above is the test scene I've used for several reviews now, and you should be able to compare the results between different cameras. I'm going to crank up the sensitivity again, this time all the way up. I used the Nikon F1.8 50 mm lens for this test.
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ISO 3200 (H1.0)
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As with the night shots, noise really doesn't start becoming noticeable until ISO 800. Since they are not long exposures like the night shots above, the ISO 1600 and 3200 images don't look nearly as noisy, and with some help from noise reduction software you should be able to get a medium-sized print out of those photos. The Canon EOS-5D's images are much less noisy, but then again, the camera costs twice as much.
There was no redeye in our flash test, and I wouldn't expect any on a camera with a big popup flash like the D200.
I was thrilled with the quality of the photos that I was able to take with the D200 -- especially with a decent piece of glass on it. Photos were well-exposed, with vibrant color, and the smooth (some might say soft) look that is a trademark of digital SLRs. Noise levels were low when the ISO sensitivity was low, though they were a bit higher than I would've liked once you get above ISO 640. Purple fringing was not an issue.
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our extensive photo gallery, printing the photos if you'd like -- they'll print big. Then and only then can you decide if the D200's photo quality meets your expectations!
Digital SLR cameras do not have movie modes.
The D200 has a pretty standard playback mode with no gimmicks (like all D-SLRs). Features include slide shows, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view, image protection and hiding, image rotation, and zoom and scroll. The camera is PictBridge-enabled for direct printing to a compatible photo printer.
The zoom and scroll feature lets you enlarge your image by up to 25 times, and then move around in the zoomed-in area. I found it way too difficult to use this feature -- Canon's zoom buttons work a lot better.
Deleting photos is easy, as there's a button right on the camera for that purpose. By using the playback menu, you can select a group of photos to delete -- a feature I always appreciate.
By default, the camera doesn't show you much information about your photos, but if you change the "display mode" item in the playback menu you can get screens full of useful information. Love that fancy histogram displays!
The D200 moves from photo to photo instantly in playback mode.
How Does it Compare?
It's hard not to like the Nikon D200. Really hard. Yes, it has a few flaws (namely its price and higher-than-I'd-like noise levels), but it has so many positives and was so fun to use that it easily earns my highest recommendation.
The D200 is a fairly large and very well built digital SLR. It has a magnesium alloy body with plastic and rubber on top, and it feels very solid in your hands. The camera does suffer a bit from "button clutter", and I'm not a big fan of the lack of a mode dial, either. The D200 has a large and beautiful 2.5" LCD display, which strangely enough was the first thing that caught my eye when I unboxed the camera. Being a digital SLR, every accessory imaginable can be had -- for a price. That includes lenses, flashes (via the hot shoe or flash sync port), viewfinder attachments, and a battery grip (which doubles the already great battery life).
The D200 is not aimed toward beginners, as the lack of automatic or scene modes attests. The D200 may be a little intimidating to new users, as well. Enthusiasts, however, will be thrilled with the manual controls and custom functions, of which there are too many to list here. I like how you can store four sets of camera settings, and the recent menu is a handy feature that no one has done before. The only thing that I really missed were the nice advanced white balance controls that Canon offers on their D-SLRs.
As you might expect, camera performance is first rate. The D200 starts up instantly, focuses quickly, and there's no shutter lag or delay between shots. The continuous shooting mode was amazing, especially with a high speed memory card. Low light focusing was excellent thanks to the built-in AF-assist lamp. The battery life on the camera was very good, as well -- I never had to charge it in three months of use.
Photo quality was excellent as well. Photos were properly exposed, with vivid colors and low purple fringing and noise levels. As is typical with D-SLRs, images are very smooth, and some folks may want to sharpen things up a bit. My only real photo quality complaint is that noise levels are higher than I would've liked at ISO sensitivities above 640. They're not horrible by any means, but after just reviewing the Canon EOS-5D, I'm a bit spoiled. Then again, the 5D costs $3299 and the D200 is $1699.
There are a few negatives to mention, though. First up is the price -- yes, the D200 is cheaper than the EOS-5D, but it's also $300 more than the EOS-30D, itself a very capable camera. Next is the software bundle: I'll be frank here -- it sucks. PictureProject is fine for your $350 Coolpix, but D200 users deserve better. If you plan on using the RAW image format you'll need to either pony up for Nikon Capture or Adobe Photoshop CS2, since PictureProject cannot actually edit the properties which make RAW worth using in the first place. For the price of the D200 they should just include Nikon Capture for free.
And those are really the only negatives that I can come up with. The most annoying of those is the noise issue, though with something like NeatImage you can clean up the yuck fairly well. If you're using a D200, it's probably safe to say that you own Photoshop CS2, so the crummy software bundle isn't as a big of a deal.
All things considered, though, the Nikon D200 is a heck of a camera. I really enjoyed using it, and I would recommend it to anyone, whether you're just starting out with a D-SLR, or if you're upgrading from an older Nikon D-SLR.
What I liked:
What I didn't care for:
Some other digital SLRs worth looking at include the Canon EOS-5D and EOS-30D, Fuji FinePix S3 Pro, Konica Minolta Maxxum 7D, Nikon D70s, Olympus EVOLT E-500, and the Pentax *ist DS2.
As always, I strongly recommend trying the D200 and its competitors before you drop the big bucks on a camera!
Photo GallerySee how the photos turned out in our gallery!
Want another opinion?
Feedback & Discussion
If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.
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