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Nikon D200 Review: My Thoughts After 5 Years Of Use!

This is part 2 of my Nikon D200 review (autofocus, sensor, noise, sharpness). To go back to the start, click here, or navigate to the section you want using the table of contents below:

Contents
Specification Overview Sensor Battery
Colour Noise Build Quality and Ergonomics
Exposure Sharpness LCD
Autofocus Storage Flash
Summary

The Nikon D200 at Amazon

The best prices can often be found here.

Autofocus System

Focus Area Mode

There are 3 major AF controls on the D200, all of which, you guessed it, have physical buttons intelligently positioned. Just to the left of the rubberized thumb grip on the back of the camera is a switch for choosing the Area Focus Mode. There are 4 options, ranging from Single Area which uses 1 focus point and is best for static subjects, to Group Dynamic, which uses a cluster of focus points and reacts to moving subjects.

AF points selector (the arrow buttons on top) and Area Mode switch (with the 4 options, below):

 

AF Points

Above this switch is the control for selecting which of the 11 AF points present on the D200 to use. Most of the time I will be in Single Area Focus Mode, and use the central AF sensor. Whilst it's very easy to scroll through each of the 11 sensors, I have to say that I've found the middle one to be noticeably more accurate than the others.

I also prefer to focus, press AE-L/AF-L, then recompose, rather than going to the trouble of changing the AF point to suit my composition. Either way, the physical controls of the D200 make it very easy to find a way of working that suits you.

Handling Fast Shooting

There is a maximum shooting rate of 5 frames per second (really good for sports photography). But when I first tried using this to its full potential, I found that many of my shots were a bit rubbish. You see, I was firing off 5fps, but the AF system couldn't quite keep up, and lots of my pictures were out of focus.

This was because the default AF settings prioritized maximum fps over focus. It was really easy to change this, so that a photo only gets taken when AF has actually locked on to the subject, by going into the menus: Custom>Autofocus>AF-C Mode>Priority>Focus.

Single/Continuous Modes

The final major AF control determines whether to shoot in Single or Continuous Servo mode. The latter is a great solution for dealing with fast moving subjects. It cleverly anticipates the direction of a moving subject, based on the position it has just come from, and constantly keeps up with it (therby accounting for shutter lag). Both this and Single mode are very fast in my experience. They lock on to subjects quickly and cleanly. You can even choose to silence the 'beep' sound that occurs when focus is locked if you wish!

The position of the Continous/Single focus mode switch is adjacent to the lens on the front of the camera. Once again, I typically adjust it whilst looking through the viewfinder to save time. It's really very easy to get used to.

 

Sensor

The Nikon D200 uses a DX 10.2 MP sensor (23.6mm x 15.8mm), which has a crop factor of 1.5. Whilst it's not difficult to find prosumer DSLR's with many more MP's these days, the resolution of this sensor provides sufficient detail for some pretty large format prints.

Print Size

prints from digital images

With the right sharpening and processing work, I've been able to produce sale worthy prints at A3, and sometimes even A2 size. Obviously, resolution is not the only factor in determining maximum print size (e.g. glass quality, processing work, and technique are all crucial), but I would not be put off the D200 based on MP count unless you know that you'll be printing massive images.

It's also worth bearing in mind that large prints (like A3 and A2 format) are not going to be viewed from a distance of a few inches. People stand back to view large photographs at exhibitions, in order to properly take in the subject. As long as images are nice and sharp from a distance of a few feet, that's all that matters.

File Size

There are 7 available file type saving options, which I'll talk about below under 'Storage'. Basically, a full size image is 3,872 x 2,592 pixels, a medium sized image is 2,896 x 1,944 pixels and the smallest images are 1,936 x 1,296.

1.5x Crop Factor

The 1.5x crop factor basically means that, when using lenses which could be used with a full frame sensor (equivalent to 35mm film), focal length will be 1.5x that displayed. This is because the angle of view encompassed by the lens projects an image on to the sensor which is a bit too wide for it to handle. So the DX sensor kind of trims away the periphery of the scene on all sides (effectively cropping it), leaving a greater level of zoom than the number you have selected.

So my 50mm prime lens is, in practice a 75mm lens. This is bit of a pain in the backside, but it's long gone with the territory of digital photography and doesn't take long to get used to.

 

Noise

The vast majority of the time none of my photos with the D200 have any noise issues. ISO speeds range from a lowest setting of 100 all the way up to 1600. There are then additional settings, displayed as 'Hi', which effectively enable you to push it up to 3200.

Low ISO Speeds

From 100 through to 400, I've never noticed any detrimental effects whatsoever. I shoot on 100 whenever possible, and 200-400 are useful when shutter speeds are getting a bit low in Aperture Priority. In fact, I have no hesitation in ramping up the speed all the way up to 800.

ISO 100:

ISO 100 zoomed in:

There is never any noise at ISO 100 (excepting sometimes on really long exposures)

ISO 400:

ISO 400 zoomed in:

There's almost no trace of noise even in the very shadowy areas of this picture at IS0 400.

ISO 800:

IS0 800 zoomed in:

Whilst there's some noise creeping into the darkest areas, it's perfectly acceptable quality for me.

Higher ISO Speeds

I would say that ISO 800 is about the highest setting at which I'm completely happy with the results. Some people really hate even the slightest hint of noise when zoomed at 50% or 100%. If that's you, you might be disappointed with the D200's performance after about ISO 600. Personally, the minor noise at 800 doesn't bother me at all.

Speeds from 800-3200 make it possible to freeze action in very dim light, without impairing the colours much at all. But there's obviously a trade off with noise, which is definitely pretty heavy at these settings. I've also noticed quite a lot of noise appearing with long exposures (a common problem in DSLR's, but the D200 is fairly bad). The noise is especially strong in the blue colour channel, which is a shame because I take loads of long exposure seascapes!

ISO 1600:

ISO 1600 zoomed in:

Clear noise here, but still not enough to 'ruin' the shot.

ISO 3200:

ISO 3200 zoomed in

ISO 3200 is all about getting the shot at all costs! The D200's performance at this level isn't great, so I rarely push it this high.

Sharpness

Impact Of Crop Factor

As mentioned above under 'Sensor', the 10.2 MP resolution produces sharp prints at fairly large sizes (other factors permitting). It's worth noting that the 1.5x crop factor of the DX sensor has an important impact on the so called 'focal length/shutter speed reciprocal rule' (select a shutter speed the equivalent of focal length to ensure sharpness. E.g. 60mm and 1/60th).

Since the magnification is 1.5x the focal length you've actually selected, the shutter speed needs to follow suit. So if your lens is set to 80mm, you'd need to shoot at 1/120th second to ensure sharpness with the D200's DX sensor.

Beware Of Bad Glass

I've also found that the camera is pretty unforgiving of low quality lenses. If you take a casual approach to shooting, you're liable to wind up with less than sharp pictures most of the time. But the results are great if you take care. I've taken lots of landscape shots with good quality glass, a beefy tripod, mirror lock-up (for which there is an easy selection dial on the top left of the camera, 'MUP') and remote release with fantastically sharp results.

100% Zoom:

If you take care when shooting the Nikon D200 produces very sharp results. This is a 100% zoom of a seriously fast moving J Class yacht (one of a group), taken at 250mm focal length (which magnifies blur), with a 1/640 shutter speed. I used a tripod, but it was a very windy day. So conditions weren't perfect, and the subject was not stationary, but this image looks very sharp printed at A3.

Diffraction

As for gaining sharp focus through a large depth of field, I've found that diffraction tends to slip in somewhere between around f.11 and f.16 (diffraction is where beams of light entering a very small aperture start to bump in to each other and disperse, effectively undermining the benefit of a large depth of field). So even for landscape photos I often don't work with anything over about f.13.

 

The Nikon D200 can be found (along with plenty more user reviews) at Amazon, where the best prices tend to be found. It's also worth scouting eBay sometimes:

The Nikon D200 at Amazon

The best prices can often be found here.

Nikon D200 Review Part 1: Specification Overview / Colour / Exposure

Nikon D200 Review Part 3: Storage / Battery / Build Quality and Ergonomics / LCD / Flash / Summary

Contents
Specification Overview Sensor Battery
Colour Noise Build Quality and Ergonomics
Exposure Sharpness LCD
Autofocus Storage Flash
Summary

 

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