Body & Design

The D5200 is very similar in design to its predecessor, the D5100, with few obvious changes. Indeed, place both cameras side-by-side and you'd be hard pressed to tell them apart. The D5200's lines are slightly sleeker and more streamlined - for example it does away with the little finger 'hook' on the left side of the body. More notable changes are on the top plate, where the D5200 gains a stereo microphone in front of the hot shoe, and a new drive mode button beside the mode dial.

With the D5200 you get a small, lightweight DSLR that, despite its plastic body feels pretty solid, with no flexing or creaking. The D5200 has a reasonable set of external controls, and of course a fully-articulated LCD screen that offers benefits for live view and movie shooting. The 4-way controller on the back of the camera is used to move the active focus point among the 39 total options in the viewfinder. As you'd expect in a camera of this class, many functions have to be accessed via the rear LCD. Yet, the D5200 lacks the touchscreen capability that we saw Canon introduce to the DSLR market with the EOS 650D.

The D5200 also offers an ample array of connectors - along with the usual HDMI and USB/AV out, there's a stereo microphone input for movie recording, and a multi-function port that accepts both Nikon's optional GP-1 GPS unit, and the MC-DC2 electronic cable release. Microphone levels can be displayed onscreen in movie mode but videographers needing a headphone jack will have to move up to the larger and more costly D7100. The D5200 also has front and rear receivers for the ML-L3 wireless remote. Overall the D5200 is, by any measure, a well-featured camera for its class.

In your hand

The D5200 is a lightweight yet sturdy-feeling camera that's sensibly designed so most of the the key controls fall readily to hand. Like all compact SLRs the grip is a little on the small side, so photographers with large hands should try before they buy. Both the grip and the rear 'thumbpad' below the control dial are rubberized, which helps give a secure hold.

Articulating LCD screen

Like the D5100, the D5200 has a side-hinged swivel-and-tilt screen, which offers a wide range of movement and (unlike tilt-only screens) can still be used in portrait format either at waist level or overhead. This is great for live view shooting and working off a tripod.

Video shooters, who often must remain in one position for long stretches while filming, can particularly appreciate the benefits of an articulated screen. Indeed, for many videographers, this feature alone is likely to make the D5200 a more attractive option than the D7100.

The D5200's side-hinged screen offers a wide range of movement - when folded out it can be rotated downwards for overhead shooting, upwards for waist-level shots, or forwards for self-portraits. It can also be folded flat against the camera's back pointing inwards when not in use, to protect the screen against scratches or merely getting covered in nose grease.

The rear LCD is where you'll spend the bulk of your time adjusting camera and shooting settings. As such we'd love to see Nikon adopt a touchscreen interface, as we saw (with great effect) on the Canon EOS 650D. This would make operating the camera more efficient, and dare we say, for its intended audience, more fun as well.

Viewfinder

The D5200 uses a similar viewfinder to the D5100, which means its of the pentamirror type with 95% coverage of the image area, and a relatively small 0.78x magnification. For stills-only shooters, this may rank among the least-impressive specs of the camera.

One figure hidden away in every SLR's spec is the size of the viewfinder (often in a format that makes comparison between competing models impossible). The size of the viewfinder is a key factor in the usability of an SLR - the bigger it is, the easier it is to frame and focus your shots, and the more enjoyable and involving process it is.

Because of the way viewfinders are measured (using a fixed lens, rather than a lens of equivalent magnification), you also need to take the sensor size into account, so the numbers in the diagram below are the manufacturer's specified magnifications divided by the respective 'crop factors'.

The D5200 has a viewfinder magnification of .49x, which is significantly smaller than that of the higher-end D7100 not to mention the impressively high magnification EVF on the Sony SLT-A57.

The viewfinder offers 95% coverage of the actual scene capture (shown below), which of course raises the possibility of some unseen elements in advertently ending up in the corners of your final image. In real-world use a discrepancy of this size will seldom be a significant issue. And for instances where precise framing is absolutely critical, you can shoot in live view mode to preview full scene coverage.

This simulated view demonstrates how much of the scene is visible with 95% viewfinder coverage. The area shaded in white appears in the final image but not in the viewfinder.

Information display

The D5200 uses the same Type B BriteView Clear Matte Mark VII screen found on the D5100. The viewfinder displays basic shooting information such as shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation and ISO, alongside AE lock status and flash information. You have the option of displaying the current ISO setting in place of the default 'frames remaining', which is of questionable use with today's large-capacity SD cards; an option not available on the cheaper D3200.

Shooting information is displayed along a black border below the image area. The screen itself features the camera's 39 AF points. An optional grid overlay (shown here) can aid in composition though the camera lacks the level indicators found on the more expensive D7100.

Disappointingly, the D5200 lacks an eye sensor to turn off the rear screen when you're using the viewfinder, so it can flicker away distractingly at you, turning off as you half-press the shutter then lighting up again when you take your finger away. You can at least use the 'info' button behind the shutter release to manually turn the screen off.