It's here... D200 Initial Review

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It's here... D200 Initial Review

Postby JoePhoto » Feb Fri 03, 2006 1:14 am


As you can probably guess, I haven't done much work this evening. I've been fooling with my new D200 instead! Although I've used it briefly before, the constant use over the past few hours has left me with a few detailed impressions I'd like to share.

I will compare it directly to the D2x (& D2h) - which over the past few years have become an extension of my senses in every way. I am 100% at home with the D2x. I know exactly where to grab and what to turn in the dark and how sensitive the buttons are, etc. To sum up - I'm VERY comfortable with the D2x.

On to the D200 impressions - or dare I say - Review!


My initial review will be centered more on personal experiences rather than focusing on scientific testing. There are other sites that do that far better then I.

*The feel*
The D200's ergonomics live up to the Nikon legend. It is a VERY comfortable camera to hold in the hand. Anyone coming from a D100 or D70 will simply be stunned at the quality of the body. Built every bit as well as the D2x (with exception of the pop-up flash being plastic) the D200 is truly a little tank.

Coming from the D2x, the D200 is a tad small for my hands. I may need to try the grip - which I'm afraid may "cheapify" the feel of the camera like the 20D with its grip does. I don't see how such a large piece of plastic and mag alloy mix well, but I'll digress until I give it a go.

I am finding myself having to consciously adjust to the weight & size of the D200 which is reminiscent of the F100 & F6. My initial shots with the camera yielded an abnormal amount of camera shake as a result of trying to adjust to the weight in such a small package. After an hour or so, the body began to leave its own impression in my hands and I'm not getting the camera shake I was experiencing initially. Time will help this.

The shutter button has a distinctly different feel than the D2x. I couldn't put my finger on it at first, but it seems that there is less resistance when pressing the shutter release. Once I got a handle on the new sensitivity level of the shutter release, I found that was actually part of my initial camera shake problem. I was pressing the button too hard, and actually shifting the camera (believing there was more heft to hold it still.) With the weight of the camera distributed evenly to both hands, a very gentle squeeze releases the very quiet shutter. Kudos to Nikon for such subtle engineering.

*The view*
The viewfinder is beautifully big with those wonderful gridlines and the D50's media card readout warning you when the card is full or not present. Size-wise, it's very similar to the D2x in that you don't realize you're dealing with a cropped sensor. Gone is the feeling of tunnel vision from the D70, D50 and D100 viewfinders. The layout is a little different than most cameras. Like the D2x, the ISO being constantly displayed in the viewfinder. Once you locate the ISO button, it becomes easy to switch ISO's without ever taking your eye away from the viewfinder. Unlike the D2x, you must look at the top LCD to change the WB and Quality. Nikon missed a beat here as I think they should have included WB icons and Quality readouts in the viewfinder. I have grown to love about the D2x and will miss being able to quickly glance at the WB settings in the viewfinder.

The LCD is big, beautiful, and viewable from some pretty insane angles. It does help eat up that battery though. The battery is draining noticeably faster than the D70, D100, and D2x. A few charge cycles will help, but I'm glad I got three batteries. Perhaps the LCD didn't need to be quite as big.... right? Nah - of course it did - who am I kidding?!

*Custom body*
A very nice feature shared with the D2x is the ability of the multi-selector thumb-pad to be assigned functions when shooting and viewing images. Like my D2x, I set the D200's thumb-pad to the following:
Custom Function f1
-When pressed in during shooting, it centers the AF point.
-When pressed in during viewing, it zooms into the image at the focus point (approx 10x I believe.)
Custom Function f2
-When moving focus points with multi-selector, it will initiate auto-focus with the newly selected focus point.

*A few niggles*
Flash value lock, like the D2x, is activated via the custom button beneath the DOF preview button. It cannot be assigned to AE-L AF-L like on the D70 (Thanks John!) I will without a doubt loose the x-sync cap as the x-sync is in a pretty stupid place on the side of the camera toward the rear. The New CF door location will also take some getting used to as it has been relocated beneath the right palm when holding the camera. It has a nice locking mechanism which is quicker to unlatch than the D2x, can still be used with one hand, but won't accidentally unlatch by moving your palm across the back like the D100 and D70 can.

*Auto Focus*
The jury is still out on some of the new features. I'll do my best to summarize how it works. Basically, CAM1000 is a new
11-point AF system which seems to be a variation of the Cam2000 system design found in the D2x. The first thing you notice is that the AF points are much smaller than any other Nikon. In being smaller, the actual sensor area is more precisely located (at least on my D200 compared to my D2x.) There are 3 cross sensors aligned vertically in the center. Like all
Nikon cameras, these remain cross sensors with virtually any lens attached - so long as it's minimum aperture is f/8. (You don't need an f/2.8 lens to activate the cross sensors like a Canon.) Like the Canon 5D, there are hidden sensors that can be activated via custom function a3. CFa3 can select from the Normal Frame (11 area) and a new Wide Frame (7 area) focus layout. When you choose Wide Frame, hidden sensors around each cross sensor are activated to give them more coverage area.
The three vertical lateral sensors to the right and left of the center are grouped together vertically with the two farthest from the center remain the same. This feature seems to work very well for medium and large objects in the frame, like people. However, I had trouble getting the focus point dead on where I wanted when trying this mode in macro. It was easier to use the 11-area frame for this. The jury is still out on this new system. It seems promising, but it's something new to learn and get used it.

As far as AF performance, which I was concerned about, I'm very happy to report that CAM1000 makes me officially smile. It is pretty darn fast - easily as fast as Cam2000 in good light with a mean amount of torque snapping the lens into focus the first time. When the lights go down, I noticed that the 7-area grouping really showed its stuff making the rule-of-thirds focus points very accurate. Maybe I can get used it this after all. (*Quick side note - the D200 has a recent settings menu, I keep 2 custom functions in there at the top for quick access: e3 - which changes the flash from commander to TTL and back... and a3 - which changes the focus groups. This saves me from having to dig through the menu to change them.) Overall, the AF seems to be very solid. I have not tested its ability to track motion yet (for sports or nature,) but for my wedding needs it will work just fine.

All other aspects of the body are pretty much taken directly from the D2x - which is actually pretty amazing at this price point!

*Image Quality*
Probably the most debated thing on the internet when it comes to the D200. I do not shoot JPG, so I cannot speak about the camera's ability to process JPG's compared to another's. I did run a few frames with the camera set to RAW + JPG Fine Large and after a quick look-see I don't think the in-camera processor can come close to what I can get by processing the NEF.
Anyone judging this camera by it's JPG's is doing themselves a disservice. After playing with Nikon Capture & ACR 3.3 I'm happy to report that the D200 file is very similar to the D2x file. I don't see a huge difference at all between them.
Noise is a bit better controlled on the D200, but the D2x color pops a little more and is sharper out-of-camera. The differences are pretty negligible. Anyone with a refined RAW workflow will be able to make the images match up pretty well... A lot easier than matching D2h & D2x files.

Like the D2x, the D200 wants good glass. The densely packed sensor will reveal flaws in your lens if there are any to be seen. Having used the 18-200 in my initial experience with the D200, and comparing the files to my experience thus far with the D200 and the 28-70 AFS... well there is no comparison. It's like looking at images from two different cameras. Good glass makes all the difference. IMO, the 18-200 is decent, but it's definitely not a pro grade lens, as it does not yield pro grade results across its range.

As most of you know, I have been a die-hard Nikon Capture guy. The latest release of ACR 3.3 may have me singing a new song.
The results from ACR 3.3 showed much less noise compared to NC, and its new color algorithms are a vast improvement - bringing it IMO very close to par with NC. Sharpness is consistent as it's pretty hard to over sharpen with ACR. So as far as noise and color go, I would have no problem making any size print without fear of quality loss. If I was forced to compare D200 noise and rez to the Canon 5d - I have to give those big 5D photo sites the nudge - The 5D is the noise king as far as holding in the finest details at hi ISO's. However, for nearly twice the price, it's not twice as good. People would be hard pressed to tell the differences in print without smearing their noses on the paper.

*Quality Control*
I ran an initial 200 frames through the camera in some very mixed lighting conditions and every ISO and have no banding or striping to report thus far. I'm not overly worried about it, but given all the complaints being posted about it, I'll keep an eye out. Above 400 ISO, I start to see one slightly hot pixel in JPG's with Noise Reduction set to off. It's not a full hot pixel until about ISO 1600. But the basic processing of the NEF by either ACR or NC must take care of it because I don't see it in the RAW files.

*In Summary*
Any photographer who appreciates a fine piece of equipment will, without a doubt, praise the D200 when they first hold it in their hand. We finally have the Digital F100 in every respect. The D200 clearly appeals to amateurs and professionals alike thanks to it's tremendous value and quality. Capable of delivering professional results, the D200 can easily be a professional workhorse or a solid backup to a D2 series body. Without hesitation, I give this camera: Highly Recommended
Joe H.

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"I don't suffer from insanity... I enjoy every minute of it"
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Postby Talvan » Feb Fri 03, 2006 1:45 pm

Geez, that was fast. I will have to read it all a little later.
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Postby JB » Feb Fri 03, 2006 8:47 pm

Great info, Joe.
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Postby marokero » Feb Thu 09, 2006 10:13 pm

Nice review Joe, exactly what I was expecting the camera to be. Though I will not be purchasing the D200 this year, unless luck strikes, I will be loathing for one :(
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Postby JoePhoto » Feb Thu 09, 2006 11:03 pm

Alberto - it saved me allot of money - I didn't have to buy another D2x.

JB - I don't know why you don't have one yet... we'll pull you back to the dark side! :D
Joe H.

~ BBS Photography ~ DeviantArt ~ Model Mayhem ~

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