Like other SLRs, the Nikon D200 uses an optical viewfinder that works through the lens. (The LCD monitor is for image playback and accessing the menu system only.) A diopter adjustment dial adjusts the focusing of the viewfinder optics to accommodate eyeglass wearers, and the viewfinder also has quite a high eyepoint (meaning you can see the full frame with your eye a good distance from the rear objective). The 19.5mm eyepoint is fairly good, but I personally do still end up having to press my eyeglass lens against the rubber eyecup in order to see the full frame clearly. The -2.0 to +1.0 diopter adjustment range of the viewfinder optics isn't nearly enough to accommodate my own very nearsighted (20:180) vision, but is more than ample to handle my "computer glasses", which are set to provide good focus for my eyes at a distance of about 18-24 inches. (Frankly, people as nearsighted as me are unlikely to ever walk around without some degree of vision correction, so I think the dioptric adjustment range of the D200 should be more than sufficient for most users.)
An illuminated display inside the viewfinder provides detailed exposure and camera information, including black and white mode indicator, battery status, "no memory card" warning, focus confirmation, metering mode, AE lock, FV lock, flash sync, shutter speed, aperture stop, aperture, exposure mode, metering, exposure and flash compensation, auto ISO, ISO value, frame counter, flash ready light, eleven sets of normal focus brackets and seven sets of wide focus brackets. When activated, the view also includes an alignment grid, useful for lining up difficult shots. A large circular outline in the center of the view indicates the Center-Weighted metering area. The optional grid (enabled via a Custom Menu setting) and focus area indicators can be set to illuminate briefly when the shutter button is half-pressed, although the illumination isn't too bright, and is easily missed against a bright background. (Presumably though, if the background and subject are that bright, you'll be able to see the dark viewfinder markings easily enough without the illuminator.)
Test Results: Viewfinder Accuracy
Viewfinder Coverage Roughly 95% accuracy from the optical viewfinder.
The D200's optical viewfinder was a little tight, showing about 95% frame accuracy. This agrees with Nikon's own specification in the camera's manual, but as always, we wonder why, on a high end SLR model like the D200, Nikon didn't provide a 100% viewfinder.
Nikon D200 LCD Display
Like those on essentially all digital SLRs, the 2.5 inch LCD display on the D200 isn't usable as a viewfinder. It does, however, provide a great deal of information about your pictures after you've shot them. A variety of playback options are offered, including image-only, six flavors of overlaid information, a 4- or 9-image thumbnail display, and a zoomed playback mode with variable information. The screenshot at right shows several of the information displays that are available.
Of the various screens, one of the more interesting options on the Nikon D200 is the histogram screen, shown at right. Histogram displays are common on professional digital cameras (and many amateur models now), regarded as almost mandatory by many pros for evaluating exposure levels. A histogram is simply a graph of how many pixels there are in the image at each brightness level. The brightness is the horizontal axis, running from black at the left to white at the right. The height of the graph shows the relative number of pixels having each brightness level. This sort of display is very handy for determining under- or overexposure. Ideally, the histogram would stretch across the entire width of the display, using the full range of brightness values available. An underexposed image will have a histogram with all the data lumped on the left-hand side, with nothing reaching all the way to the right. Likewise, an overexposed image will have all the data lumped on the right hand side.
A histogram display is very helpful in telling whether you've got the exposure right, but to my mind isn't adequate by itself. With digital cameras, it's very important not to blow-out the highlights in a picture (they're similar to color positive film in that respect), since once you hit the maximum brightness, the image just saturates, and any highlight detail will be lost. A histogram display does a pretty good job of telling you how the image as a whole is doing, but what if there are just a few critical areas that you're worried about for the highlights? If only a small percentage of the total frame is involved, it won't account for many pixels. That means any peak at the "white" end of the histogram graph would be pretty small, and easy to miss (or just plain invisible). What to do? The folks at Nikon recognized this problem, and provided another special display mode on the D200 that they simply call "highlights," accessible via the Playback settings menu, under "Display Mode." This mode blinks any highlights that are saturated in any of the color channels. It does this by taking the nearly-white areas on the LCD and toggling them between white and black.
With the earlier D2x though, Nikon took the blinking highlights display one big step further, by letting you examine the state of highlights in the individual Red, Green, and Blue color channels independently. Happily, they've brought this feature along to the D200 as well. Along the bottom of the Highlights display on the D200 are four indicators labeled RGB, R, G, and B. You can select between them with the left/right arrows on the Multi Controller, while holding down the Index button on the left side of the LCD display. When RGB is selected, the blinking highlights correspond to areas of the image that are approaching saturation in two or more color channels at once. When either R, G, or B is selected though, the highlights only blink where the corresponding color channel is blown out. This is an important addition, because highly saturated colors can often blow out a single color channel without triggering a conventional luminance-only highlight warning display. Saturating a single color channel results in loss of shape and detail in brightly colored objects, so it's important to know when it might be happening. (I've often seen this happen on brightly colored fabrics, where the texture of the fabric can be lost in brightly lit areas.) The group of screen shots above shows the behavior of the separate color channels on an overexposed shot of three colored pens. Pretty slick! (For the eagle-eyed, the displays above are copied from our D2x review. The only differences on the D200 are the typeface and arrangement of the "Highlight" legend and the frame number.)
Also copied from D2X is an RGB histogram mode, which shows four separate, smaller histograms, with separate plots for the Red, Green, and Blue color channels, as well as overall luminance, shown in white. When in this mode, you can optionally make the thumbnail image blink wherever highlights are blown out, and you can select the color channel that the blink warning is associated with by holding down the Index button and pressing the left or right arrows on the multi-controller. Another nice user-interface touch. The D200 also offers the D2x's greatly expanded options for display magnification relative to earlier Nikon D-SLRs. You have the normal thumbnail or normal-sized displays available, but can also enlarge the display up to 25x to examine critical focus and framing. Pressing the Enter/Magnify button enables zoomed playback. From here, you press the Thumbnail button and turn the Main Control dial to increase or decrease zoom. (A red outline with blue corners shows the zoom area.) Once zoomed, you can use the Four-Way Rocker Pad control to scroll around within the larger image. Pressing the Thumbnail Display button during the zoomed view toggles back to a display showing the position of your zoomed window within the normal-sized image, indicated by the bold red outline with blue corners. You can move this window around with the Rocker Pad control, and then pop back into the zoomed view by letting go of the Thumbnail Display button. - This all sounds a little complicated, but after very little acclimatization, I found I could move around within the enlarged display very fluidly using this arrangement.