Nikon D200 Review
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Nikon D200 Optics
Like other Nikon SLRs, the D200 accommodates a wide range of Nikkor lenses, via the standard Nikon "F" lens mount. The D200's lens mount includes both a mechanical AF coupling for older lenses, and AF electrical contacts for the latest AF-IF or AF-S Nikkor lenses with internal focus motors. With very few exceptions, you can use the D200 with any F Mount Nikkor lens ever made.
A nice feature boost for the D200 in the optics department is the addition of an AI aperture ring connector, a little metal vane located just outside the lens mount flange (at about 1 o'clock), that interfaces with old AI Nikkor manual focus lenses. This engages with the aperture ring on AI-style Nikkor lenses, and lets the D200 support aperture-priority metering mode and provide manual-exposure metering with them.
Functions and exposure modes available with a given lens will vary greatly with the lens type. More recent Nikkors (the G- or D-type models) include a microchip that communicates focal-distance information to the camera. Lenses without the microchip won't support the 3D Matrix metering mode. Here's a table detailing the functionality available with different Nikkor lens types (abstracted from the D200's manual, used by courtesy of Nikon USA, Inc).
- IX Nikkor lenses can not be used.
- Vibration Reduction (VR) supported with VR lenses.
- Spot metering meters selected focus area.
- The camera's exposure metering and flash control systems do not work properly when shifting and/or tilting the lens, or when an aperture other than the maximum aperture is used.
- Electronic range finder can not be used with shifting or tilting.
- Manual exposure mode only.
- Compatible with AF-I Nikkor lenses and with all AF-S lenses except AF-S DX VR ED 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6G; AF-S DX ED 12-24 mm f/4G, 17-55 mm f/2.8G, 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6G, 18-70 mm f/3.5-4.5G, and 55-200 mm f/4-5.6G; AF-S VR ED 24-120 mm f/3.5-5.6G; and AF-S ED 17-35 mm f/2.8D, 24-85 mm f/3.5-4.5G, and 28-70 mm f/2.8D.
- With maximum effective aperture of f/5.6 or faster.
- If AF 80-200 mm f/2.8S, AF 35-70 mm f/2.8S, new-model AF 28-85 mm f/3.5-4.5S, or AF 28-85 mm f/3.5-4.5S is zoomed in while focusing at minimum range, image on matte screen in viewfinder may not be in focus when in-focus indicator is displayed. Focus manually using image in viewfinder as guide.
- With maximum aperture of f/5.6 or faster.
- Some lenses can not be used (see below).
- Range of rotation for Ai 80-200 mm f/2.8S ED tripod mount limited by camera body. Filters can not be exchanged while Ai 200-400 mm f/4S ED is mounted on camera.
- If maximum aperture is specified using Non-CPU Lens Data option in shooting menu, aperture value will be displayed in viewfinder and control panel.
- Can be used only it lens focal length and maximum aperture are specified using Non-CPU Lens Data option in shooting menu. Use spot or center-weighted metering if desired results are not achieved.
- For improved precision, specify lens focal length and maximum aperture using Non-CPU Lens Data option in shooting menu.
- Can be used at in manual exposure modes at shutter speeds slower than 1/125 s. If maximum aperture is specified using Non-(PU Lens Data option in shooting menu, aperture value will be displayed in viewfinder and control panel.
- Exposure determined by presetting lens aperture. In aperture-priority auto exposure mode, preset aperture using lens aperture ring before performing AE lock or shifting lens. In manual exposure mode, preset aperture using lens aperture ring and determine exposure before shifting lens.
- Exposure compensation required when used with Al 2885 mm f/3.5-4.5S, Al 35-105 mm f/3.5-4.SS, Al 35-135 mm f/3.5-4.5S, or AF-S 80-200 mm f/2.8D. See teleconverter manual for details.
- Requires PK-12 orPK-13 auto extension ring.
- Use preset aperture. In exposure mode A, set aperture using focusing attachment before determining exposure and taking photograph. PF-4 Reprocopy Outfit requires PA-4 Camera Holder.
As mentioned briefly above, a few Nikkor optics can't be used with the D200 at all. Here's a list of these accessories and non-CPU lenses can NOT be used with the D200-
- Non-AI lenses
- Lenses that require the AU- 1 focusing unit (400 mm f/4 5, 600 mm f/5.6, 800 mm f/8, 1200 mm f/l1)
- Fisheye (6 mm f/5,6, 8 mm f/8, OP 10 mm f/5 ~6)
- 21 mm f/4 (old type) K2 rings ED
- 180-600mm f/8 (serial numbers 174041-174180) ED
- 360-1200 mm f/I I (serial numbers 174031-174127)
- 200-600 mm f/9.5 (serial numbers 280001 300490)
- Lenses for the F3AF (80 mm f/2-8, 200 mm f/3.5, TC- 16 Teleconverter)
- PC 28mm f/4 (serial number 180900 or earlier)
- PC 35mm f/2.8 (serial numbers 851001906200)
- PC 35 mm f/3.5 (old type)
- 1000 mm f/6.3 Reflex (old type)
- 1000mm f/11 Reflex (serial numbers 142361-143000)
- 2000mm f/11 Reflex (serial numbers 200111-200310)
Using Compatible Non-CPU Lenses
A big feature of the D200 (and D2x) is that they let you enter aperture and focal length data for older lenses that don't contain CPUs (computer chips) via the Non-CPU Lens Data option in the shooting menu. Without this information, the camera defaults to center-weighted exposure metering rather when matrix metering is selected, and color matrix metering can't be used. When you enter aperture and focal length data though, both of these advanced features are enabled.
When using non-CPU lenses, only aperture-priority and manual exposure modes are available, and you have to set the lens aperture via the lens aperture ring. If you didn't specify the maximum aperture using the Non-CPU Lens Data, the camera's aperture display will only show the number of stops down from maximum aperture that you're shooting at, you'll have to read the actual aperture in use from the aperture ring. With the maximum aperture entered via the Non-CPU Lens Data screen, the camera will keep track of and display the actual aperture. With a non-CPU lens in use, the camera will force you to Aperture Priority mode, even when Program or Shutter Priority are selected, but will warn you by blinking the exposure mode indicator in the control panel, and "A" will be displayed in the viewfinder.
Given that the optical characteristics will depend entirely on the lens attached, I'll talk concentrate here on the focusing options and modes rather than lens characteristics. There's a lot to talk about, given the exceptional control and flexibility afforded by the D200's autofocus systems. As we noted in the review section covering the viewfinder, the D200 has a total of 11 autofocus regions, arranged with 9 in an almost square matrix in the central area of the frame, with two additional ones positioned to the right and left of the central array. The D200 uses Nikon's Multi-CAM 1000 AF Sensor Module. The system can use each of its 11 focus areas individually, or can operate in a 7 wide-area mode, for broader coverage that improves the camera's ability to acquire and track moving subjects. Only the center AF sensor is cross-type, able to respond to subject detail oriented either horizontally or vertically. The remaining ten focus sensors are line-type.
The D200 lets you take advantage of auto or manual focus via a small dial on the front of the camera, next to the lens. Setting the switch to "M" puts the camera into manual focus mode, "S" places it in Single Servo AF (focus priority), and "C" puts it into Continuous Servo AF (release priority). Single Servo simply means that the camera sets focus only once, when the Shutter button is first pressed halfway, and is best for stationary objects. Continuous Servo means that the camera continuously adjusts the focus, as long as the Shutter button is halfway pressed, and is best for moving objects.
There's an important difference between Single and Continuous Servo modes: In Single Servo mode, the shutter won't release unless the lens is focused, or the lens itself is set to manual focus. (Focus Priority) In Continuous Servo mode however, the camera will fire regardless of the state of focus. (Release Priority) If you want to be sure that the camera is focused when you snap the picture, use Single Servo mode. Use Continuous Servo for moving subjects, and/or times when the instant of shutter release is more important to you than sharp focus.
The AF Area Mode dial on the rear panel lets you select between Single Area, Dynamic Area, Group Dynamic Area, and Dynamic Area AF Closest Subject Priority modes. Single Area AF simply means that the camera judges focus based on one part of the subject, and the user can manually select the AF point by pressing the arrow keys. Dynamic Area AF employs all of the autofocus points, though you can still manually select the main point. When Dynamic Area focusing is enabled, the camera first focuses on the subject in the central focus area. When the subject moves to a different AF area, the camera shifts the focus to "follow" the subject. This is great for irregularly moving subjects. (Sports and kids come to mind.) In Group Dynamic Area mode, the user selects a group of focus points (arranged in a crosshair pattern around a central point), that can be positioned anywhere in the frame. The camera will base focus on the center of the selected group, then adjust if the subject moves closer to another point in the group. The Closest Subject Priority option means that the camera first focuses on the closest object that falls into one of the 11 focus areas and then tracks it as it moves. In any of the modes, you can change the primary focus area by unlocking the focus area selector (the Four-Way Arrow pad on the back panel) and then shifting the focus area using the up, down, right, or left arrow directions on the control rocker. You can lock the focus area selection by turning the switch back to the lock position. You can also choose the number of available AF points, either seven or 11, through a Custom Settings menu option. By default, the D200 does not "wrap" the focus area selector as you scroll between focus areas. Through the Custom Settings menu though, you can opt for a "Wrap" function. What this means is that if you press the right arrow key again, after the right focus area is already selected, the selection will immediately jump to the left focus area. The same thing happens when moving the focus area selection vertically as well.
There are three methods by which you can lock focus on the D200. The first is to half-press the Shutter button to lock the focus, placing your subject in the selected focus area, halfway pressing the Shutter button, then realigning the composition and firing the shutter. (This is the default behavior of the Shutter button, but it can be disabled. Unlike most cameras, you can choose whether or not the Shutter button also locks exposure, via an option on the Custom Settings menu.) Alternatively, when using Single Servo AF, you can press the AF-L/AE-L button to lock focus (and exposure, unless the button is set for focus only in the Custom Settings menu). Keeping this button pressed will lock focus and/or exposure, even if the Shutter button is released. This lets you recompose the photograph without keeping your finger on the Shutter button, but on the AE-L/AF-L button instead. (Reducing the chance that you'll accidentally trip the shutter when you don't intend to.) You can also press the AF On button on the rear panel to set focus temporarily.
There are several options available for the AE-L/AF-L button, which can be set via the Custom Settings Menu. You can program it to lock either focus or exposure separately, or both together (the default). You can also change its operation so a single press locks and holds the exposure setting. (No need to keep the button pressed down.) Finally, you can set the AE/AF lock button so it alone controls the autofocus system, meaning the autofocus won't actuate when the shutter button is half-pressed, only when the AE/AF lock button is pressed instead.
We don't have any way to measure an autofocus system's ability to acquire and track a moving subject directly, but on a subjective level, the AF system in the Nikon D200 did seem to be very fast, responsive and accurate. We particularly liked the Dynamic and Group Dynamic AF options. Group Dynamic AF handles the common situation where it's difficult to place a single AF point on a very active subject at the start of focus tracking. By having a larger area in which to position the subject, it becomes much easier to initially acquire focus.
We were also quite impressed by how well the D200's AF system worked under low light conditions. With an f/2.8 lens, it focused quite well (albeit a little slowly) down to the limit of our low-light test setup, a light level of 1/16 foot-candle, less than 1 lux.
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon D200 Photo Gallery.
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Note: For details, test results, and analysis of the many tests done with this camera, please click on the tabs at the beginning of the review or below.