First Exposure by John Rettie
Nikon D200: Exceptional Consumer/Pro Camera
The Nikon D200 makes an ideal ďwalk-aroundĒ camera with the
18Ė200mm VR zoom lens attached
IN MANY WAYS Nikon can be
credited with popularizing the modern
digital SLR camera when it introduced
the original D1 in 1999. It was
the first affordable camera designed
from the ground up as a digital camera
rather than being a modified film
camera. True, it maintained the same
basic format and layout of a 35mm
film camera body, but this is an ideal
design for those switching from film
to digital. It is also the form that is
still used by all pro-level digital SLR
cameras to date.
The D1 quickly became popular
not only with Nikon users, but also
with others who saw the value in
the cameraís price, size and image
quality. Some photographers even
switched brands to Nikon to gain the
benefits of the camera.
Anyone familiar with Nikonís arrangement of buttons
and dials will quickly feel at home with the D200.
Sadly, until last yearís introduction of the D2X, it seemed as though
Nikon had fallen behind its main competition; its cameras delivered
slightly lower image quality and, in some cases, fewer features.
Of course, Nikon loyalists might vehemently disagree, and many
would quite rightly argue that there is much more to a camera system
than just the body, which brings us to
the D200, introduced at the end of
The D200 fills an important position
in Nikonís lineup of digital SLR camera
bodies, falling in between the D50
and D70s models, which are aimed at
amateur photographers on a budget,
and the D2H and D2X, which are
aimed squarely at professionals (and
amateurs with no budget worries!).
Officially, the D200 replaces the
D100óa decent camera, but one that
is barely adequate for professional
users. The D200 is a substantially better
camera in many ways, and represents
much more than just an upgrade
The large 2.5-inch rear LCD is great for clear menus and ease
of reviewing captured images.
For starters, the D200 sports a 10.2-
megapixel CCD in place of the 6.0MP
CCD in the D100. It has the same
physical size as the sensors in all other Nikon DSLRs, meaning it has
more densely packed pixels than all but the D2X camera.
As nearly everyone knows, the whole issue of the number of pixels,
the size of the sensor and the type of sensor are all controversial areas
for discussion. Surprisingly perhaps, the D200 reverts back to using a ďtraditionalĒ CCD instead of a CMOS sensor (which can be found in
the D2X and all Canon DSLR cameras). Iíll leave it to the engineers
to discuss the pros and cons of these variables.
Thereís no denying that Canon cameras produce the best images at
high ISOs. If you compare a 1600 ISO image shot from an EOS-5D
with one from a D200, the D200 image will be noisier. In most cases
though, itís still perfectly acceptable, and running a noise filter can
take care of much of the noise, such that a proficient image editor
can produce images that will be absolutely fine. I even found that
images shot at 3200 ISO were acceptable, especially in poor lighting
Take an image shot at 400 ISO or less, and youíll be hard pressed
to see any visible noise.
Las Vegas model Brianna Dunlop poses for John Rettie as he tries out the Nikon
D200 with a White Lightning studio flash system (1/250 at f/11, 100 ISO, 120mm on 18Ė
200mm VR lens, Normal optimization mode).
Like most modern cameras, the D200 has a large array of settings
that can be utilized for different shooting environments. For example,
the Vivid setting can transform a landscape shot on a dull day. I accidentally
left the camera on this setting during an indoor portrait
shoot with studio flash, and the images were far too saturated and
over-sharpened. Fortunately, I shot several of them in RAW and was
able to adjust the settings after the fact to produce decent images
without heavy Photoshop processing.
I donít normally shoot RAW, but I did shoot some images in
RAW+JPEG on the D200. It did not appear to slow down the camera
at allóeven though each RAW image was 15MB, and the accompanying
Fine JPEG files were around 3MB each. Thanks to my good
fortune in using a 8GB SanDisk Ultra II CompactFlash card, I was
able to get over 400 images on a single card.
The D200 has a buffer that allows one to shoot about 20 exposures
in RAW. Even when shooting some motor racing in rapid sequences,
I did not overflow the buffer. All in all, from an almost instantaneous startup to its 5-fps shooting speed,
the cameras should be fast enough for
The Kodak EasyShare/Amp'd Mobile/
SIRIUS DORAN JE4 Ford No. 77 ran as high as sixth in the Crown Royal Grand American
Challenge Rolex Series race on the streets of Long Beach, CA, in April. Pan photo
captured by John Rettie on the Nikon D200, which proved to be plenty fast enough for
sports-action photography (1/125 at f/18, 200 ISO, 42mm on 18Ė200mm VR lens, VR on,
Vivid optimization mode).
Speaking of sequence shooting, the
D200 has a couple of unique features
that some might consider superfluous,
but I am convinced we will see
in most DSLR cameras in the future.
First, the camera has a built-in intervalometer.
It is set in a menu that allows
hundreds of exposures to be shot
at intervals from a few seconds to several
minutes. Itís a feature that could
be utilized for automated shooting of
a time-lapse scene, such as the progress
of a construction site.
I tried producing a short ďvideoĒ of
my dog on a bed in my absence. Unfortunately, I guess he didnít like
the noise of the camera because he left the bed after 20 minutes. The
camera continued shooting until the battery went flat and I got over
200 perfectly exposed shots of an empty bed!
Another feature is multi-exposure. The camera can take up to 10
images of the same subject and adjust the gain of each exposure so
the final single image is correctly exposed. Obviously, this is a feature
that one could do with a film camera, and a similar effect can be
achieved in Photoshop, but itís certainly nice to have it done automatically
by the camera.
Eight handheld exposures captured while zooming out
from 200mm on a bunch of red flowers. Optimization mode set at High Vivid.
A feature I have not yet tried is image overlay, which makes it possible
to superimpose one image over another and adjust the gain to
make a single image. Again itís possible to do this in Photoshop, but
in many circumstances it might be preferable to do it in the camera.
I can see this being useful, for example, when shooting a magazine
cover and a logo needs to be superimposed over the image.
The new feature that I have found most useful in my photojournalism
and sports photography is auto-adjusting ISO. Iím not talking
about the automatic setting where the camera adjusts speed, aperture
and ISO automatically. Rather, this is a unique feature that operates
in shutter and aperture priority settings. One sets the camera so that
if the lighting changes and the speed drops below a preset level, the
ISO is bumped up as needed to a preset maximum. Likewise, if the
aperture drops to a predetermined level in shutter priority, the ISO
is boosted automatically in compensation. This is most definitely
something that could not be done in a
film camera, so itís good to see Nikon
adding this feature.
Iíve used it on several occasions at
the end of the day when the light has
been fading, and itís proved very useful.
Again though, I left it on once and
could not figure out why my shots
were being taken at 1600 ISO with a
flash. The camera was taking an available
light reading first and boosting
the ISO before firing the flash.
A small pride of lions enjoys the shade at the end of a hot
day in the Shamwari Game Reserve near Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Photo shot by
John Rettie on the Nikon D200 with a 18Ė200mm VR lens at 82mm (Yes, he was that
close, and he was shooting from an open Land Rover!) (1/125 at f/5.6, 200 ISO, VR on,
Normal optimization mode)
Of course, once one has mastered
all these different functions itís possible
to preset them in custom banks
so they can be quickly recalled for use
again in different conditions.
Unlike most pro-level cameras, the D200 has a pop-up flash, which
for some reason many people consider a very unprofessional feature.
I totally disagree. There are many times when I am shooting and only
have occasional need for a quick flash for fill. Rather than getting out
an external flash or having one mounted all the time, itís so easy to
just pop up the built-in flash.
Beyond that, the pop-up flash on the D200 serves a far more valuable
functionóit can be used as a commander flash to control several
external flashes wirelessly. Nikon has garnered a lot of praise for the
versatility of its CLS flash system. The top-of-the-line SB800 flash has
a sophisticated commander control system that can adjust the output
of remotely located SB flashguns. This same functionality is also offered
in the SU-800 flash control module for other cameras. But on
the D200 it is built right in the camera as part of the flash system. I
have used it on several occasions. In case youíre wondering, itís also
possible to crank the pop-up flash down to 1/128-power so it does not
produce much light of its own, but still triggers several remote flash
guns. Essentially it means you have a built-in SU-800 commander
unit, saving about $250.
The magnesium-alloy D200 body is well built and feels solid. It is
a little heavier than the Canon 30D, which is Canonís nearest competitor.
The D200 also features weather-sealing, making it a better
camera for use in bad weather or dusty conditions. It has a very good
viewfinder that does not have the tunnel-like feel that has been prevalent
in cameras with small sensors. I found it to be considerably easier for framing than my old Canon EOS-10D and slightly better than
the newer 30D. A useful gridline scan also be superimposed over the
screen. As an aside, this surely means that a variety of gridlines for
different aspect ratios, such as 8x10 gridlines, could be made available
without much effort.
Itís easy to set up minimum speeds or aperture along with maximum
ISO for auto-adjusting ISO in variable lighting conditions.
The built-in intervalometer makes it easy to set up the D200 to capture
many images at set intervals.
Other features that have been improved on the D200 include a
noticeably larger 2.5-inch LCD for chimping. Thereís also an option
to tell the camera to not rotate vertical images when viewing on the
cameraís LCD, but still have them set to rotate when viewed on a
computeróa very useful tweak.
I used to think it was important to add a vertical grip and extra
battery holder on these types of cameras to give them more bulk.
Nikon does offer a MB-D200 grip for the D200 that will accept two
rechargeable or AA batteries. I never use the vertical shutter button
on cameras, and nowadays I find the added weight for balance less
appealing, especially since lenses such as the 18Ė200mm zoom have
gotten so small and lightweight. Additionally, batteries last much
longer nowadays, so there is really less need for the additional battery
Incidentally, although the EN-EL3e battery is identical in size to
the batteries used in the D100, D70 and D50, it has extra electronic
circuitry in it, and consequently, batteries from the other cameras
will not work in the D200. The battery readout menu offers far more
accurate information, including the number of images shot and the
exact amount of battery power remaining as a percent.
The versatile built-in pop-up flash can be set up as a commander to
control several remote SB flashguns in one or two groups.
Overall I am impressed with D200, so much so that I purchased
one myself, along with the 18Ė200mm VR zoom lens. Anyone who
enjoys using a Nikon body will be delighted with the responsiveness
of the D200 and the high-quality images it produces. If youíre enamored
with the ability to easily use new features, such as the intervalometer,
multi-exposure and true auto ISO adjusting, youíll appreciate
these new avenues for producing images.
Unless you are still convinced you have to own a camera with a
full-size 24x36 sensor, youíll like this camera because it gives the same
field of view that youíve come to expect from all models in the Nikon
range of DSLR cameras, making it an ideal backup camera or a main
camera. Thereís no denying that the smaller DX (APC-S) size sensor
is a real boon to users of long lenses. Whatís more, it is no longer a
problem for wide-angle shooting, thanks to the increasing number
of wide-angle lenses designed specifically for DX camera bodies. Itís
tough for anyone to disagree that this is the best DSLR camera on
the market priced under $3000. Indeed, its $1699 street price makes
it tremendous value for the money.
John Rettie is a photojournalist who resides in Santa Barbara, CA. Readers can contact
him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by snail-mail c/o Rangefinder.