The Current Issue
Nikon Owner Issue 19
Double Century Delight by Simon Stafford
As a fully specified, professional grade, D-SLR camera the D200 defines the quantum leap forward in digital imaging technology that has taken place since its predecessor, the d100, was introduced only three and a half years ago. Simon Stafford takes a close look as Nikon's latest digital SLR in a two-part.
The recent announcement from Nikon that production of all film cameras, with the exception of the F6, is to cease by mid-2006 is a clear and unequivocal message that the future of mainstream photography, regardless of whether it is performed at an enthusiast or professional level, is going to be digital. I am sure it is no coincidence that this message followed closely on the heels of Nikon's launch of the D200, a mid-range digital SLR intended to fill the yawning gap between the company's entry-level cameras and its flagship D2-series cameras.
Nikon is not renowned for introducing new camera models at a frequency to match some of its well-known rivals but the protracted gestation of a replacement for the aging D100, launched during mid-2002, was beginning to try the patience of even the most diehard Nikon devotees, many of whom turned to the newer D70-series cameras as an alternative. So, has the wait been worth it?
In short the answer is a categorical - yes! Any comparison between the D200 and its predecessor, the D100 is meaningless, since the newcomer is a totally different camera with a specification and performance that in many respects brings it within a hair's breadth of the D2X.
My preview of the D200 published in Issue XVII of Nikon Owner magazine detailed its principal specification, so I will refrain from repeating it here in full.
However, let me recap the salient points before I deal with others in more detail below: the D200 has an all-new DX-format (23.6mm x 15.8mm) RGB CCD sensor with 10.2 effective megapixels, which uses a four-channel output for high-speed data transfer. It is built around a magnesium alloy chassis, is sealed extensively against the ingress of water and dust, and weighs 830g (26oz) without a battery.
It inherits many of the features and functions found on the D2X including a 1005-pixel RGB metering sensor and 3D Colour Matrix Metering II algorithm for metering ambient light (Note: there is no ambient light sensor in the prism head as found on the D2-series cameras); metering modes include Matrix, Centre-Weighted and Spot (2% of frame area). I have found the metering of the D200 to be unerringly accurate in even very difficult lighting conditions; as is my usual practice I use the Matrix metering for a majority of situations and resort to spot-metering when necessary by having it allocated to the operation of the function button. The camera has a sensitivity range equivalent to ISO 100-1600 in 1/3, 1/2, or 1EV step increments, plus a Hi-1 setting equivalent to an ISO 3200 (approximately). White balance control also mirrors that available on the D2X, with Auto, a selection of manual settings including direct selection of a colour temperature value in degrees Kelvin, and a pre-set option, with the ability to store up to five different white balance values. Connection ports include: High-speed USB 2.0, 10-pin remote accessory socket, and a standard PC flash sync socket.
Pick up the D200 and you are reassured immediately by its solid, well-balanced feel in the hand; it is ready to start shooting almost as soon as the power is switched on thanks to its very quick start-up time of just 150 milliseconds. Layout and functionality of its controls draws heavily on those of the D70s and D2-series cameras, hence overall the handling will be familiar to users of these cameras, and will soon become instinctive to new users.
In its promotional literature Nikon states that the shutter mechanism of the D200 is tested to over 100,000-cycles. This is interesting since most of its other professionally specified cameras (film and digital) are usually tested to 150,000 activations, which may be an indication that the shutter mechanism is not as robust. It has a speed range of 30 seconds to 1/8000 second, plus Bulb: a standard top flash sync of 1/250 but supports the FP High-speed flash sync mode with compatible Speedlights. Shutter lag is an impressively short 50ms compared with 37ms on the D2X; the mirror blackout time is quoted at 105ms. Based on my testing Nikon's claimed capture rate bears scrutiny; it will record up to 37 JPEG (Large, Fine), or 22 NEF (Nikon Electronic Format) RAW frames at a sustained 5 fps, with storage to either CompactFlash Type I/II cards or Microdrives.