Nikon D200 Review
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Nikon D200 Exposure Options
Like all of Nikon's digital SLR models, the D200 gives you a tremendous amount of exposure control and multiple options that can get quite involved. Available exposure modes include Program AE, Manual, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority modes with shutter speeds from 1/8,000 to 30 seconds available, as well as a Bulb setting for longer exposures. A very nice touch is that, while in Program AE mode, you can rotate the Main Command dial to select different combinations of aperture and shutter speed settings than those normally chosen by the autoexposure system. (That is, if the automatic program would have chosen 1/125 second and f/5.6, you could instead direct the camera to use 1/60 at f/8 or 1/30 at f/11, to get greater depth of field.) This is a very handy option for those times when you need some measure of increased control, but still want the camera to do most of the work for you.
An interesting feature when using Manual exposure mode is the electronic analog exposure display visible in the optical viewfinder data readout. This shows the amount the camera thinks an image will be over- or underexposed, based on the settings you have selected, and helps you find the best exposure for the subject.
ISO sensitivity ranges from 100 to 1,600, adjustable by pressing the ISO button and turning the Main Command dial to change the setting. Scrolling past the 1,600 setting offers H1, H2, and H3 settings, which correlate to High ISO +0.3, +0.7, and +1.0 settings above the 1600 mark. (The maximum ISO setting is thus 3200.) You can choose through the Custom Settings menu whether the amounts are adjusted in half or one-third-step increments (which in turn affects the number of High settings). A High ISO Noise Reduction mode in the settings menu reduces fixed-pattern image noise when shooting at the higher sensitivity settings, in addition to the standard Noise Reduction option for longer exposures.
White Balance Options
White balance modes on the Nikon D200 include Auto (usable from 3,500K to 8,000K), Incandescent (set to about 3,000K), Fluorescent (4,200K), Direct Sunlight (5,200K), Flash (5,400K), Cloudy (6,000K), Shade (8,000K), Choose K Temp (adjustable from 2,500 to 10,000K), and Preset (which allows you to manually adjust the white value by using a white card or object as a reference point). All white balance settings are adjustable from -3 to +3 units on an arbitrary scale by turning the Sub-Command dial (on the front of the hand grip) while pressing the White Balance button (with the exception of the Preset option, which is not adjustable). While I called it arbitrary, in all but Fluorescent white balance mode, each step on the fine-tuning scale corresponds to 10 mired of color shift. The fluorescent setting provides a wider range of variation to accommodate the wide range of colors available in fluorescent lighting. You can also bracket white balance exposures (see the Autobracketing discussion below). Higher values correspond to a decrease in the camera's white point, in degrees Kelvin (meaning the images become "cooler" in appearance). This is a very nice feature, as I often wish I could use one of a camera's standard white-balance settings, but tweak it to be just a bit warmer or cooler than the default. To be sure, some experimentation would be required to familiarize yourself with the impact of these "tweaked" white balance settings, but having them available is a big plus. The table below shows approximate white point temperatures in degrees Kelvin for the various adjustments in each of the major white balance settings.
Nikon D200 Metering Options
The D200 has three metering options: 3D Color Matrix II, Center-Weighted, and Spot. The 3D Color Matrix II setting integrates exposure information from a large number of areas across the frame (useful when brightly colored or very dark subjects occupy a significant portion of the frame) with distance information from the microchip in D- and G-series lenses. The result is much more accurate metering response than more conventional center-weighted metering would provide. Center-Weighted metering measures light from the entire frame but places the greatest emphasis on a circular area in the center, marked by the large circle in the viewfinder. Spot metering takes a reading from a 3mm circle centered on the active focus area only (on center focus area when non-CPU lens is used), covering about 2% of the frame.
The D200's Exposure Compensation adjustment lightens or darkens the overall exposure from -5 to +5 exposure equivalents (EV) in one-third step increments, in all exposure modes. An Auto Bracketing feature takes as many as nine shots of the same subject with varying exposure values determined by either the photographer in Manual mode or by the camera in all other modes. (You can set the number of frames in the Custom Settings menu.) Exposure settings for bracketing can vary from -5 to +5 EV (values are added to the already chosen exposure compensation value), with step sizes of one-third, one-half, or one EV unit, and the bracketing biased toward either underexposure, overexposure, or centered around the main exposure value. Through the Custom Settings menu, the Bracketing function can also be set to adjust white balance or flash exposures only. (By default, both ambient and flash exposures are bracketed.) On a more mundane level, the D200 has a self-timer feature that allows you to set the time interval anywhere from two to 20 seconds, and is activated by fully pressing the Shutter button.
The D200 offers an interesting ability to fine-tune the camera's metering via custom settings menu option b7. There, you can dial in an overall exposure bias between -1 and +1 EV, in 1/6 EV increments. You can adjust the metering for each of the camera's metering modes separately. (Matrix, Center-Weighted, and Spot.) The D2X (and presumably D2Xs) share this ability, but we don't think we've seen it on any other cameras we've reviewed.
A carryover from the D1 and D2 series, the Mirror Up mode lets you delay the exposure until after the mirror shock subsides (intended for times when the camera is on a tripod). Accessed via the Function dial on top of the camera, this mode requires two shutter-button actuations, the first of which lifts the mirror, the second of which actually releases the shutter. Used in conjunction with a remote, this will let the vibrations from the mirror actuation damp out before the shutter opens. (We routinely use this mode when testing lenses in our lab for our SLRgear lens-test site.)
| Nikon D200
Contrast & Saturation Adjustments
The Nikon D200 also offers an Optimize Image option, accessed through the Shooting menu, which lets you adjust sharpness, contrast, saturation, and hue. You can also opt for a black-and-white shooting mode. A Custom setting accepts downloaded tone curves created in Nikon's Capture application (version 4 or later) and then downloaded from a computer. (If no curve is downloaded, the Custom setting defaults to the Normal setting.) In our shooting with the D200, we found that its contrast and saturation adjustments worked well, but we'd have liked it better if the contrast adjustment had more steps in the low contrast direction. Some samples are shown above.
When reviewing images on the LCD monitor, you can call up a histogram and a highlight function to give you a complete readout on the exposure. This is a useful tool to examine your exposure in the camera instead of waiting to download images and then deciding to reshoot. Both functions can report values for the full RGB image, or for each channel individually.
Continuous Shooting Modes
The D200 offers Low and High speed Continuous Shooting modes, accessed via the Function dial on top of the camera. The Low setting captures one to four frames per second, depending on the frame rate selected in the Custom Settings menu. High speed mode can capture up to five frames per second.
The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Nikon D200 Photo Gallery.
Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!
Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...
Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Nikon D200 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!
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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.