Nikon D200 Design

Looking a lot like it's predecessor the D100, and coming in closer to the size of the D70 than its big brother the D2xs, the Nikon D200 SLR digital camera is the latest in that company's line of professional digicams. The D200's familiar body design and control scheme should ease the transition from film to digital shooting (if there are any film shooters left out there), and will be immediately familiar and comfortable to users of any of Nikon's current or previous digital SLR designs, although a few controls have moved around a little over the years. The black body is a very rugged combination of metal and structural plastic that measures about 5.8 x 4.4 x 2.9 inches (147 x 113 x 74 millimeters), roughly the same size as preceding models. (slightly wider, slightly shorter and shallower than the D100.) However, the D200 is a bit more beefy than its predecessors, weighing a hefty one pound 13 ounces (830 grams) without the battery or lens, and 2 pounds 3 ounces (942 grams) with battery and memory card included. Still, the D200 is quite comfortable to hold, with a handgrip that's about the right size for most users, neither too big nor too small. The fairly sharp angle between the inset finger grip and the front of the handgrip helps for a very secure grip, particularly when combined with its high-friction tactile coating.

When you pick up the D200, you're immediately struck with how solid it feels - Brick, rock, pick your metaphor, this camera feels like something you could use to hammer tent-pegs with impunity. The rigidity of the case is thanks to the injection-molded magnesium-alloy chassis that lies beneath the plastic body panels and tough rubberized coating that covers grip areas.

Besides the magnesium body, the Nikon D200 also sports another feature that greatly contributes to its ruggedness: Environmental seals around all controls, compartment doors, and body seams. This is a huge feature for hard-working pros (or well-heeled amateurs prone to camera abuse). As the first camera with a retail price under $4,000 to have full environmental sealing, the D200 represents a real bargain for a true professional-grade SLR.

With the basics out of the way, let's take a walk around the camera. Former D100 users will find a lot that's familiar, but there are a lot of elements picked up from Nikon's D2 series that to my mind make the D200 a much better-shooting camera.

Dominating the D200's front panel is Nikon's standard “F” lens mount, which accommodates a broad spectrum of Nikkor lenses (the instruction manual has a complete list of compatible lens types). A small black button on the left side of the lens (as viewed from the rear) unlocks the lens, letting you twist it out of the mount. Just below this button is the Focus Mode dial, which selects between Single-Servo and Continuous-Servo AF modes, or Manual focus. On the opposite side of the lens is the Depth of Field Preview button, just below the AF assist lamp, with a programmable Function button just below it. Also visible from the front is the Sub-Command dial at the top of the hefty hand grip. In the top right corner is a 10-pin remote terminal, hidden beneath a tiny plastic cap. The programmable function button is a nice touch: It's lies right beneath your fingers as you grip the camera, and can be configured for any of the following functions: Flash exposure lock/Lens Data (to program aperture and focal length of non-CPU lenses, in conjunction with the command dials), 1-EV change of shutter speed and aperture, duplicate AE-L/AF-L function, temporarily disable flash, enable bracketing burst, activate matrix/center-weighted/spot metering, and switch between wide-area and normal focus areas. I can imagine wanting to be able to rapidly access any of these functions from time to time, so being able to dedicate a button to any of them would make for much quicker shooting.

The left side of the camera (as viewed from the rear) features an eyelet for attaching the neck strap, as well as the (rubber-sealed) memory card compartment. The compartment door is released by a lever on the rear panel.

The right side of the D200 (again, as viewed from the rear) features another neck strap eyelet, as well as two connector compartments and the PC sync terminal. Flexible, rubbery flaps protect both compartments, and remain attached to the camera when opened. Inside the top compartment are the Video Out and DC In connector jacks, with the Digital port in the lower compartment. Also visible from this view are the Flash Release and Flash Mode/Exposure buttons, on the side of the pentaprism housing, just below the tip of the flash compartment lid, and the Focus Mode dial as well.

The pop-up flash compartment and external flash hot shoe are centrally located on the D200's top panel. To the right of the flash unit, a small status display panel reports basic exposure information, as well as a few main camera settings. This panel lets you change a variety of camera settings without entering the LCD menu system, a feature I always appreciate. Remaining camera controls include the Shutter button, Power dial, Mode and Exposure Compensation buttons, as well as a Mode dial with a small button to lock it in place. The mode dial controls camera shutter/drive modes, including single shot, continuous-low, continuous-high, self-timer and mirror lock-up options. The Quality, White Balance, and ISO buttons rest just above the Mode dial, a borrowing from the D2 series that I personally like quite a bit.

The D200's rear panel holds the majority of the camera's controls, as well as the LCD monitor and viewfinder eyepiece. The optical viewfinder has a moderately high eyepoint (19.5mm), so the full display remains visible at least a short distance from the camera. This is a decided plus for eyeglass wearers like myself. As further accommodation to those of us with suboptimal eyesight, a rotating diopter adjustment (-2.0 to +1.0) on the right side of the eyepiece changes the focus of the viewfinder optics. Positioned just left of center, the 2.5-inch LCD monitor comes with a protective plastic cover that keeps the monitor safe from accidental scratches and smudges. Several camera controls flank the LCD monitor on each side, including a Four-Way Arrow pad for navigating the LCD menu system. A small LED lamp just beneath the arrow pad lights whenever the camera accesses the memory card (indicating that you shouldn't open the compartment door or remove the card). In the very top right corner is the Main Command Dial, which navigates menus and changes camera settings.

The camera's bottom panel has slightly raised ribs traversing it, to provide better friction when mounted on a tripod head. Apart from these though, it's quite flat overall. A threaded metal tripod mount sits near the center of the body, aligned with the optical center of the lens, and very close to the center of mass of the camera. The battery compartment is on the right side of the body (when viewed from the back). A lock button in the battery compartment door prevents it from opening accidentally, and the pressure of the door holds the battery in place.


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