The Current Issue
Nikon Owner Issue 20
Double Century Delight Part II
In the second part of his review Simon Stafford concludes his close look at Nikon's latest digital SLR: the D200.
THE D200 & FLASH
The D200 supports i-TTL flash exposure control for both its built-in flash and compatible, external Speedlights. The built-in flash can be used to operate almost any number of SB-600 and SB-800 Speedlights, as well as the new SB-R200 Macro-flash units, with full control over the flash exposure mode (TTL, M or AA), flash exposure compensation and wireless communication set-up. Used in its Commander mode the built-in Speedlight can support three groups (Master, plus Groups A & B) compared with four groups (Master, plus Groups A, B, & C) when using the SB-800 in its Master flash mode.
Prospective users of the D200 hoping that the flash sync speed would reach 1/500 second will be disappointed to learn that the fastest standard flash sync speed on the camera is 1/250 second. There is another twist to flash synchronisation, because unlike all current and previous Nikon digital SLR cameras with a CCD type sensor in which any shutter speed above 1/250 second is emulated by switching the sensor on and off rather than the shutter blades opening and closing, the shutter in the D200 is mechanical and used to control the exposure time across the entire shutter speed range. The practical implication of this change will be the inability to 'fool' the camera when using non-dedicated flash units into operating with flash at sync speeds above 1/250 second. If you use compatible dedicated Nikon Speedlights the camera does support the FP High-speed flash synchronization feature.
Other Features and Functions
The D200 incorporates a number of features that I consider essential on any camera; there is a mirror lock-up option, depth-of-field preview button, TTL metering support for non-CPU (i.e. Ai and Ai-S lenses), and the user programmable function button as found on the D2-series cameras. It also offers the ability to perform multiple exposures, and the image overlay feature for combining two NEF RAW files has been migrated from the D2X. Plus there is an intervalometer function accessed via the shooting menu for time-lapse photography.
As a natural stepping stone for the D50 / D70-series user seeking to move on to a more sophisticated photographic tool, Nikon have apparently chosen to include a few features on the D200 normally associated with their consumer-grade cameras by way of maintaining some familiarity, such as the Optimize Image modes and audible warning but, thankfully, there is no trace on the D200 of the point and shoot Digital Vari-Program modes found on these models.
D200 Supplied Accessories*
One rechargeable Li-ion EN-EL3e battery, Quick Charger MH-18a, Video Cable, USB Cable UC-E4, Strap, Body cap, Eyepiece Cap DK-5, Rubber Eyecup DK-21, LCD monitor cover BM-6, PictureProject CD-ROM.
* Note these may vary depending on the country in which the camera is supplied.
D200 Optional Accessories
• The MB-D200 Multi-Power Battery Pack can accept up to two EN-EL3e batteries to double the shooting capacity, and provides an additional shutter release button, second pair of command dials, and AF-ON button for vertical shooting. It can also take six AA batteries as an alternative power source, although given the power requirements of the camera this option should only be considered as a short-term solution when no charged EN-EL3e battery is available. The MB-D200 attaches to the base of the D200 via the tripod attachment thread, and increases the overall height profile of the camera above that of the D2X, so be prepared to make some extra space in your camera bag! It does improve the balance of the camera when used with large heavy lenses, and is particularly useful for hand-held shooting, as the extra mass it adds makes holding the camera steady that much easier.
• A new wireless transmitter the WT-3/WT-3A with a feature set similar to the current WT-2/WT-2A for the D2X, which I understand will also incorporate duplicate controls such as the vertical shutter release, command dials and AF-On button, as found on the MB-D200 (available from September 2006).
• The MC-35 GPS Adapter Cord links the D200 to an external GPS (Global Positioning System) unit.
• The new MC-36 Remote Release cable incorporates an intervalometer for extended time exposures and time-lapse photography. It also has a shutter release button.
Given the rapidity and pervasive nature of modern day communications the merchants of mischief can have a field day when it comes to propagating rumour, conjecture and ill-informed comment. So it has been with the issue of 'banding' (I use the word advisedly since that is how Nikon has referred to the effect, although I have seen it called 'striping', and the 'corduroy effect' elsewhere), which has taken on disproportionate dimensions in some quarters.
What was all the fuss about? It appears that in a small proportion of D200 cameras used in specific lighting and shooting conditions an alternating pattern of light and dark 'bands', reminiscent of the teeth in a comb, can appear in the region of transition between an area that is significantly overexposed and a neighbouring area that is appreciably darker in tone. These bands are always orientated so that they run parallel to the short edge of the frame, and are usually no more than two to four pixels wide. There has been no official word as to the cause, so we can only speculate. It is probably connected with the fact that the data is read from two sides of the sensor simultaneously. In most cases exposures that have an even range of tones present no problem but where the image contains an area of gross over-exposure against a relatively darker area any inaccuracy or inefficiency in the data readout can cause the appearance of alternating light and dark bands. Nikon refer to this as 'short banding' but in some instances, apparently, a far smaller sample of cameras can also display a pattern of alternating light and dark bands across the entire frame area, which Nikon refer to as 'long banding'.
Nikon face a difficult conundrum, as it appears there is no consistency to the banding issue, which is probably an indication that the effect is more prevalent under certain types of illumination. Whilst some cameras display minor traces of the 'short banding' effect occasionally, others, although far, far fewer, are afflicted to a much greater degree with both 'short' and 'long banding' occurring regularly (any camera displaying the latter is clearly defective and the user should seek a replacement).
I have tested six or so D200 cameras, including a pre-production sample, and none has shown the slightest evidence of any 'banding'. I am not suggesting that the 'banding' issue does not exist - of course it does. Nikon have acknowledged the problem, officially, and stated that the affected cameras are confined to those produced in the very early stages of the camera's production cycle (clearly Nikon assumed that all was well and subjected only a proportion of finished cameras to quality assurance tests before dispatching them from the factory). The company has stated "Adjustment, if required, will optimize the camera's image output level, thereby reducing visible banding to a minimal level." - but such statements have only gone on to muddy the water even further. The implication being that the effect will be reduced but not eliminated. The fact is that almost all digital cameras can be induced to produce a banding pattern if pushed beyond normal operating limits (i.e. used at a high ISO setting, combined with gross under-exposure and subsequent post-processing to 'correct' it).
However, like many others I feel that the company could do more to allay the concerns of photographers including:
• The provision of more concise and detailed information about the problem, including which cameras have been affected.
• Set out what can be expected after an affected camera has been adjusted / repaired for the problem.
• Confirm that the problem is now fully identified and that the necessary remedial action to correct / repair / adjust for it has been disseminated to all Nikon technicians, globally.
• Tighten up their quality assurance / quality control procedures, especially preceding the launch of a new model.