Nikon D7200 Field Test Part I
Nikon D7200 Field Test Part I
It's time to beat the heatwave with one mighty cool camera!
By Mike Tomkins | Posted: 07/10/2015
On paper at least, the Nikon D7200 is a camera whose design appeals to me. Much like my own daily shooter, Ricoh's Pentax K-3, the D7200 is an enthusiast-grade DSLR that packs features into a relatively compact body, and comes with an affordable price-tag as well. As well as the K-3, the D7200 competes head-on with the Canon 70D.
Before we get started, if you want to see how its specifications compare with its rivals, as well as both its predecessors -- the D7000 and D7100 -- you'll find side-by-side comparisons at the links below.
Although I didn't personally write our Shooter's Reports for the earlier D7000-class cameras, whose heritage the Nikon D7200 builds upon, I've shot with and enjoyed both cameras. And I have to say, I really like the basic body design, which is inherited almost unchanged from the D7200. Sure, it's not quite as compact as my K-3, but it's comfortable in-hand and most controls are very well-placed.
Really, my only minor complaints in the ergonomics department are the locations of the metering and function buttons. The metering button is a bit of a stretch for my index finger, and at 6'1" tall, I probably have larger hands than many of you. And the function button, tucked as it is alongside the bottom right corner of the lens mount, is even trickier to reach. (It's easiest to press with my pinky finger, but with even a moderately-large lens on the D7200 that motion is a bit uncomfortable. Perhaps that's just the onset of carpal tunnel from my job as a camera reviewer, though!)
I certainly appreciate the sheer profusion of dedicated controls, though. It takes a little while to get used to them, and can be a bit intimidating when you first start shooting with the Nikon D7200, but everything very quickly becomes second nature. And once you've become one with the camera's layout, you save a lot of time that, with a less control-rich camera, you'd have spent digging through the menu system.
And that's definitely a good thing here, because even though it's fairly well-organized compared to some cameras I've shot with, there is such a profusion of options that you can still get a bit lost in the Nikon D7200's menu layout. There are no less than seven tabs lining the left side of the screen, and most of these contain anywhere from two to four pages of options. The Custom Setting menu is even more gargantuan, at a whopping seven pages long, although it's at least placed behind an overview screen that helps you start off at the right page if you know where the option you're looking for is to be found.
One feature I definitely appreciate in this class of camera is weather-sealing. It's nice to know your camera can keep on shooting even if the heavens open up -- assuming you're using a weather-sealed lens, of course. That certainly wasn't going to be a concern on this particular shoot, though, because the temperatures were absolutely blazing hot. In fact, I'd decided to go on an impromptu roadtrip to Lexington, Kentucky with my family, partly in search of new and interesting subjects, and partly because we wanted to escape temperatures that were threatening to break into the triple digits. (For those of you who don't speak Fahrenheit, it was around 36-38 Celsius!)
I'd never been to Lexington before, and was immediately taken by this very lovely city. Arriving late on a Saturday evening, I had a little while to familiarize myself with the Nikon D7200 before I headed out the following morning to the nearby Pleasant Hill Shaker Village, a beautifully-preserved religious community that was first formed in the early 1800s, and was finally dissolved around 1910. And as well as the village itself, I had some extra color for my lens thanks to an antique show taking place on the village grounds.
As I browsed the antiques -- and thanked my lucky stars I hadn't arrived with cash in hand, because there were far too many things I'd have loved to buy -- I focused instead on getting some nice shots. The Nikon D7200 made light work of that task, perfectly recording the rich colors in some of these beautiful antiques, and putting the point of focus just where I wanted it.
Given that I'd been anticipating shooting subjects at all manner of distances, I'd settled on the AF-S DX Nikkor 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR lens for my day's shooting, and the combination proved more than up to the task of giving me soft, smoothly-blurred backgrounds when I wanted it to, as well. All things considered, I was really enjoying shooting with the Nikon D7200!
There was one feature which I really did find myself missing, though. I've shot quite a few mirrorless cameras aimed at enthusiasts recently, and while they lack the D7200's lovely thru-the-lens optical viewfinder -- even the best electronic viewfinder has yet to really match an optical finder for that sense of connection to your subject -- they definitely bested it in another respect. To help make the most of the full-time live view of a mirrorless camera, manufacturers often add articulated LCD monitor, which really helps when framing from awkward angles.
With the Nikon D7200, there's no such convenience, which is a shame. Its live view mode doesn't focus as quickly as when shooting through the viewfinder, certainly, but it's plenty fast enough for handheld shooting in good light -- and under the blazing sunshine I had that in spades.
A couple of times, I found myself wanting to get a really low-to-the-ground shot -- in one case, with the camera almost sitting on the lush lawn, so that the foreground would blur out and give a sense of depth. There was no way I was going to get my eye to the viewfinder from this angle, obviously, and so I switched to live view mode, where I quickly realized that framing the shot accurately was going to prove nearly impossible.
The problem was that with the camera so low, my view of the LCD monitor was absolutely filled with reflections, even if I kneeled as low as I could get. To get the shot, I ended up having to prostrate myself on the lawn, shooting one-handed while trying to shield the monitor with my free hand.
On a slightly less sunny day, I could probably have gotten away with just crouching as low as possible, but on a day as bright as this one I was left with no other choice. A tilt/swivel screen would've saved me the slightly curious looks I received from passers-by, not to mention the mirth of my wife, who took the chance to get some blackmail-worthy photos of me laying on the lawn.
I can understand the lack of a tilting screen on a professional DSLR, as it's potentially a weak link in the chain when you're rushing around trying to get the best angles, perhaps juggling several different cameras at the same time. Much as they tend to shun built-in flash strobes, pros look at articulated screens as something that could easily be broken. For an enthusiast camera like this, though, an articulated screen -- and preferably, a side-mounted tilt/swivel type -- is a huge plus, and were I shooting the competing Canon 70D, I'd have had one.
But other than that complaint, I must admit that I was really having a lot of fun with the Nikon D7200. (And getting some really great results, as well.) It shoots quickly, confidently, and it was rapidly beginning to feel like an extension of my own body.
After a quick family pow-wow, we decided that we were getting rather too hot and sweaty wandering around the Shaker Village, though, and we'd heard tell that the village also operated a paddlewheel steamer on a nearby river. Getting under shelter and feeling a nice breeze down by the water struck us as a good way to cool back down, so we set out in search of the Dixie Belle, the village's 20-ton, 115-seat paddlewheel. (That's tiny by paddleboat standards, but still pretty large for the section of river she roams.)
She has a rather storied history, having broken free of her moorings during flooding on the Kentucky River a few years ago, and floated unmanned over the top of a dam before being rescued several miles downstream. With the lock alongside the dam no longer serviceable, the Dixie Belle had to be partially dismantled and returned home by road.
Our river trip was a very fun experience, and it gave me the perfect opportunity to test out one of the Nikon D7200's upgraded features, although ideally, I would've used a much longer lens. (The other optics I have in hand for my review are even shorter than the 18-140mm lens I was using on this particular day, unfortunately.) The subject that presented itself was a bald eagle, something I'd never seen in person since I first moved to the USA about 16 years ago.
Even without seeing the bald eagle, I'd have been happy enough with the shots I got down by the river. Again, image quality was great, and the Nikon D7200 performed well. It was once I started rattling off lengthy bursts of raw+JPEG frames as the eagle circled our steamboat that I really got an appreciation for how burst depth had improved, however.
I'm not sharing any of the images in the gallery simply because, with the lens I had on hand, the D7200 couldn't bring the bird close enough to be very noticeable without very strong cropping of the image. (And we like to share work straight out of the camera in our reviews, so that you can judge what the camera is capable of, rather than our editing chops.)
Suffice to say that with the earlier D7100, I'd have been lucky to get six raw frames in a row before the camera slowed down, with subsequent frames taking well over a second each. With the Nikon D7200, I could happily rattle off around a dozen 14-bit, losslessly-compressed raw files before the camera slowed down, which was easily enough to get a good selection of frames as the eagle reached the closest point in its circuit to our boat. (And if I'd wanted more, Nikon's specs suggest that switching to 12-bit lossy compressed raws would have likely increased this by about 50%.)
Being rather pleased with my photo, and wanting to see it on a bigger screen -- my Android-based Sony Xperia Z2 smartphone has a rather gorgeous one -- I decided to try out the Wi-Fi functionality of the Nikon D7200. I must say that I really appreciate the fact this function is now in-camera, with no need for clumsy external accessories or Wi-Fi flash cards.
Given that my phone runs Android and the Nikon D7200 includes an NFC radio, I figured that the first step would be to gently bump phone and camera together, ensuring that their NFC logos were in close proximity. Curiously, though, this just popped up the rather opaque message "New tag collected: Empty tag." Not what I was expecting, as in most NFC-equipped devices I've tried to date, the same technique would open the Google Play store to the right page for the required app, saving me searching for it myself.
A little digging turned up the cause: Before you can use the NFC tag, you must first go into the Setup menu and enable NFC. That's a rather curious design. I don't think it's being done to save power, because NFC uses so little power in the first place. Nor does it really help security either, because NFC has a range of at best an inch or two. By the time somebody is close enough to pair with your camera, they're close enough to go into the menu and enable NFC for themselves -- or just take your camera and flash card with them, if they have nefarious intent. ;-)
Whatever the reason for this odd behavior, enabling NFC resolved the problem, and a quick tap of phone to camera brought me to the somewhat awkwardly-named Nikon WirelessMobileUtility app in Google's Play Store. I downloaded it, and one more tap of the devices launched the app, enabling Wi-Fi on the camera and pairing the devices for me. (I did have to agree to the terms and conditions on my phone, but that's a one-time process.)
The Wireless Mobile Utility app -- which is not-so-descriptively named "wmu" in my phone's app list, although the icon does at least include a Nikon logo -- presents two very straightforward options when you start it up: Take Photos or View Photos. I started off with the latter, and was pleased to see a pretty full feature set. Not only could I download my JPEG images, either at VGA, "recommended size" or original resolution, but also raw files and even high-definition movies shot with the D7200. That's pretty rare, in my experience -- most cameras limit you only to JPEG transfer.
("Recommended size", by the way, turned out to be 1,620 x 1,080 pixels for me. I'm guessing that this may change depending on the resolution of your device's screen, paring down the device resolution to match the aspect ratio of the image you want to transfer. I didn't have another device handy with which to confirm this assumption, though.)
And transfer speeds were very good indeed, with photos taking just a second or two, and even short 10-second Full HD movie clips transferring in just a few seconds. That's the good news. Less so is that the feature-set in Take Photos mode is very limited indeed.
You can select whether the camera itself will be used to trip the shutter, or you want to do so from the phone remotely. If you're shooting with the camera, you don't get a live view feed or any remote control functionality. In this mode, photos can simply be transferred to your phone or tablet as they're shot. Alternatively, you can get an optional live-view feed that you can tap to focus, and options to automatically download images as they're captured, or to use a self-timer.
If you desire, you can also have the camera's time automatically updated to match that from your phone, and piggyback on its GPS receiver to geotag your images (although this is bound to drain both phone and camera's batteries fairly quickly -- much more so than a dedicated GPS receiver in the camera would have done.)
But that's really about it. You can't change any settings from your phone, and the controls on the camera body are all disabled when live view is active. There's a workaround which at least allows you to control exposure variables, but it's a bit clumsy -- you have to either configure the camera before switching to Take Photos mode, or switch briefly to using the camera's shutter button, make your changes to aperture or shutter speed, then return to live view from your phone. On the plus side, at least the Wi-Fi connection remains paired.
And that last is doubly important because I found Wi-Fi quite finicky. My phone would connect to the Nikon D7200 fine on the first try, and maybe a few times after that when I used the NFC pairing. Very quickly, though, I would get into a situation where no amount of trying would get phone and camera to connect to each other -- even power-cycling them, disabling and reenabling Wi-Fi, or connecting to the camera's visible Wi-Fi network manually wouldn't resolve the problem. The only fix at this point was to enter network settings on the camera and then reset them. I could then re-pair phone and camera, and everything would work normally until the next lockup. And speaking of lockups, Wireless Mobile Utility did so entirely at one point, with Android asking me to force-close the app report the problem to Nikon.
Even when paired, the live view was a little stuttery from a range of just a foot or two. Move to a distance of ten feet or so from the camera, and the live view feed would struggle to keep up, pausing once every few seconds for a good half-second or more, and then suddenly catching back up to near-real time. With a wall between myself and the camera, the connection would be near-unusably slow, and two walls or a distance of 40-50 feet was enough to cause the connection to be dropped altogether. (At which point, the devices wouldn't reconnect with each other automatically, and I'd have to reconnect them with a tap or manually myself.)
I'm hopeful that these problems are specific to my phone, or perhaps to Android devices. (Although saying that, my phone is pretty modern, powerful, and plays nicely with many other recent cameras.) There's a little more good news, though: Unlike many such apps, Nikon's Wireless Mobile Utility app didn't force me to use portrait mode on my phone.
That meant that when live view was working properly, I could get a much, much larger preview on my phone's screen than that provided on the camera's LCD monitor. The tradeoff is that the limited status information -- shutter speed, aperture, shots remaining and battery level -- which are shown in portrait mode aren't visible in landscape. You can, however, see them easily enough by rotating your phone briefly, then rotate it back to get a bigger live view once more.
All things considered, I think the Wi-Fi app shows some promise. If its reliability issues and somewhat limited range can be improved -- perhaps by giving user control over the live view feed resolution -- and if Nikon can allow for some remote settings control capabilities, it could have a real winner on its hand. Quirks aside, I already found it pretty useful for transferring images I'd already shot, and it's much more seamless than a clunky external Wi-Fi dongle.
(Especially when you consider that with a Wi-Fi accessory plugged into the camera, your weather-sealing is compromised, meaning that you can't shoot in inclement conditions. Here, you get Wi-Fi in a weather-sealed body, and weather-sealed phones and tablets are readily available these days too, for a closed loop of weather-sealed, wireless connectivity goodness.)
And that brings me to the end of my first Nikon D7200 field test -- and with more than half a charge remaining on the battery still, after around 400 images captured, a good bit of chimping and ages spent playing with Wi-Fi. Still to come in my second field test, I'm planning to look at how the Nikon D7200 does in low light and at higher sensitivities. I'd also like to take a look at some of its new movie features, and perhaps try out its time-lapse exposure smoothing function.
Do you have anything you'd like me to test on the Nikon D7200, or any questions you'd like answered? Sound off in the comments below, and I'll do my best to include your requests in my second field test, coming soon!