|Nikon D200 Detailed Review||
Nikon Digital Camera Series
© Darrell Young
You've probably been asking yourself recently, “How can I tell if the Nikon D200® digital camera is the one for me?” This technology preview will attempt to provide enough information to make an intelligent purchase decision, or just to learn about the camera and its systems.
If you've been considering the purchase of the Nikon D200, ask yourself the following searching questions, think about it, and discover your true inclination:
After honestly asking yourself the searching questions above, you may find that, indeed, the Nikon D200 is the ideal camera. Where else can one find a miniaturized D2x at a price more like a top end point & shoot camera? In the next image, please note the comparative sizes of the D2x, D200, and D70. The D200 appears to be only very slightly larger than the D70s, with many of the features found in the D2x. Incredible?…Yes!
Where the Nikon F5 had its F100 companion, the D2x has its D200. This is Nikon's 11th digital SLR camera with a DX-sized sensor, showing their commitment to the “DX” DSLR. All through the rest of this preview, you'll see that I am constantly comparing the D200 to the powerful Nikon D2x. The reason I do this is simple. The D200 is much closer to a D2x in features and power than to a D70s. Honestly, I cannot understand how Nikon is able to offer a camera built so well and so powerful, for so little money. I suppose it is because digital technology is finally becoming lower in cost. Soon, digital cameras will cost little more than film cameras they are replacing.
Basically, this camera was designed for “passionate” photographers who want to go beyond basic digital photography while using a smaller bodied, professional level camera. It combines brand-new technologies with many of the creative tools in the professional Nikon D2x. Do you consider yourself a passionate photographer?
With the new 10.2 megapixel CCD, one can make very large images with extremely high resolution and deep color. Since it uses the same 4-channel image processing system as the D2x, it is very fast, with smooth color gradations and high clarity. Nikon has also redesigned the low-pass filter on the D200. This is important, since this filter seriously affects image quality. On the older D100, the low-pass filter was quite strong, and the D100 had less sharp images out of the camera, but less moiré. With the introduction of the D70 the filter was weakened, and the images are significantly sharper immediately. But the D70 suffered with more "moiré" as a result. Moiré is the color banding effect one sees in fine detail, especially in grid-like subjects where the finest image detail has reached the resolution limit of the sensor.
On the D200, Nikon has developed a new Optical low-pass filter that helps prevent moiré, color fringing and shifting, while also "complementing the sensor's improved resolving power." This seems to signify that it will not blur the images as badly as some of the older low-pass filters did. From the SAMPLE IMAGES I've seen at 100% level, the D200 does NOT have a problem with initially unsharp images. In fact, as I zoom in on them, I am simply amazed at their sharpness, lack of noise, and clarity. If you have sufficient internet bandwidth, download this 6.89 megabyte sample. You'll see clearly what I mean!
One of the aggravating things about some digital cameras is the time it takes to get the camera ready to make an image. This is not a problem with the D200, since it only has a 0.15 second power-up time. This is about the equivalent of an eye blink, and is one of the fastest startup times in the industry.
Another, more serious problem with many digital cameras is trying to take an action picture and having a slow shutter response time cause one to miss the peak of the action. I remember my first digital camera, back in 1999. I was trying to take some pictures of my kids on a swing. I remember having to time the shutter release part of the way through the swing, so that the shutter would finally release, and hopefully catch the peak of the swing. I was unsuccessful more often than not. Once I got my D100, that was no longer a problem. Then I got my D2x, and it was so fast that I merely had to think about taking the image and it was done. What about the D200? Well, it has a 50 millisecond shutter release delay. The $5000 USD Nikon D2x has a 37 millisecond release delay. So close as to be imperceptible. Consider the release to be instantaneous!
Finally, one of the things that always bugged me about SLRs in general, is the way the subject disappears when the shutter fires. This is called "mirror blackout," and is caused by the mirror moving out of the way so that the shutter can open and let light in. If you are panning a fast subject, or are trying to maintain a good composition, the mirror blackout can at the very least be a distraction, and even cause problems with continuous shooting. On my D2x, with a tiny 80 millisecond mirror blackout, this is not a problem at all. The D200 follows closely behind with only 105 milliseconds. You'll have no problems panning with this camera!
Since the image capture rate of the D200 is 5-frames per second, one can be assured of getting good shots at all points of the action sequence. This is very fast, so, it's best to use higher-speed image storage cards. One is limited to 54 Large Normal JPEG images in a single burst. At higher resolutions one can take 37 Large Fine JPEGs or 22 NEF RAW shots before the camera buffer is full. If one has a fast CF card, such as a Lexar 80x or Sandisk Extreme III, smaller bursts can be taken continuously. The camera will be transferring images while one is shooting 6 or 8 shots. If timed carefully, one can shoot these small bursts without stopping.
Since the D200 also uses the same 4-Channel RGB Image Processing System as the D2x, it can create and process images faster than most other cameras on the planet. Look at the image below for a basic overview of the system:
What makes this system so powerful and fast is that the Red & Blue pixels each have their own output channel, and the Green pixels have two separate channels. Notice that each channel has a small processor devoted to it. This processor prepares the color and noise reduction while the image is still in an analog form. After the image is optimized it goes through the Analog to Digital conversion (A/D Conversion). Why is this important?
Well, if the D200 waited to optimize the image until after the digital conversion, it would also be optimizing any artifacts and noise that might accumulate during the A/D conversion process, thereby amplifying image defects. Instead, the camera carefully optimizes the image in its purest form, analog, then after it is done, converts it to a very clean digital image. And, since it does this using a processor for each channel, it is VERY fast!
MULTI-CAM 1000 AUTOFOCUS MODULE
I am particularly interested in the brand new Multi-CAM 1000 autofocus system. It has a similar 11-area AF sensor system to the Nikon D2x/h. But, the cool new thing is that the sensors can be combined into a 7-area “Wide” AF sensor system. The AF modes are very similar to the D2x also, with all four modes: Single AF, Dynamic AF, Closest Subject Priority Dynamic AF, and Group Dynamic AF. This means that the D200 will react like more like the D2x than the D70 in most lighting conditions. Nikon has announced that the D200's autofocus system is both “fast and precise,” which is good news for people wanting to use the camera for action photography.
In the 11-Area Autofocus picture above we can see that the actual autofocus sensors are significantly wider than the AF brackets in the viewfinder. Nikon has created a new mode as seen in the 7-Wide Area Autofocus picture above. Since the AF sensors tend to overlap anyway, why not simply add their signals together into a wide area sensor array. This seems like a shortcut to something similar to Group Dynamic autofocus, in my opinion.
From the Nikon documents I've read, it seems that they have really worked on making the D200 a "fast and precise" focuser. The 7-Wide Area sensor concept is made to help the D200 acquire moving subjects more easily, and allows you to compose the image more effectively, without the "focus and recompose" style needed by most all AF cameras, including the D2x. The D200 one-ups the D2x in this cool concept, in my opinion.
From the appearance of the image above, it seems that the D200 has one AF cross-sensor, while the rest work in one direction only. A cross-sensor will work with both vertical and horizontal subjects, while a normal AF sensor works only in the direction it lies along. The center sensor, which is the one most used anyway, is a cross-sensor, and works in any direction. The rest work only in a horizontal or vertical orientation.
Let's look at the various autofocus modes in the D2x, and talk about how they work:
If one learns to use these AF systems, one will have plenty of flexibility in autofocus. No longer are we limited to just Single Area and Dynamic AF, but instead have a range of powerful autofocus modes making up the excellent Multi-CAM 1000.
Nikon has created an exclusive metering system called 3-D Matrix Metering II. This is an enhanced version of the older Matrix Metering system. It uses a 1005-pixel RGB Exposure/Color Matrix Metering Sensor to more accurately determine the size of shadow and highlight areas. It not only senses the brightness of light, like in older metering systems, but it also evaluates color, contrast, selected focus area, and subject to camera distance. It then compares the current image with a database of over 30,000 images. The new 3-D Matrix Metering System II provides consistently accurate exposures.
Once again, this is the same system used in the D2x, which is known for its accurate metering. It looks like our new mini-D2x, the D200, will give us similar accuracy. I honestly feel that NO other camera manufacturer's metering system is as fast or accurate as Nikons.
The exposure modes available in the D200 are the same as you've grown used to in most Nikons. It has P-Programmed Auto with Flexible Program, S-Shutter-Priority Auto, A-Aperture Priority Auto, and M-Manual. Here is a brief bit of information on each of these modes:
As with the autofocus system, one can learn to use these metering modes to more effectively control the camera under varying conditions. Nikon makes photography fun and easy!
D200 Body & Sealing
The D200 is truly built tough, with a light but strong magnesium alloy frame. The whole body is sealed at the critical seams with o-rings and gaskets to ensure that you can use the camera in light weather without ruining it. If this isn't the mark of a truly professional camera, I don't know what is!
New Image Optimization Controls
I'm looking forward to using the new “advanced image optimizing” functions. With this new technology, one can fine tune the look of each image with in-camera controls such as sharpness, tone, color, saturation, and hue. One can also select from preset options like Normal, Softer, Vivid, More Vivid, Portrait, and Black & White.
This feels a lot like the way the D2x handles white balance, with custom controls for fine tuning, and preset controls for quick shooting. I'm especially excited by the new Black & White settings, since many images are better shot in B&W. Many photographers shoot a large number of B&W images. The D200 is ready to allow one to do it digitally.
As I think more about this, I see that the D200 allows us to carry different "film-types" and filters in-camera. If you were shooting portraits of people, and were considerate of skin tones and wrinkles, wouldn't you like to use the "Softer" or "Portrait" modes? For nature images, surely you want the Vivid (Provia) or More Vivid (Velvia) modes? And if you are an Ansel Adams type, wouldn't you rather shoot in the new Black-and-White (Plus-X or Tri-X by ISO setting) mode? What goodies Nikon is giving us with this camera!
Wireless (Wi-Fi) Transmitter (Optional)
The D200 is a “wireless” (Wi-Fi) camera if one purchases the WT-3 Wireless Transmitter. One can do wireless image transfer to a computer using the optional WT-3. This allows a photographer to shoot in a studio setting, while each image flows to a computer for immediate processing by another person. Or, a person might shoot a news event and have the images transfer wirelessly to a laptop computer in their car. The possibilities for Wi-Fi technology are endless. The WT-3 supports both “b” and “g” IEEE802.11 networking technologies.
iTTL Speedlight Technology
Very few would argue with the fact that Nikon has one of the best and most advanced Speedlight flash systems in the world. The D200 actually has Commander Mode built right into the camera, so it is not necessary to use an external flash unit to control the Nikon Creative Lighting System.
One can use the wireless technology inside the D200 to control up to two banks of an unlimited number of Speedlight units. Why use all those old cords and wires any longer? Why take the time to calculate flash and distance ratios? The iTTL system in the D200 is capable of making all exposure calculations in real-time, during the exposure, for perfect exposure in virtually any situation. One can use the built-in popup Speedlight as the controller for multiple banks of units like the SB-800, SB-600, or SB-R200 Speedlights.
Also upcoming is the new SU-800 Control Unit as seen in the above picture, along with the SB-R200 flash units. With this new close up system, one will be able to take some of the best and most creatively lit macro shots. Nikon now makes an adapter called the SX-1 and five adapter rings (52, 62, 67, 72, and 77mm) that allows you to mount eight of these little flash units directly on the front of your lens, in a circle. You can mount the adapter on a tripod for an eight-flash light bank, or do it the way the pretty lady below does it. Talk about flexibility!
The normal flash synchronization speed with the D200 is 1/250th of a second. That is useful for the majority of flash situations. But, if one needs more shutter speed, the Auto FP High Speed Sync mode can be used for flash sync speeds up to 1/8000th of a second.
White Balance Controls & Color Modes
Nikon provides several flexible options for getting a correct white balance for one's images. Here is a list of White Balance modes:
The D200 also has three distinct color modes in hopes of matching your needs and workflow. These are:
The Nikon D2x has these same white balance and color modes. This D200 camera is a marvel of power and flexibility for the cost involved.
EN-EL3e Battery & Meters
The battery system is based on the new EN-EL3e Lithium ION battery. Nikon has tested this battery out to 1800 images, which means that the average user, in real life, ought to be able to get from 500 to 1000 images between battery charges.
The D200 has an intelligent power management “Fuel Gauge” that constantly monitors the battery's remaining power in 1% increments. This is similar to the D2x again. It has a similar screen to let you see the battery's charge-level, how many shots you've taken on this battery's charge, and also how much “life” this battery has before it needs to be disposed of. Nikon calls it a "Charge Life" gauge, and it has five-steps from "0-4." I consider it very important for professional use; otherwise one would have a harder time knowing that the battery is nearing the end of its useful life.
The D200 is not compatible with the similarly-sized black-colored EN-EL3a battery. Instead it uses the EN-EL3e battery, which has a distinctive gray color. According to Nikon, the camera has "Recognition Software" to give a warning if a non-compatible battery is inserted in the camera. I truly would be afraid to ever use a non-Nikon brand battery in this camera.
Multiple Exposure and Image Overlay
These are two separate functions that give control in-camera that normally is only available in-computer. The Multiple Exposure system allows one to create a single image from up to 10 separate exposures, while controlling the division of exposure needed for an accurate final image.
The Image Overlay function allows one to create a composite image by combining two separate images in camera, and varying the opacity of the two images. The final results are saved as a stand alone image, and the original files are saved also. This could be used instead of a neutral density filter, by shooting for the dark to mid tones in one image, and the mid to high tones in the other, then combining the two images, in-camera, for one properly exposed image with much a wider light range.
MB-D200 Battery Pack with Vertical Shutter Release
The D200 has an optional "Battery Pack" available that not only gives extra battery capacity to the camera, but also provides the vertical shutter button and command dials.
Depth of Field and Func Buttons, and AF Assist Light
Yes, the D200 has them. Since the camera tends toward the professional side of the game, it would be a sin to not have a depth-of-field preview. The D200 has one. Also, since the FUNC button has proven so useful to D2x/h users, the D200 includes that button too. I use the FUNC button as a way to temporarily enable the spot meter on my D2x. I leave Matrix metering on all the time, and hit the func button to spot meter a small area of the subject. It looks like the D200 will allow me to do that also. See why I keep calling this thing a mini-D2x?
My D2x doesn't have an AF Assist Light (sigh!). If one is focusing in extremely low light situations where even a superb AF module can't get enough contrast to focus, this little, but powerful light turns on and assists the autofocus. I loved it on my D100, and miss it on my D2x. The D200 has one!
Nikon's Nikkor® lenses are the basis for the high-quality reputation of Nikon. They have held to the tradition of using the F-Mount, which stretches back many years into the past. But, even when only considering today's AF lenses, the D200 has a choice of over 50 high-quality Nikkor lenses.
Both 35mm and DX style AF lenses can be used on the D200. It maintains the 1.5x lens factor for extra reach with your long 35mm-type zooms. In addition, there are many fine aftermarket autofocus lenses available in the Nikon mount. The D200 will use those equally well.
If you are inclined to use older manual focus (MF) lenses, then the D200 is happy to oblige. Both AF and MF lenses are welcome. Here is a chart that shows the how the exposure modes and metering works with each lens type:
The AF-S DX VR Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G IF-ED lens released with the Nikon D200, and most often pictured with it, has the following specs (see picture below):
I included information on this new lens, since many people will buy it at the same time they buy the D200. It is a great lens, with many focal lengths covered. It has enhanced Vibration Reduction (VR) so that it can be handheld more effectively. Plus, it uses excellent Nikkor glass lenses, so it ought to take premium pictures. It's a good match for the D200.
The D200 comes with free PictureProject software for basic image sizing, rotating, and manipulation. One could also download the old dependable standby Nikon View 6.2+ from the Nikon USA website. Or, for about $100 USD one could purchase a copy of the excellent and powerful Nikon Capture 4.4, a new version, released in conjunction with the D200, and designed to take maximum advantage of its new features. And, finally, the new Adobe Photoshop CS2 and Elements programs will be compatible with the D200's RAW NEF formatting.
Menus & LCDs
Nikon has settled on a nice color scheme in its menus recently. The D200 has a pleasant menu color, with easy to read, larger fonts. The top “Control Panel LCD” provides a similar look to the D2x. At a glance the top LCD shows such shooting information as battery condition, card information, gridline display, shooting mode, shutter speed, f/stop, and the number of shots remaining. It's a nice large LCD with a backlight on the ON/OFF switch, just like the D2x has.
I especially like the large 2.5 inch image viewing LCD on the back of the D200. It takes up a good portion of the back of the camera, and allows plenty of room to view images. In fact, one can zoom-in on the images all the way up to 400% size. This will allow one to check an image for sharpness and proper focus before while there is still an opportunity to correct mistakes. The fact that we have available a four histogram image preview is excellent, in my way of thinking. In many cases, histogram preview is as important as light metering with a digital camera.
The camera provides a single "luminance" histogram with all three channels of the RGB combined. It also provides a view of the luminance histogram along with a histogram for each channel of the RGB.
On-Demand Gridline Display
This in itself is one of my favorite camera features. The gridline display can be turned on or off at will. If you are shooting a horizon shot, you'll need these grid lines to accurately level the camera to the horizon. But, if you are shooting a portrait, maybe they'll be in the way. Since they are "on-demand" you can leave them on all the time, only as needed, or turn them off. Since the Nikon N/F80 film camera, these gridlines have been available, and have become a much loved feature by many.
MOST IMPORTANT FEATURE DETAIL AT A GLANCE
Below is a basic summary of the features found in the D200:
Over the last several days of researching and writing about one of Nikon's newest cameras, I have become quite enamored with the idea of owning one myself. I love my Nikon D2x, but it certainly isn't a snapshot camera, with a large, heavier body, and no built-in flash.
The Nikon D200 seems to be a Nikon D2x in miniature. As I considered each of its advanced features, I was looking for weaknesses or slowness in comparison to my D2x. I found very little difference in meaningful features. Now, clearly, the D200 is not a top-of-the-line flagship camera like the D2x, or it would cost thousands more. And, I am sure that the features of the D200 should be considered subsets of the much higher cost proline D2X/H series. But, let me tell you...this D200 is much closer to the big dog than the small puppy.
Unless I was a full-blown professional, making a living with my camera, I might consider buying a D200 and some excellent professional glass instead of a D2x and some medium quality glass. The lens is much more important to the final quality of the image than the camera. I feel that many should consider getting a D200 and buying the best lenses, instead of buying the most expensive camera and cheap lenses.
Had the D200 been available back in February 2005 when I was slobbering over D2x brochures, I might have gone a different direction. My D100 from 2002 always took great images for me, and with these advanced feature sets the D200 is a MASSIVE step upwards. I honestly think that the camera should have sold for more like $2500 to $3000 USD than $1699.95, but, I'm not going to complain. This is a real deal for the "passionate" photographer who wanted a D2x but couldn't afford it. And for true professionals, it carries enough of the D2x's feature sets to be a real contender for situations where it might be best not to use a D2x due to the very high cost of camera replacement. Travel photography comes to mind.
Even though I own a Nikon D2x, you can bet that I'll also own a D200. I'll have to buy it for my dear wife, Digital Brenda, in order to get one without sleeping on the couch for a while. But, I'm sure she'll let me "borrow" it quite often!
For true NAS (Nikon Acquisition Syndrome) satisfaction, buy yourself a Nikon D200 as soon as possible. It'll help hold NAS off for at least 6-months, guaranteed!
Keep on capturing time...