Nikon D200 Review

 
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Nikon D200 Performance

A great part of the appeal of the D200 is its combination of 10.2 megapixel resolution and 5 frame/second continuous shooting speed. It also has a very deep buffer memory, and is no slouch when it comes to offloading images to a host computer either. All in all, an impressive performer by almost any measure.


Timing and Performance

Nikon D200 Timing
Excellent speed for a digital SLR.

Nikon D200 Timings
Operation
Time
(secs)
Notes
Power On -> First shot
~0.2
Nearly instantaneous; hard to measure.
Shutdown
0 - 37
First time is simple shutdown; second time is worst-case buffer-clearing time. (21 RAW images)*
Play to Record, first shot
~0
Nearly instantaneous.
Record to play
0.9 / 0.2
First time is that required to display a large/fine file immediately after capture, second time is that needed to display a large/fine file that has already been processed and stored on the memory card.
Shutter lag, full autofocus, review on
0.27
Measured with 18-70mm kit lens at 18mm, lag time may vary from lens to lens. (Note too, that this time is basically the time it takes the camera to determine that it's focused correctly, not the time required to slew the lens elements to a new focus setting.)
Shutter lag, full autofocus, review off
0.21
On the D2x, shutter lag decreased markedly when the auto-review function was turned off. On the D200, this helped a little, but the difference wasn't significant.
Shutter lag, prefocus
0.057
Time to capture, after half-pressing shutter button. Very fast.
Shutter lag, continuous autofocus
0.057
Very fast. (Note though, that this time is measured with a stationary subject, moving subjects would produce highly variable results..)
Shutter lag, manual focus
0.057
Very fast. (Manual focus and prefocus times are often the same on digital SLRs.)
Shutter lag, flash firing in iTTL exposure mode
0.27
Very fast, apparently little or no delay for metering pre-flash.
Cycle Time, RAW / max / min resolution

0.28 / 0.25 / 0.22

First number is time for RAW files, second number is for large/fine files, second number is for lowest resolution images. All times are averages, captured in single-shot mode. Shoots 22 frames this fast in RAW mode, then slows to 1.9 seconds per shot. Shoots 34 frames this fast in large/fine mode, then slows to about 0.7 seconds per shot. Shoots over 100 frames this fast at the lowest resolution. Buffer clears in 37 seconds in RAW mode, 17 seconds in large/fine mode, and 10 seconds after 100 lo-res shots.*
Cycle Time, Flash exposures
3
(Flash at maximum power output)
Cycle Time, continuous High mode, RAW / max / min resolution
0.20
(5.0 fps)
Times are averages. Shoots 5 frames per second regardless of resolution or file mode (RAW vs JPEG). Shoots 21 frames this fast in RAW mode, then slows to 1.9 seconds per shot. Shoots 31 frames this fast in large/fine mode, then slows to 0.72 seconds per shot. Shoots 79 frames this fast at the lowest resolution, then slows to 0.24 seconds per shot. Buffer clears in 37 seconds in RAW mode, 17 seconds in large/fine mode, and 10 seconds in lo-res mode.*
Cycle Time, continuous Low mode, RAW / max / min resolution
0.34
(2.94 fps)
Times are averages. Speed in this mode is determined by menu setting for continuous-lo mode, these numbers were collected using the 3 frame/second setting. Frame/second setting is quite accurate, shoots about 3 frames per second regardless of resolution. Shoots 22 frames this fast in RAW mode, then slows to 1.89 seconds per shot. Shoots 42 frames this fast in large/fine mode, then slows to 0.71 seconds per shot. Shoots this fast continuously at the lowest resolution. Buffer clears in 37 seconds in RAW mode, 17 seconds in large/fine mode, and less than 2 seconds in lo-res mode.*
*Note: Buffer clearing times measured with a SanDisk Extreme III CF memory card. Slower cards will produce correspondingly slower clearing times. Slow cards may also limit length of bursts in continuous mode.

Startup & Shutter Lag
The Nikon D200 is a very responsive camera by any measure, but we were a bit surprised to find that its shutter lag in full autofocus mode was somewhat slower than that of either the D2x or the original D100. The camera goes from power on to first shot almost instantly (less than 0.2 seconds anyway, which is about the limit that we can measure for this particular parameter), so there are definitely no complaints there. Full-autofocus shutter lag with the 18-70mm kit lens attached and with review turned on is about 0.25 second, with LCD review turned off it drops to 0.21 second. This is certainly faster than most photographer's reflexes, and is on par with most professional dSLRs currently on the market, but is a bit off the pace of the original D100, as well as the D2x. It's possible that the 18-70mm lens is a little slower at communicating with the camera than the 24-85 we used with the D100 or whatever lens we tested the D2x with (which we unfortunately neglected to record), so the observed difference may not be significant. In any case, the 0.21-0.25 second lag we measured for the D200 compares very well the numbers we came up with for the Canon EOS-1D Mark II (0.20 - 0.24 sec) and EOS-30D (0.24 sec).

The good news with the D200 though, is that its shutter response was very fast indeed (0.057 sec) in continuous AF mode (with a stationary subject), manual focus, or prefocused. This is just a hair slower (13 msec) than the D2x, on par with the 1Ds Mark II, somewhat faster than the EOS-30D, and far faster than the D100.

Continuous Mode Speed and Buffer Capacity
The Nikon D200 has two continuous modes, a high-speed option that shoots at about 5 frames/second, and a low-speed mode that can be set to shoot at 1, 2, 3, or 4 frames/second. Our tests revealed that the frame rate is quite accurate in low-speed mode, and that its high-speed continuous mode is dead-on 5.0 frames/second. Buffer capacity depends on the file format and (in compressed formats) on the subject content to some extent, but is fairly generous all around. Shooting uncompressed RAW (NEF format) images, the D200 can capture 21 successive frames without having to wait for the memory card to catch up. While it can take it 37 seconds (or longer, with slower memory cards) to fully flush those 21 frames to the card, the D200's efficient system architecture lets you start shooting again as soon as the buffer has space to spare, and the 5 fps shooting rate is unaffected by the ongoing background processing associated with card writing.

At its highest JPEG size/quality setting (but with the compression set to "size priority") at 1600 ISO, the D200 can capture 24 images of a worst-case noise pattern (which compresses very poorly), but more on the order of 30-40 frames with more typical subjects. At its low-resolution setting, it can capture essentially unlimited frames with a reasonably fast memory card. Note that while the shots-remaining counter in the viewfinder starts counting down from 25 frames, we found that worst-case subject matter could result in only 24 frames being captured at full rate - There was a perceptible delay before capturing the 25th frame. Do note though, that this was an absolutely worst-case test: The combination of a fine-grained noise pattern as the target, and shooting at ISO 1600 (which increases image noise significantly) makes for images that compress fairly poorly in JPEG. Shooting more normal subjects at ISOs of 200 and under resulted in buffer capacities of 30-40 frames or better.

The combination of shooting speed and buffer capacity is quite impressive, handily beating most if not all of its competition. It's safe to say that very few photographers will find themselves limited by the Nikon D200's shooting speed, buffer depth, or file-handling capabilities.

Download Speed
The D200 is also very fast when it comes to offloading images onto a computer. We clocked our test unit at 4,386 KBytes/second when downloading a collection of JPEG images to our Sony VAIO desktop computer. (A 2.4 GHz Pentium IV with a high-speed USB 2.0 port.) You'll likely get even slightly faster transfer rates with RAW images, as Windows is quicker when handling fewer, larger files than it is with more, smaller ones. Regardless, the D200 is extremely fast when it comes to downloading images, greatly reducing the need for an external card reader.

Battery and Storage Capacity

Battery
Very good battery life

The D200 uses Nikon's new EN-EL3e lithium-ion battery pack or an optional AC adapter for power. The EN-EL3e is backward-compatible with the EL3a version, in that it can be used to power older cameras like the D70, but the older EN-EL3a battery can't be used to power the D200. (A pain for all those who have spare batteries from their D70 or D100 that they will no longer be able to use on the new body.) An indicator on the status display panel lets you know approximately how much battery power is left. The D200/EN-EL3e combination seems to offer really exceptional battery life, as we could shoot literally hundreds of photos without draining the battery.

In the manual, Nikon themselves offer the following characterizations of the D200's battery life:

Example 1
Zoom Nikkor AF-S VR 70-200 mm f/2.8G IF ED lens (VR off); continuous shooting mode; continuous-servo autofocus; image quality set to JPEG Basic; image size set to M; shutter speed 1/250s; shutter-release pressed half way for three seconds and focus cycled from infinity to minimum range three times with each shot; after six shots, monitor turned on for five seconds and then turned off; cycle repeated once exposure meters have turned off.

Number of shots (EN-EL3e): 1,800

Example 2
Zoom Nikkor AF-S VR 24-120 mm f/3.5-5.6G IF ED lens (VR off); single-frame shooting mode; single-servo autofocus; image quality set to JPEG Normal; image size set to L; shutter speed 1/250s; shutter-release pressed half way for five seconds and focus cycled from infinity to minimum range once with each shot; built-in Speedlight fired at full power with every other shot; AF-assist illuminator lights when Speedlight is used; cycle repeated once exposure meters have turned off; camera turned off for one minute with every ten shots.

Number of shots (EN-EL3e): 340

Storage
The Nikon D200 uses CompactFlash memory cards, but no card is supplied.

The D200 uses CompactFlash memory cards for image storage, accommodating Type I and II sizes, as well as Hitachi Microdrives. Like virtually all digital SLRs, the D200 does not come with a memory card, so you'll need to purchase one separately. The D200 utilizes a folder arrangement that lets you organize images in the camera and a sequential frame counter option to avoid problems with overwriting files when copying them to the computer.

Captured images can be individually write-protected via the Protect button on the back panel. Write-protected files are only immune to accidental deletion, not card reformatting. Three image sizes are available: Large (3,872 x 2,592 pixels), Medium (2,896 x 1,944 pixels), and Small (1,936 x 1,296 pixels). File formats include three levels of compressed JPEG files as well as RAW (NEF file format) data modes. The "raw" file format stores the data exactly as it comes from the CCD array, either compressed or uncompressed. Since the "raw" format is proprietary though, it's intended to only be processed by Nikon's "Nikon Capture" software, although a number of third-party RAW file converters do support it as well. The compressed RAW format is a "lossless" compression, making it difficult to determine the actual amount of compression being used. Nikon estimates that compression is 50 or 60 percent over the standard, uncompressed RAW format, depending on the subject data. (Although the LCD data readout on our sample showed the same memory card capacity for both compressed and uncompressed NEF files.)

Below are the approximate number of images and their compression ratios for a 1GB CompactFlash card, probably about the minimum realistic size for a camera with the resolution and continuous shooting capabilities of the D200.

Image Capacity vs
Resolution/Quality
1GB Memory Card
Fine Normal
Basic
RAW
3872 x 2592 Images
(Avg size)
111
9.2 MB
220
4.7 MB
428
2.4 MB
59
16.7 MB
Approx.
Compression
3:1 7:1 13:1 0.9:1
2896 x 1944 Images
(Avg size)
195
5.3 MB
385
2.7 MB
734
1.4 MB
-
Approx.
Compression
3:1 6:1 12:1 -
1936 x 1296 Images
(Avg size)
428
2.4 MB
812
1.3 MB
1,564
655 KB
-
Approx.
Compression
3:1 6:1 12:1 -

 

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