Nikon D200 Digital SLR Camera

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, August 2006
Manufactured by: Nikon Canada, Nikon USA
Requires: An interest in photography
MSRP: US$1,699.99, CAN$2,069.95

When Nikon announced the release of the D200 in November 2005, I'm sure the company did not anticipate the same sort of consumer and professional buying rush that happened with the release of its enormously popular D70 in 2004. Early on, Nikon pundits and the photography press in general styled the release of the 10.2 megapixel D200 as a successor to the D100, the four year old semi-professional camera which had become a wee bit long in the tooth compared to competition from arch rival Canon in the form of its superb 20D, 30D and 5D camera models. Venerable Nikon had to come up with another winner. The D200 actually owes more of its heritage to Nikon's professional D2X series of cameras than the older D100 or anything else in the Nikon stable. The D200 has been on the market for quite a few months, initial minor bugs have been fixed, so it's appropriate now to determine whether it is a viable product for which SOHO, small businesses, amateurs, hobbyists and professionals can consider shelling out hard earned money.

The D200 is dust and water resistant and offers the same excellent ergonomics found in all of the professional line of Nikon camera bodies. This one is designed to be used all day, every day, and offers the magnesium alloy frame construction, assembly quality, balance, weight and control positioning needed to help you take shot after shot without frustration or fatigue. Spec hounds can download the detailed Nikon product sheet on the D200 here. I tested the D200 with the following lenses:

  • Nikon 12-24mm f/3.5-5.6 DX zoom
  • Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 DX VR zoom
  • Nikon 17-55 f/2.8 zoom,
  • Nikon 18-70 f/3.5-5.6 DX zoom
  • Nikon 70-300 DX ED zoom
  • Nikon 105mm f/2.8 micro
  • Nikon 50mm f/1.4
  • Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR zoom
  • Nikon 70-210mm f/4 zoom
  • Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC zoom.

Some people say that buying expensive gear doesn't really get you any farther ahead. They say that large increases in cost get you only incremental improvements in picture quality. It's often true, and certainly in photography you can't see and compose better shots simply by purchasing more expensive equipment. Seeing and composing good shots is entirely the responsibility of the photographer. But when your camera works more intuitively, when it fits your hand properly, and when it functions effortlessly and quickly in a vast array of difficult shooting conditions, you're free to concentrate more fully on the goal at hand: to see, compose and capture great shots. The point is, if you're spending less time fiddling around trying to locate controls and functions, you'll likely have more time to look through the viewfinder. The D200 meets these criteria by tying all of the external control buttons to either the main command dial or the sub command dial. Hold down a button then rotate the appropriate dial to adjust the setting. The system is simple to use, fast and immensely powerful.


I intended to spend several weeks experimenting with the D200. What actually happened is that I only needed a couple of hours of wandering and shooting to get completely familiar with the camera. I immediately began planning some shooting projects: urban landscapes, downtown people, unusual city landmarks, farmland, etc., etc. I was excited about the prospect of pursuing each project with the D200 in hand and the actual execution was almost better than the anticipation. The camera looks and feels like a professional camera should, and helps command the appropriate sort of attention from people whom you ask permission to photograph. One look at the camera causes people to assume that it's a piece of pro gear and that the photographer is also a pro. Whether or not you're a pro, an amateur or an avid hobbyist, the D200 will help open 'doors' from time to time. The versatility of the camera's exposure programming and, of course, the manual controls, allowed me to complete each project by producing a much higher number of good quality shots than I've ever been able to retain in previous, similar sorts of projects. That sort of result is my best measuring stick actually—the gear functions as I expect it to—with no surprises or usability frustrations which even momentarily prevent me from just shooting at every opportunity.

Compared to the smaller digital SLRs on the market, the D200 might initially seem like a bit of a brick, but don't be fooled by the weight specification alone. In fact, the D200 is extremely well balanced and when mated with one of the new Lowepro, Tamrac or Optex straps which incorporate a cushioned section of stretch Lycra, it can be slung around your neck and carried all day. I subscribe to the theory that a certain amount of weight helps steady the camera when shooting handheld. In fact, when using better quality or pro lenses (e.g., the 17-55 f/2.8 zoom or 70-200mm f/2.8 VR zoom), their weight always tended to over-balance my D70s, but on the D200 the obviously heavier combination is perfectly balanced and much easier to handle and shoot. While I get great shots out of the D70S & 17-55 f/2.8 or the D70S & 70-200mm f/2.8 VR zoom combinations, the process is sometimes a bit tiring because of the poor balance between the lightweight D70 body and the heavy pro lens. Stir the D200 into the combo and the shooting experience not only results in good shots, it becomes thoroughly enjoyable as well. More weight + better balance = greater comfort and usability.

The D200 has an deep array of custom programming functions which allow you to switch into specific modes to accommodate unusual exposure conditions. I confess to spending 80% of my shooting time in Program (P) mode however, occasionally making focus area and exposure metering changes to meet spot conditions, venturing into Manual mode or Aperture mode only when conditions warrant. Nikon has put the very best of its collective knowledge into the D200 chipset and even if you pay only basic attention to subject selection and composition, the results may amaze you.

Shooting outdoors with the D200 is an absolute pleasure. The camera excels in natural conditions. Wandering around downtown concrete and glass jungles shooting buildings at odd angles, capturing sky and cloud reflections in the glass of office towers, shooting sculptures in the park, and sunsets flaring off the urban landscape was an effort in creativity. The results have been, in a word, delightful—so much so that I'm drawn back to familiar places over and over again, confident that there's still much more that I can do with the D200 in those places that I've already visited and shot dozens of times. The D200 lets you see things you never saw before. I spent one memorable evening in particular with the D200 and my 17-55m f/2.8 Nikkor zoom mounted on a Manfrotto 222 tripod w/pistol grip head, shifting position along a quarter mile (o.4km) arc, shooting east into the reflections of the setting sun lancing off the office towers in downtown Toronto. It was a glorious session and the results were surreal and terrific.

Feeding a photography habit is one thing. Business needs are important too. So I used the D200 to shoot a retail product session, comparing the results to identical shots taken with a Nikon D2x and a Canon 5D. The only difference I could detect was a tiny bit more detail in finely resolved areas of clothing when viewed under high magnification (200% or more) in Photoshop CS2. After auto color balance correction in CS2, shots from the D200 and D2x are almost indistinguishable. In the studio again, going head to head with the Canon 5D, the D200 acquitted itself beautifully in every shot except those where the somewhat more saturated color rendering of the 5D was a greater compliment in shots of certain types of products. Although the 5D costs 75% more than the D200, it simply does not produce better photos overall. Photos from the 5D generally have somewhat more saturated color—one of Canon's signatures—and clean detail, but photos from the D200 exemplify Nikon's smoother, detailed and more subtle look. After almost a full day in the studio, we determined that, in nicely lit and controlled conditions, you have to work real hard to get a bad shot from any of the cameras. However, during the studio session I discovered my one and only disappointment with the D200: there's no wireless remote capability, so you're tethered to the camera by the length of the remote control cable.

The final set of tests we conducted involved indoor shooting sessions using the built-in pop-up flash and the Nikon SB600 accessory flash. Using the 50mm f/1.4 prime lens with the camera mounted on a tripod, and using the camera handheld with the 17-55 f/2.8 Nikkor zoom and the Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC zoom, results ranged from good to excellent with the Nikkor and good with the Sigma. The pop-up flash syncs with the camera using shutter speeds between 1/60 and 1/250 of a second in P, A or S modes. I took the camera to a couple of business seminars in order to get some candid shots, and also to a dingy local landmark to see how well the camera and flash combinations could do in a poorly lit 200 year old historic home. I found lots of regular use for the pop-up flash unit, notably for additional fill in exterior people shots where the subjects face was too dark (e.g., when naturally lit from behind or from the side). The pop-up flash has five selectable modes:

  • Front Curtain Sync (standard flash mode in which the subject is fully lit by the flash)
  • Red-Eye Reduction (a small flash is pre-fired to reduce pupil diameter followed a moment later by the full flash and actual shot)
  • Red-Eye Reduction with Slow Sync (which prevents red-eye and also captures both the subject and background)
  • Slow Sync (captures the subject and background)
  • Rear Curtain Sync (flash fires just before the shutter closes to create the effect of a stream of light behind moving subjects)

Selecting any of the flash modes is done quickly and easily by holding down the flash button and rotating the main command dial.

Cons: I expect Nikon to have all of its D200 retailers stocked at normal levels by November 2006 which is a full year after the release. Canon no doubt wishes it had this problem, but Nikon nonetheless did a terrible job of anticipating sales volume. It's all well and good to build sales and market pressure for a desirable product, but two and three month delivery waits were clearly a mistake which motivated some people to reconsider and buy competitors' products. Image noise is evident at high ISO settings (600 and above), something which Nikon must at least partly address in a firmware update. At this retail price point, the Nikon Capture software should be included in the package, rather than (or in addition to) the limited and distinctly non-professional NikonView software. If you're moving up from a D50, D70 or D70s or switching from a Canon Digital Rebel XT, 20D or 30D, be prepared for shorter battery life. With my D70S I could go for two weeks on a single charge—ditto with my son's Digital Rebel XT—but the D200 and all its powerful features takes a much heavier toll battery life. Buy a spare battery. There's no flash sync above 1/250 of a second. No wireless remote.

Pros: There is everything to like about the D200 and little or nothing to dislike. Fully compatible with almost every modern SLR lens ever made by Nikon, and you can even use some really old lenses too although you'll have to do manual exposure metering and adjustments. I can produce excellent shots with every lens in my arsenal. Despite the vast feature and control set built into the camera, getting up and running requires little more than inserting a charged battery and a compact flash card. In most shooting situations in Program mode, the camera is as good as anything we've ever seen. It's really an amazing accomplishment. Generations of photography experience have gone into the programming, resulting in a camera that can quickly and automatically handle an enormous range of shooting conditions. The manual controls are superb and offer almost every single one of the nuances of exposure and adjustment found on the highest priced and most highly regarded cameras available today. Whether you're outdoors, indoors, or in the studio, the D200 is capable of providing you with instantly accessible adjustments to capture the true essence of every subject and situation. Superb image quality which meets or exceeds stringent professional standards. This camera represents a milestone in Nikon's digital era. Handling the D200 is a pleasure and I look forward to picking it up and shooting with it at every opportunity. Highly recommended.

KSN Product Rating:





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