Nikon D200 digital SLR camera review

4.5 out of 5
£1149 (RRP body only) £ 1400 including 18-70mm F3.5-F4.5 (RRP with kit lens)

For

Excellent image quality, excellent ergonomics, design and control layout, great menu system, good combination of customisable controls and custom shooting options

Against

Default sharpening level is low, intrusive image noise over ISO 1600

The closest camera to the new D200 in terms of specification, build and handling is Nikon’s D2x but the D200 is lighter and smaller than that camera yet features most of that camera's power – if not exceeds it – in terms in terms of both shooting and handling features and its performance. In fact, the D200 lacks virtually nothing in terms of control (customisable or otherwise) and image grabbing technology. Let's look at some of the key kit.

The aforementioned 10.2-megapixel CCD sensor came as something of a surprise because the D2x used a CMOS sensor, "everyone" assumed that like its Canon counterpart, Nikon had switched to using CMOS sensors for it’s high-end D-SLRs. Not so, the D200 has a high resolution CCD sensor of the DX-format (APS-C sized) type, which means there’s a 1.5x magnification factor that has to be added to any lens mounted on the camera. In other words, a 100mm lens would become a 150mm lens, for example and the all-new sensor offers a huge amount of detail, as we’ll see.

You can shoot and embed one of three colour spaces into your images: Adobe RGB (in three separate modes), sRGB in two modes, depending on other shooting options you need/select. Tone, colour, saturation, sharpening, white balance and hue can all be adjusted and tweaked in six presets adding even more control.

Sharpening can be applied to images, as you’d expect but surprisingly the cameras default sharpening is quite conservative; images at first appeared quite soft. However, once you have a few shots under your belt and you get used to the way the camera deals with the sharpening on JPEGs you can easily ramp up the sharpening a notch to compensate or to suit the subject. Shooting RAW files means you can sort any such parameters afterwards in image processing software, but it’s worth being aware of up front and on balance, more subtle sharpening can be more beneficial than over sharpening, so…

Other key kit includes the Nikon F lens mount. Like all D-SLR cameras, the D200 accepts interchangeable lenses that can be mounted on the camera, offering stunning level of flexibility in terms of the lens focal lengths available. You have access to almost the entire range of Nikon optics, new and old as the F-mount provides compatibility with almost all Nikon lenses. However, older Nikon lenses won’t offer some of the features the more modern lenses (type D and type G for example) that communicate with the camera body with vital information for the focus and 3D Matrix metering for example.

Menus and controls are well thought out too, particularly when you bear in mind this camera is built to be lived with every day by a jobbing photographer: the control layout and customisablity of those controls is excellent, enhancing handling to a large degree. Controls such as the camera’s front and back setting control wheels can be customised to switch the functions they control, offering a way to make the camera behave and handle how a user prefers, not the other way around.

Similarly, menus provide a good level of clarity, they’re colour-coded and can be looked through either as one big list of options or as separate sections aided by that colour coding. The text and font used is sharp with improved anti-aliasing which all adds up to menu options are easily navigated and given the amount of kit and controls that are within them, they’re remarkably straightforward as a result.

The large 2.5-inch high-resolution colour screen helps with menu operation and usability but lacks an anti reflective coating, which becomes a might irksome in brighter conditions. It does come with a protective plastic pop on/off cover however.

The D200 is surprisingly fleet of foot given its resolution. Continuous shooting of up to five frames per second with a buffer memory of up to 37 JPEGs or 22 RAW shots are excellent and ideal for almost all subjects but the most demanding sports photography. The camera is fast to get going with a 0.15-second start up and a new CAM1000 auto focus system has an 11-point AF set up that can be adjusted to combine some points into a seven-point wide-zone system for bigger subjects in the frame.

A 3D Colour Matrix Metering II system does the light and colour measuring for you as you snap and uses 1005 (RGB) pixels to measure seven parameters of each scene you shoot, including subject distance, brightness, colour and contrast. It measures these values against a 30,000 shot photographic database to help get the best final value for the image you’re making.

And it works very well indeed, although I found the D200 tended to underexpose by around a half to one stop quite consistently. Exposure compensation (up to +/-5EV), exposure bracketing (two to nine frames at 1/3rd, 1/2 and 1EV steps) or shooting in RAW deals easily with such a problem and to be fair, this is a common issue to many D-SLRs. And talking of bracketing, you can bracket the white balance settings to fine tune white balance and image colour temperature across two to nine exposures, adding even finer control for your photos. The white balance control offers six presents including the "usual" daylight, tungsten, and fluorescent settings with four custom/manual settings and full manual control in Kelvin from 2500 to 10000 K in 31 steps.

Sensitivity control is very comprehensive with a range running from ISO 100 to 1600 in 1/3rd, 1/2, or 1 EV steps and with boosted ISO 2000, 2500 and 3200 available if required. The down side is that over ISO 1600, noise becomes noticeable and the noise reduction processing (it can be adjusted to varying strengths) can strip detail from shadow areas. On the up side, the noise is very monochromatic, making it look more like film grain than "normal" image noise that is often full of coloured (chroma) artifacts in other cameras. In terms of shutter control you have a broad 30-seconds to 1/8000th second range to play with, flash sync is up to 1/250th second, so there’s plenty to play with here.

The optical eye-level pentaprism viewfinder offers a large clear view of 95% of the scene and although it lacks a shutter blind (for long exposures), does offer framing composition lines selectable focus frames/points and comprehensive information on most of the cameras settings such as shutter speed, ISO, flash indication, exposure mode and aperture indication. In use, it was excellent to use but a 100% field of view would make it near perfect to use.

Power comes from a new lithium-ion battery pack that can "talk" with the camera providing enhanced information on the battery’s condition. You get a charge-as-percentage indication and as the number of remaining shots on the current charge level. Power management is excellent on the D200, on various shoots and a couple of "proper" photography assignments (some of the images are used for this test), the camera just kept on shooting throughout the day only requiring a recharge after about 300-shots (with frequent reviewing of the images) during a period of on average 4 to 5 hours.

Images are stored on CompactFlash Type I/II removable storage in Nikon NEF RAW or JPEG formats (disappointingly, there’s not a TIFF option), that slots neatly into a compartment on the camera’s side. Connectivity includes a front mounting 10-pin remote control port; on the left side from the back two rubberised covers hide the camera’s video out, DC-in and USB2.0 ports. Incidentally, the USB connectivity speeds are very good.

Verdict

Overall, the D200 provides enough kit and control for the most demanding professional or enthusiast snapper. The image quality is superb with the advanced metering and AF system combining well (albeit with that odd slight underexposure) with nary a shot going astray. Colour balance and detail are superb and despite the Nikkor 18-70 F3.5-F4.5 DX kit lens being more a budget end lens, more serious optics start to pull even more from the camera’s high-resolution sensor.

The D200 could be looked at as a D2x-lite, it’s smaller and lighter than the D2x but boasts an equivalent level of specification. Add in its excellent price (around £1149 body only) and it makes even more sense; it is great value for money. The camera’s build and the level of protection from the elements means it can go almost anywhere and withstand the bumps and bashes meted out by a jobbing photographer, making it a package that is a superb piece of kit and very hard to ignore.