Performance

Overall Performance

The Nikon D5200 is a fairly responsive camera in daily use. Onscreen response to button and dial operation is brisk whether you're navigating through menu screens, zooming in and out of live view previews or changing shooting parameters. Although the camera has external controls and a shortcut '[i]' menu for commonly changed settings, users looking to take more refined control over operation such as enabling distortion control or adjusting Auto ISO parameters will have to delve into the main menu system. We'd love to see Nikon adopt touchscreen capability similar to that we reported in our Canon EOS T4i/650 review in order to make the process of changing settings even faster. At the very least we'd like to be able to use the rear thumb dial to scroll through menu options instead of relying solely on the 4-way multi selector.

Continuous Shooting and Buffering

The D5200 offers two burst modes. When set to its Continuous High (CH) mode, the camera can shoot as fast as 5 fps. A Continuous Low (CL) option lets you shoot at 3 fps. A relatively small buffer, however, limits your maximum burst rate significantly when shooting in a Raw-enabled mode. If you want to shoot more than 4-5 frames at the camera's fastest frame rate, you'll first need to put the D5200 in its JPEG-only capture mode. We wouldn't want to make too much of this particular limitation in a camera of this class. Those who shoot in live view, however, should be aware that once an exposure is made, the rear screen remains dark until the image data is written completely to the SD card, a process that takes a couple of seconds even for a single capture.

AF and metering systems

The D5200 has the same autofocus and metering system as the D7000 - a big step up from the D5100. The most obvious difference is that the D5200 has 39 autofocus points, rather than the 11 of its predecessor. Nine of the D5200's AF points are cross-type, i.e. sensitive to both horizontal and vertical detail, rather than the D5100's solitary central cross-type point.

In practice, the D5200 acquires focus fairly quickly, although users of a comparitively slow-focusing consumer optic like the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens should be aware that Nikon offers a range of lenses that can offer faster focusing performance. We've found focus on the D5200 to be reasonably accurate across its AF array regardless of which lenses we used. When light levels fall significantly, though, particularly with lenses having a relatively narrow maximum aperture we got more consistent results when using the camera's central AF points versus those on the outer edges.

In continuous autofocus mode (AF-C), the D5200's 2016 pixel metering sensor is also used to aid subject tracking - providing color information about the subject to the AF system to determine which AF point to use. The D5100's metering system had only 420 pixels, resulting in lower tracking precision. This means the D5200 can, for example, track faces when they're further away and smaller in the frame.

With the D5200 you also have the option to use just 11 AF points (Custom Settings a2). Do so, and the points you're left with are highlighted red in the above diagram. Reducing the number of available points makes it faster to select an off-center point if you don't need the level of precision that using all 39 provides. You can also overlay a composition grid into the viewfinder (Custom Settings, d2).

As you'd expect, contrast-detect AF performance in live view lags far behind that of the D5200's phase-detect viewfinder shooting. While the D5200 is an improvement over early-generation Nikon DSLRs in this regard, its live view AF performance still suffers in comparison to any recent mirrorless camera.

Flash

At its default settings, the D5200 works hard to avoid clipped highlights in flash exposures, which can sometimes lead to slightly heavy results. Flash exposure compensation can easily be set, however, from -3 EV to +1 EV.

The pop-up flash on the D5200 has the same specs as those on both the D3200 and D7100 with a guide number of 12m at ISO 100. This offers sufficient power for casual portraits and fill flash.

Shadow noise

Nikon's DSLRs have a well-deserved reputation for outstanding noise performance. And the D5200 is one of few DSLRs in its class to offer a 24MP sensor. So we thought it would be interesting to see how the D5200's Raw files perform against its APS-C rivals. In the comparison below we've drastically opened up the shadows using Adobe Camera Raw 7.4 with sharpening and noise reduction turned off, to shine a light on the sensors' inherent capabilities. We've compared the D5200 against both the 24MP Sony SLT-A65 and the 18MP Canon EOS Rebel T4i/650D. All three cameras were shot at ISO 100.

Nikon D5200 - ACR +3.0EV 100% crop
Sony SLT-A65 - ACR +3.0EV 100% crop
Canon EOS 650D - ACR +3.0EV 100% crop

As you can see, the D5200 exhibits impressively little chroma noise. It easily surpasses the noise performance of the lower resolution Canon EOS T4i/650D. And while the older Sony SLT-A65 also bests the Canon, it can't quite match the D5200 in terms of noise performance or very fine detail retention.

Real world sample

While the results of our studio scene reveal interesting information about the sensor's maximum capabilities, it's important to place those results in the context of real-world photography. Below is an image shot outdoors at ISO 100 using the D5200's matrix metering. We've taken the image's .NEF Raw file and converted it in ACR 7.4 twice - once at ACR's default exposure settings, and again with the Basic Panel adjustments detailed below. Noise reduction was disabled in both examples.

ACR default settings with NR off ACR with Exposure +0.40, Shadows +80 with NR Off
100% crop 100% crop

In the first example, you can see that, while the camera has metered quite reasonably in order to retain highlight details while providing pleasing contrast, the default conversion does block shadow information inside the parking garage. In the second conversion we were able to boost exposure and open the shadows substantially with only a minor noise penalty. This means that, when faced with high contrast scenes, exposing for the highlights can provide the option of later opening up shadow areas in your Raw converter. The amount of noise that this exposes is far from objectionable, and can of course be minimized via your software's noise reduction settings.

Overall image quality

The D5200's image quality is impressive, particularly in Raw mode. As we demonstrated in our Nikon D7100 review, the D5200 gives up little to its higher-end (and non-AA filtered) sibling with regard to image detail at base ISO sensitivity. At higher ISO values the D5200 does a very good job of retaining fine detail while keeping chroma and luminance noise at levels that place it among the top of its peers. The camera's Raw files can also tolerate a fair degree of low-radius sharpening for crisp-looking results without prominent edge halos.

In our Nikon D7100 review we shot the D5200 side by side with its more expensive sibling, for which Nikon omitted the image-softening AA filter. Have a look at our results (click on the image above) and you'll see that the D5200 suffers very little by comparison, which speaks highly of its imaging capabilities.

As we've come to expect from Nikon DSLRs, the default JPEG settings of the D5200 produce files that lean more towards a more natural, 'unprocessed' look, avoiding sharpening-induced edge halos and overly aggressive smearing at high ISOs. This means that at high ISO settings, JPEGs tend to be gritty - compared to those from Canon and Sony, for example - but relatively detailed.

The D5200's Auto white balance setting is consistently accurate. Its matrix metering does a good job, in a range of lighting conditions, of protecting highlight details and providing pleasing overall contrast. In high contrast situations you may find yourself boosting exposure compensation by 0.3–0.7 EV for a more pleasing overall exposure, but this relatively conservative approach to metering is generally preferable to inadvertently clipping highlight data.