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

I hope this Nikon D200 review will give you an idea of what it's like to own and use the camera. I've owned mine for several years now, and have got to know it pretty well inside out.

Whilst I'll go into a reasonable amount of depth, I will do my best to speak in plain English, and explain any details/jargon that might be unfamiliar (after all, many potential D200 users will be just starting to move away from beginner level cameras).

So, I've broken the review down into 12 sections (plus a summary), as follows:

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.

In the summary at the end I've summed up my overall feelings about the camera, and mentioned opinions of other reviewers. But let's start with a basic overview of the Nikon D200's specifications...

Specification Overview

Sensor DX 10.2 MP (23.6mm x 15.8mm). 1.5x crop factor

Maximum Image Size

3872 x 2592 pixels
ISO Sensitivity 100 - 3200
Shutter Speed 60 - 1/8000
Shooting Modes Manual, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, Program
Frames Per Second 5
Autofocus Points 11
Flash Built in pop-up flash (with flash compensation controls)
LCD Screen Size 2.5"
Weight 830g (stripped)
Materials Magnesium alloy and rubberized grips
Movie Mode No

 

Colour

Why start by talking about the D200's rendering of colour? Quite simply because it was the first thing that struck me about it. It was not long after the release date, in late 2005, when I popped into my local camera store having noticed there was a second hand (and so inevitably still quite new) D200 in the window.

Nikon had been treading water for quite some time at this stage, struggling to produce anything that bridged the gap between the pro D2X model, and 6MP consumer DSLR's. So the D200 was hotly anticipated, and succeeded in winning back many Nikon fans who had begun to drift away.

Anyway, I picked up the beefy magnesium alloy body and started playing. It was a step up from anything I had owned, or used extensively, so some of the controls and menus were a bit confusing. But I can still remember taking a shot of a non-descript corner of the camera store, and being blown away by the sumptuous, rich colours that were displayed on the LCD preview.

White Balance

The white balance was set to Auto, and had interpreted the room's colour temperature perfectly. The highlights, where sunlight was hitting the display cabinet, weren't blown out and colour saturation was good. The shadows were not too cool, as can be the case with many digital cameras.

I've subsequently learned that the Auto white balance of the Nikon D200 does a pretty excellent job in most situations (see below images). That said, I tend to leave it set on the daylight pre-set, and occassionally stick on Cloudy, which warms and deepens colours.

The full range of white balance presets are: tungsten, fluorescent, daylight, cloudy, flash and shade. Each of these can be manually tweaked up to +3 (increasing the warmth) or -3 (increasing the coolness). This is a brilliant feature that I use a lot to get the precise colours I want. There is also a preset option and 'K' option, which lets you specify the exact temperature in degrees kelvin. Frankly, I never need to use either of these.

White Balance Example Images:

The below images show exactly how the D200's preset WB settings for Auto, Daylight, Cloudy and Shade recorded the same scene. You can see that both Auto and Daylight give a pretty similar colour temperature, which is very accurate (Daylight is marginally more accurate though).

Auto:

Daylight:

Cloudy:

Shade:

 

Colour Modes and Adjustments

It's really easy to fine tune colour quality in the menus, and save the various results in any of the 4 available settings 'banks' (A, B, C or D). 'Bank' just refers to a collection of saved settings. Under the Shooting Menu, go to Optimize Image>Custom to bring up the options for Color Mode, Saturation and Hue Adjustment (I'd recommend against playing with Hue Adjustment, but have fun with the other 2!). Under Optimize Image there are also several pre-set options for 'vividness', or colour saturation (see below images).

Optimize Image>Vivid Options

There are 3 preset options for colour vividness to choose from: Normal, Vivid and More Vivid. I shoot in normal, and any tweaks are made in post-production. But sometimes when shooting a really washed out scene it can be handy to switch up to one of the vivid options. Here are example images of a simple flower, shot in each of the 3 modes:

Normal:

This is the closest to the actual colours of the flower (slightly duller - would be fixed with a tiny tweak of saturation or contrast).

Vivid:

Way more saturated than the flower itself. For most shots, like this one, I'd never use Vivid colour. It amounts to badly done Photoshop adjustments.

More Vivid:

Very deep colours indeed. A bit yucky for my taste.

So, basically, the Nikon D200 renders colours fantastically well, and gives you terrific control over temperature and saturation. It also records shade/shadows without an overdose of blue tones (often the tendency), captures good depth of colour in bright areas (e.g. the above flower pictures are in strong direct sunlight), and is without any discernable colour drift.

 

Exposure

Before owning the D200 I'd been using a bridge camera for a little while. Having to go into the menus to adjust exposure settings every time slowed down shooting a lot. After becoming familiar with the convenience of the D200's exposure controls, I'm not sure I could ever go back to that old system again!

Shooting Modes

Firstly, everything you need for controlling exposure is right there in front of you, in the form of ergonomically designed buttons. Hold down the Mode button and twizzle the wheel to select one of the 4 shooting modes: M, P, A, S (Manual, Program, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority respectively). The front wheel controls aperture (when in A or M) and the wheel on the back controls shutter speed (when in S or M).

Top Plate:

The aperture is controlled by a dial/wheel just in front of the shutter button. The shutter speed is controlled by a dial/wheel at the right of the back of the camera (seen here below the bottom right corner of the screen)

I love this system! It's a piece of cake to use, even with your eye firmly wedged against the viewfinder. Everything with the Nikon D200 is about feel. It's beautifully ergonomic, and it doesn't take long to learn how to use all the physical controls without looking directly at them. It's so nice to be able to concentrate on the subject and just feel for the button/wheel/switch that you need.

ISO

ISO, too, is easily adjustable through the button on the top left (next to QUAL and WB). Simply hold it down and twizzle the back wheel. There is a large range of ISO settings. Although this is obviously important to exposure, I've discussed it under the 'Noise' heading below.

Viewfinder Info

The manufacturer really has made exposing images pretty foolproof. There is a brilliant range of settings displayed electronically within the viewfinder. So you literally could just stand around with you eye fixed on the viewfinder, changing (and checking) settings for a whole shoot! Through the viewfinder you can check: exposure balance, shutter speed, f.number, ISO, metering mode in use, shots remaining, exposure compensation and flash compensation. (Oh, and when the battery life gets down to 20% - 1 bar - a warning symbol flashes up!).

4 Channel Histogram

The D200 was the first non-pro specifation Nikon DSLR to use a full 4 channel histogram (a histogram provides a graphical overview of a photo's exposure).This simply means that all of the 'colour channels' are factored into the reading, not just green as before. This way it's really easy to check for clipped (blown out) highlights and under exposed areas. The histogram is very easily accessed in the Playback mode. To be honest, I'd never made use of a histogram before getting the D200, but I've taken way fewer dud shots since taking advantage of it.

Checking the histogram for clipped highlights:

The histogram is a v.useful tool for checking clipped highlights when exposing slightly to the right (as in the above shot)

Metering

There are 3 metering options on the Nikon D200: matrix, spot and centre-weighted. Like most people, I suspect, I tend to use matrix by far the most. It's very, very accurate on this camera. Some very tricky, high contrast scenes are dealt with incredibly well. That said, when you really do need greater accuracy, the other modes are essential.

Unsurprisingly, you don't need to waste time going into the menus to select the metering mode. There is a little wheel surrounding the 'AE-L/AF-L' button, symbols corresponding to each mode. Oh, and by the way, that AE-L/AF-L button is seriously handy too. It locks the exposure and focus when held down (disabling shutter button focus), allowing you to shoot in automatic modes (P, A, S) and use the focus and recompose technique (without the exposure changing as you re-compose).

Exposure Compensation

Finally (and this is something I use a lot) the exposure compensation controls are very easily accessed. The little +/- button is situated just above the top LCD. When held down, the back wheel can be turned to dial in positive or negative exposure compensation, by up to 3 stops either way (moving my 1/3 of a stop each time - which gives very precise control).

So, how to sum up the exposure controls of the D200? Basically, they are a triumph. You know that something is good when it seems obvious, like the only way it should be. But the ergonomic layout is actually a distillation of years of expertise at Nikon. As a result this camera is such a pleasure to use, in no small part due to the controls I've just referred to. They are in the right place, they are well made and they are simple to use. Everything just works! Think German cars, or Victorian engineering!

Nikon D200 Review Part 2: Autofocus / Sensor / Noise / Sharpness

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

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.

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