The Nikon D5200 fills the high-resolution gap in the company's middle-spec DSLR space by squeezing a brand new 24-megapixel CMOS sensor into the new model. It was inevitable, really; such a resolution gap didn't really exist until Nikon launched the 24-megapixel and apparent entry-level D3200. As well as further reinforcing the ongoing megapixel race once again, the D3200 happened to surprise us because its images were genuinely great.
READ: Nikon D3200 review
High hopes for the Nikon D5200 and its newer, presumably better sensor then. But the first review sample model we received - a full month ago - threw an issue back in our faces, one that we've not experienced with a Nikon body before: we just couldn't snap a truly sharp image.
We suspect the issue is due to mirror slap shaking the sensor when shooting via the viewfinder - the same issue that some Nikon D7000 users had also experienced. Clearly there was a sting in that particular model's tail, and not a nice one at that.
That's full disclosure and, to be clear, the words in this full review are based on our time with a second review sample body, one that seemed to work as it intended.
Previous misdemeanours out of the way, it's on to the good stuff. Is the D5200's megapixel hike enough to fill the company's current mid-level gap and, without the touchscreen abilities of the Canon EOS 650D, is this latest Nikon as fully featured and capable a DSLR as many had hoped for?
READ: Canon EOS 650D review
Two years is a long time in tech. That's how long ago the Nikon D5200's predecessor - the D5100 - first hit the shelves. Between the two models there's little exterior difference, as the latest model is all about its interior modification.
Well, that's with the exception of new colour options. The glowing red coloured review sample we've seen sure does look bright and bold, or there's a more drab "bronze" option that we're less sold on. Still, each to their own. Our choice would be the standard black version out of the three available.
On the inside it's all change. The D5200 opts for the D7000's 39-point autofocus system, includes the more powerful Expeed 3 processor, has an all-new 24-megapixel sensor and can snap away at 5fps rather than the D5100's 4fps - the last being more significant than it may sound given the 50 per cent rise in resolution compared to its predecessor.
There's a lot on the table. Just like its predecessor there's the same 3-inch, vari-angle-mounted LCD screen but - and there's always a but - there's no touchscreen feature housed here. Not necessarily the end of the world, but it's one of the Canon EOS 650D's main weapons of attraction, so it feels like Nikon's missed a bit of a trick.
Wireless support isn't built in, but the D5200's alternative is to offer compatibility with the WU-1a accessory. It'll mean around an extra £50 cost for the ability to auto-share with your smartphone or other devices direct from the camera body. A cool idea, and an optional expense for those who are unfazed by the Wi-Fi trend.
But what we really wanted was a bit of a design shift - particularly more buttons, y'know those useful round things on the body. The vari-angle screen has, just as per the D5100, cost the camera its rear-left quick access button array which features on just about every other Nikon DSLR, even the entry-level D3200.
However the D5200's new user interface is a much cleaner and tidier affair than before. Its graphical nature shows up shutter, aperture and ISO settings in three main circles, which adjust in real time to show what the camera is doing when in any auto or priority mode. If you prefer the older layout, then dig within the menus and it's possible to shift it back to the standard D5100 version, or even select between different background colour options as preferred.
Put the D5200 to work and it's reminiscent of the Nikon D7000 in some respects, ignoring the obvious different button layout and build quality.
The Multi-CAM 4800DX autofocus system is the same in both cameras, which offers up 39 autofocus points, including nine cross-type ones for heightened response in both portrait and landscape orientations and a centre point with f/2.8 sensitivity.
ISO 2200 image sample
There's plenty to customise within the AF options: AF-S for single autofocus, AF-C for continuous and AF-A that's like an "inbetween" mode that senses when a subject is moving and adjusts accordingly. Either let the camera auto-select from the wide array of points - which can be trimmed down to 11-points within the main menu if preferred - or select the single point where it's possible to manually reposition using the rear d-pad. Unlike the D7000 there's no 3D tracking option, which is no surprise given the company's DSLR hierarchy tree.
The D5200's viewfinder offers up a 95 per cent field of view, which means the outermost five per cent of a shot will be recorded but not seen beforehand in preview. The only way to see a 100 per cent preview is by using the rear LCD screen in the live view mode.
We found the D5200's autofocus system to be responsive and capable, and its live feedback - which shows solid black points which turn red to confirm focus - makes the system a breeze to use. However, accuracy isn't always on point and even in our preferenced single-point AF mode we found occasional shots to be a little soft when viewed at 100 per cent irrelevant of shutter speed and ISO sensitivity used in capture.
Dark conditions benefit from an AF illuminator lamp, but even without it activated, and despite some obvious slowing to the autofocus speed, we still found the camera was able to find focus on almost every occasion.
From one speed to another, there's the camera's burst mode which offers up to five frames per second. With raw + JPEG selected we weren't able to exceed the five-shot ceiling in any one burst during our testing, while JPEG Fine mode hit the 14 shot barrier before there was a slowdown to the rate. Considering that raw files are somewhere between 25-30MB each and JPEG files roughly 12MB a piece that's a whole lot of data to be throwing around. As good a show as that may be, why the D5200 is outperformed in the burst mode buffer department by the lower-spec D3200 is a definite oddity.
All this added power means that, despite using the same battery as its D5100 predecessor, the D5200 Expeed 3 processing will cater for around 500 shots per charge - a notable shortfall from the D5100's 660 shots per charge, but still around the level we'd anticipate.
When Nikon started to utilise high-resolution sensors we had our doubts about just how well they would perform. But they have, in general, come up trumps throughout both full-frame and APS-C sensor ranges - the latter as proven by the D3200's Sony-sourced sensor.
With the D5200 the sensor resolution and sensor size may match the entry-level cousin, but this sensor's from a new provider - Toshiba, if sources are correct. Who'd have thought, eh?
Results are indeed different from that D3200. For the most part they're better. But that's not to say there aren't issues that we've spotted.
ISO 100 image sample
First up is the presence of banding in shadow areas of raw files when pushing the exposure. Thing is, we're talking about pushing to levels that are unlikely ever to be needed so it's not a significant issue for standard shots, but that doesn't mean it's all fine and dandy.
Another oddity that we spotted in one image only was jagged edges in the raw file - click for a full-size crop - which, while bizarre, we believe could be the result of a corrupt file. The JPEG equivalent softens these edges during processing for a smooth look.
The D5200 will suit a certain type of user more than others. If low ISO settings are your staple then the significant resolution will be a great benefit. If you're more inclined to shoot from mid-high ISO settings for your work then, while results are still very good, extra critical eyes may find the presence of colour noise to be an issue. But no more so than any other DSLR in its class.
ISO 6400 image sample
From ISO 800 there's a presence of mottled, often blue/purple patches of colour noise that is tricky to correct for. It's subtle, but it is there and increases as the ISO sensitivity rises. Softness also begins to become prevalent in JPEG shots, and while shots will still be usable up to and including ISO 3200, ISO 400 is the last sensitivity for critical sharpness. Above that it's still discernible but just lacks that ultimate crispness.
We've been using the provided 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G lens which, while good enough despite some colour fringing, isn't an optic that will resolve as well as more premium lenses. Fortunately the D5200's got the sensor to match (to a limit), so if you already have decent lenses or the cash to splash out then the pairing with this sensor will be a happy marriage.
As per the D5100, the D5200 also has an effects mode on the main mode dial. It offers all sorts of built-in JPEG picture effects - including "high key", "miniature, "color sketch" and more - and while it obviously doesn't support raw file capture there's no need to switch off the raw option from within the menus, the camera will automatically ignore the setting and just shot JPEG instead. A small thing, but it saves menu digging.
When the D5100 was launched Nikon made a big song and dance about the available effects, yet the D5200 doesn't add any new ones. We're unfazed by most of the available options, but it could do with more - and more practical - solutions within its list, particularly when thinking about the competition from the likes of Olympus's art filters.
Movie highs meet serious lows
As with pretty much any DSLR these days the D5200 can also record HD movie clips. It's got a fair whack of options among its menus too: full manual control, including live exposure adjustment during recording, plus a 3.5mm microphone input. Quality settings range from 1080i50 to the better option of 1080p at 25 or 24fps, down to 720p50 and a 640x424 option at 25fps.
But when shooting the problems begin. The interlaced capture option uses a different portion of the sensor from the progressive capture options, which means there's a sudden "jump" as the camera utilises a different crop. We don't mean the 16:9 ratio - that's to be expected - instead it's like everything zooms in a bit, which means composition is thrown out of the window. It's utterly annoying and makes us wonder why the 1080i option is even included.
That hiccup is little compared to the actual interlaced capture itself. The MOV clips exhibit terrible "tearing" - whether due to camera pan or subject movement - that's well off the mark compared to previous Nikon DSLR cameras' capture abilities. We've shot in daylight with decent shutter speeds, used multiple SD cards and re-formatted to double check that the card was not part of the problem.
Interlaced movie capture exhibits prominent "tearing"
Again, we're baffled as to why the interlaced capture option is even available in this camera - stick to any option with a "p" for better results. Still the D5200's clarity isn't up there with what we've seen from other Nikon DSLR cameras. Seems this sensor really can't do everything all that well.
For its £720 price tag, the Nikon D5200 draws in the D7000's autofocus system and, considering that and the new 24-megapixel sensor's overall image quality, it's a DSLR that's a step beyond its predecessor.
But it's not totally plain sailing. As enticing as the red-coloured model is from the outside, it seems to bring a little bit of the devil with it on the inside as well. In addition to the sharpness issues we had with our first review sample, it seems the new sensor isn't entirely sugar coated: banding in shadow areas of raw files and terrible interlaced tearing in movie playback are low points that hold this DSLR back from greater things. If movie capture is your thing then cross the D5200 off the list.
While those points certainly cost the D5200, we've otherwise found it to be a favourable camera that will enable you to take great shots.