Nikon D200 Digital Camera Reviewed

by Bjørn Rørslett  

9. Summing Up

The Nikon D200 establishes itself firmly as the much longed-for "digital" F100. Alternatively, it can be seen as a wolf in lamb's clothing. You get an image quality within a hair's width of the D2X, Nikon's current digital flagship. In some aspects the D200 performs even better; for example, ISO noise is slightly lower over much of the range, and the risk of blown highlights is subtly reduced when the camera is run on automatic metering modes. On the other hand, the D2X excels in terms of sheer ruggedness, better auto white balance, faster shooting speeds, HSC (High-Speed Crop) feature, and handling, although consideration of the latter surely is up to the end user. You get a very decent viewfinder, excellent AF performance, GPS support just like the professional big brothers (D1H, D1X, D2Hs, D2X), and a metering system that you can rely on. Plus the opportunity to switch from having a small, neat camera for long hikes to a bigger unit with the bolt-on MB-D200 power grip.

The D200 shares with the D2X the honour of being a quite unforgiving image recording instrument. If there is any optical flaw or aberration of the image projected by your lens, the D200 will show the defect with almost the merciless clarity observed on the D2X. Chromatic aberration (CA) rears its ugly head almost everywhere. Lenses you believed were just about perfect will suddenly appear devoid of their former splendour, whilst the real optical gems will take on a magical shine on their own.

The price puts the D200 firmly in reach of a huge customer base, much more so than the case is for the professional-targeted D2X. I'm certain many of the potential customers will be more than a little intimidated by the sheer complexity of all the menu settings and subtle nuances of these options. Set to default values, however, the D200 churns out very respectable image quality, and as you gain experience with it, the diversity of options takes on a more understandable meaning.

Again, if you can master it, and it's not really that difficult, the D200 will provide you with a formidable picture taking machine. I guess many people will purchase a D200 as a backup camera for their trustworthy D2X or D2Hs bodies. It might even enamour itself sufficiently to replace some of the bulkier "pro" bodies for many applications.

Season's Greetings

D200, 200-400 mm f/4 Nikkor-ED AIS lens, f/11 @ 3 secs
© Bjørn Rørslett/NN


Even a smallish camera can take on a manly lens

D200 - ready to take on even the biggest lens, and with a GPS unit to help you locate the position of that shot in aftertime
© Bjørn Rørslett/NN

The DX format has shown real muscle with the introduction of the D2X and now D200, transcending the quality expectation for this tiny format. This shows that Nikon's approach to digital SLR technology with focus on the "DX" format, stubborn and seemingly in conflict with the current perception of "full frame" as the only viable solution, in the end might just be what the market needs at a price the market can afford.

You can get truly impressive and stunning image quality from a D200 shot, but this - obviously - requires using the best lenses from the vast arsenal available in "F" mount. If you try to use mediocre lenses on the D200, you'll be rewarded with a corresponding result. So plan for adding better quality item to your lens line-up, if you have not already done so.

Without changing their long-standing camera bayonet mount, Nikon has managed to develop telecentric designs for their widest angle lenses, so some inherent drawbacks of current digital recording technology (vignetting and chromatic flaws in the corners of the frame) can be addressed or circumvented. The resolving capacity of the D200, however, clearly shows that although vignetting issues are solved, some vestiges of chromatic aberration are unavoidable despite all the optical wizardry poured into these modern designs. Whether this is objectionable depends largely on the scene captured by the camera and the degree of enlargement you plan for the image. Because CA is more clearly defined on D200 images, it should be easier to remove as well. The affected image areas with CA issues do not "bleed" into neighbouring pixels to the extent we see with lesser cameras. Also noteworthy is that the CA issue is not between DX vs non-DX lenses per se, but might be lens specific. Thus, AFS 17-55 DX does have slightly more CA at 17 mm than the legendary AFS 17-35 Nikkor, the latter of which is non-DX. However, for the very short focal range, the DX lenses really show the advantage of their telecentric design. One just has to shoot with 12-24 DX set to 14 mm vs the 14 mm f/2.8 Nikkor to realise this. In fact, the 12-24 DX is possibly very synergetic with the D200 and might perform even better on that body than on the D2X. Could this result because its resolution matches better that of the D200 imager?

D200 can be used everywhere
Take your D200 with the 12-24 DX anywhere, an excellent combination for street and into-the-action kind of photography. Note also that despite the awful fluorescent-type lighting, colours are great and CA is virtually non-existent (no striping either)

D200, 12-24 DX Nikkor at f/4, 1/20 sec, 800 ISO equivalency, automatic white-balance
© Bjørn Rørslett/NN

For the longer focal lengths, most quality lenses from 28 up to 135 mm should perform well on the D200. Older telephoto lenses, those manual ED-IF lenses with the classic 8/6 (elements/groups) optics, can be expected to show some corner CA as well, in particular if used with teleconverters, so you should deploy the new generation AFS/AFS-VR in order to extract maximum image quality from the D200 with them. Alternatively, you can familiarise yourself with post-processing correction software such as the freely available PanoTools. Nevertheless, some of the old champions, such as the popular 400 mm f/3.5 Nikkor ED-IF, does a poor job on the D200. You have to check out the various combinations before selecting the better lens for an assignment.

I feel time, unavoidably and unequivocally, has now come to include the post-processing software as an integrated part of the entire photographic workflow, to an extent where the final touching-up of the image is left to the computer software. After all, when the EXIF metadata tells the software all there is to know about the shooting and the lens employed, surely the program can rearrange the pixel data to minimise any residual aberration. As an extension of this we should urge the manufactures to publish the correction data openly, to the benefit of the digital photographer community and software companies in general.

The sample camera I got for my review was a very fine performer indeed, and if each and every one of the D200 bodies delivered behaved like that, I could whole-heartedly recommend the D200 to all parties lusting for this camera. Probably most D200 customers share this experience. However, as witnessed by a friend's camera and vociferous reports elsewhere, there has been a glitch in Quality Control on Nikon's behalf. Some cameras demonstrably show the infamous "striping" issue, and this is a stern warning that no chain is stronger than its weakest link. We need to rely on the gear, not be forever scrutinising it for flaws. The real issue is about trust and restoration of faith in the equipment. From the standpoint of a customer entrenched in the Western way of thinking, admitting a flaw isn't seen as a weakness by most customers as long as we are assured the issue will be resolved. Rather, it tends to strengthen mutual relationships and will be taken as a sign of real customer care. Being an Oriental company, Nikon probably see the matter differently. In whatever light the issue is seen, Public Relations Management of Nikon has a long way to go and could do well to learn a lesson from this D200 incident.

However, Nikon is now well aware of the "striping" issue, so I'm confident any flawed camera will be fixed in the immediate future. All evidence so far points to the incidence of flawed cameras being low, maybe originating from the earliest production runs.

To all people getting trouble-free D200 cameras, do enjoy the shooting experience of this new star on the digital heavens. And the big question: will I add one or more D200 cameras to my own gear? More than likely.



Several people helped me complete this review article. Thanks go to the staff at Nikon Norway for providing me with a sample camera, to Ola-E. Hofshagen for his discussion and contribution of images upon request, and to my girlfriend Ruth Eckhoff for much-needed moral support during the strenuous last stage of writing. Finally, linguistic correction provided by Paul aka Montydog and Tom Christiansen is truly appreciated. Remaining errors are mine or not seen by me.

Nikon D200 Reviewed

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Last update 18 January, 2006