Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent resolution, although not a huge 'step up' from eight megapixels
- Compact body design which has a true pro feel, build and feature set
- Instant power on, very responsive, very short black-out time, very fast media write
- Excellent five frames per second continuous shooting, fast 'smart buffering'
- Eleven point AF system, fast and accurate
- Good dynamic range, conservative metering, smart auto tone selection
- More conservative, film-like appearance to images (although sharpening is too mild)
- Important controls can be locked to avoid accidental adjustment
- Easy to use playback / delete combination (although magnification could be easier)
- Very attractive menu system
- White balance memories show thumbnails of reference image
- Very flexible control system, lots of options for control and programmable buttons
- Huge range of custom settings
- Large, bright and detailed LCD monitor
- Important information such as ISO sensitivity is shown on the LCD status bar
- Bright clear viewfinder, doesn't feel small like some cropped cameras
- Sophisticated interval timer feature
- Unique in-camera features: Overlay, Multiple exposures
- GPS data recording feature (requires optional cable, NMEA compatible)
- Good battery life, updated battery design provides detailed information to camera
- In-menu help pages
- Optional wireless WiFi transmitter (802.11 b/g)
- USB 2.0 Hi-speed interface (which performs like one, a good 5+ MB/sec)
- Smaller and lighter than the D2X and will make a good alternative for many photographers
- Excellent value for money considering the competition
Conclusion - Cons
- Higher noise at ISO 1600 and 3200 than we would like, mostly in shadows
- High ISO noise reduction works but at the expense of detail
- Default sharpness is too mild, first impression to a new user may be negative
- Insufficient number of image parameter adjustments with little latitude
- Disappointing automatic white balance performance under artificial light
- Some cameras affected by vertical banding issues
- No RAW adjustment with supplied Picture Project, only simple conversion
- Nikon Capture should be included with all 'pro' and 'semi-pro' cameras
- (Still) Very poor memory management and performance from optional Nikon Capture
When it was announced in November last year the D200 caused quite stir (and not just in the Nikon camp). It was clear from the start that about the only thing this camera shared with its official predecessor (the D100) was the Nikon badge and it's '00 name. From a design, build, features and performance point of view this camera really creates its own niche, it would be a pity to label it as 'semi-pro' because in use you soon realize that it's a professional camera. Which brings us to the competition, from a build/features point of view it's clearly ahead of the Canon EOS 20D/30D and in my opinion a step above the EOS 5D, a baby D2X.
Next we'll talk megapixels, or I guess the marketeers would like that, but to be frank there's really little to gain or lose in two megapixels either way, hence in a neutral comparison (as we did here, shooting RAW and using the same converter) you really can't see any significant advantage or disadvantage going either way (8 to 10 or 10 to 12). You really wouldn't be able to see a difference in print even at very large sizes.
What can make a difference however is how what's captured is developed. Which brings us to the D200's default sharpening (for JPEGs), there's a difference between avoiding sharpening artifacts and not resolving detail captured by the sensor because of weak processing / sharpening. A first time user of the D200 may well feel it is 'soft' simply because of this decision made to have low default sharpening. Turn the sharpening up or better still shoot RAW and introduce a subtle unsharp mask into your workflow and D200 images are as sharp and crisp as you could expect.
Issues, well yes, unfortunately the D200 has one or two. Firstly noise, it's easy to argue that a camera isn't designed to have a particular high sensitivity performance but unfortunately there's a benchmark out there and people now have an expectation of performance with a digital SLR at this level. That's not to say the D200 is particularly bad, but that the competition is particularly good. Certainly if you do a lot of shooting at ISO 1600 or higher you should spend a some time studying our noise tests and high ISO gallery samples.
The second issue is isolated but has caused some to question Nikon and that's the vertical banding problems experience by some owners. Personally I was surprised to see such a significant new product affected by something which appears to be relatively easy to reproduce (QC?), and I was also surprised by the relatively slow response from Nikon to admit it and offer a fix. You really wonder what the point of field testing beta product is if not to find problems such as this. Sure it may not have affect many cameras but it has created a 'bad vibe' which no camera needs.
So with the negative out of the way I can now say that I really enjoyed the D200. It's one of those cameras which you look forward to picking up, I really got on with its design and ergonomics, it's small enough not to break your back yet sturdy enough to feel absolutely purposeful, solid and reliable. It fills the photographer with an air of confidence that each time they need it the camera is going to perform. It also has an air of luxury, quality and thoughtful design which other cameras sometimes miss, manufacturers mustn't forget that many professional photographers have to 'live' with their camera day in day out, thinking hard about how it should feel and operate can really make a big difference. Nikon know about good design and it shows, the D200 is a great camera to get along with.
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East Coast Photo
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