We review Nikon’s semi-professional DSLR and ask whether you should ignore the newer D300 in favour of it
“There’s no arguing with those who say you can learn to navigate a menu system at speed, but being able to do it without recourse to the 2.5-inch screen makes using the D200 a snap”
You DSLR users have it good, you know. Not only is the bottom end of the market brimming with super-cheap models such as the Canon 400D and Nikon D40, but the mid-range is equally tempting. If you’ve had an entry-level DSLR for a while you’ll know the feeling – a niggling concern that you’re missing good shots because your current hardware isn’t fast enough or good enough in low light to let you shine.
The D200, by any standards, has been around a while. Announced two years ago, it won favour with semi-professionals everywhere. Its headline specification was the 10.2-megapixel sensor, which provides 3872×2592-pixel images. The gorgeous body is made from magnesium alloy, rather than the plastic of lowlier models such as the D80. Not only does this give the body a reassuring weightiness, it also makes it more rugged.
The D200 is very much a working camera – hang it from your shoulder and go charging around China and the worst you’ll get is a few nicks in the black finish. Those bulky rubber port covers are weatherproof as well, so it should survive all but the most callous of treatments. The most obvious drawback is the increased weight: including the excellent f/2.8 17-55mm lens Nikon supplied for testing, ours tipped the scales at a shade under 2kg.
Speed of use
Frankly, though, the weight is a tiny price to pay for such a superb camera. Its key benefit its speed of use. It’s not just the 5fps continuous shooting mode, it’s the speed with which you can make changes to the settings. Naturally, shutter and aperture settings are at your fingertips, but then so are ISO, white balance and shooting mode settings. Bracketing is set using the body controls as well. It all means that when you’re shooting in a rapidly-changing environment (going from indoors to outside, for instance), the changes you need to make are on the body of the camera itself, not buried in a menu system. There’s no arguing with those who say you can learn to navigate a menu system at speed, but being able to do it without recourse to the 2.5-inch screen makes using the D200 a snap. It all makes the D200 an absolute dream for those who like nothing better than digging into fully-manual mode.
We also appreciated the passive LCD screen on the top right of the camera. We’d expect it at this price, of course, but it’s still a welcome plus, and will be a revelation to anyone coming to the D200 from a DSLR without one.
The same goes for the D200’s focus modes. Single shot, continuous tracking and manual focus are all set from a switch on the front of the body, while you can choose between evaluative, centre-weighted and spot metering from another hardware switch on the back. The D200’s 11 focus areas theoretically pales in comparison to the D300’s 51-point system, but the difference in the real world is minimal.
All those gorgeous body-mounted controls don’t indicate a skimping on image quality, though. Our test shots from the D200 are nigh-on perfect. It’s particularly adept at judging white balance, and we were impressed by its noise-handling in all of our test images. Unlike its successor, the D300, it starts at ISO 100, but even at ISO 1600, noise is manageable (if noticeable) enough to make shooting in dimly-lit interiors possible without a flash. And, like the D80 and D300, it has Nikon’s excellent auto-ISO mode, which allows you to set the maximum permissible ISO level, as well as the exposure at which the D200 should start raising its sensitivity.
The only truly noticeable thing the D200 lacks compared to the D300 is TIFF capture, but that’s not convincing enough to persuade us that the D300’s premium price is entirely worth it. It’s true that you get an extra 2MP with the D300, but that makes minimal quality in terms of what you can actually print. And while the bodies of both the D200 and D300 are magnificently made, there’s hardly any difference between them. A cynic might argue that there’s no difference at all, barring a few very minor cosmetic changes.
If you have a Nikon D80 and want to make a body-only upgrade, the D200 is the logical choice. It’s fast, built like a country mansion, and supremely quick to use. If you don’t have an affinity to either Canon or Nikon, however, your choice is more complicated. The Canon 40D is two frames a second faster and has a higher-resolution sensor. It too has plenty of body-mounted controls for instant shot control and, from most online retailers, it’s around £60 cheaper. Its build-quality is similar, and while it lacks the auto-ISO mode or 51-point AF system, it remains capable of producing stunning-quality images. With the D300 new to the market, it’s possible the D200 is yet to have a substantial drop in price, but with it currently so close to the 40D, DSLR neutrals should reach for the Canon. Those sold to Nikon, however, would do well to scoop up this stunning camera while they’re still available.
Nikon D200 Info
Typical price: £750 (body only), £1100 (with AF-S DX 18-70mm lens)
Superlative build quality
Excellent value for money
High-ISO noise handling isn’t the best
Verdict: A truly great camera for experienced photographers, at an amazing price.
Rating: 5 stars
More info: Nikon DSLR website
- Focus modes can be controlled from a hardware switch on the back of the D200 – choose between evaluative, centre-weighted and spot metering using the dial beneath the D-pad
- The top-plate LCD screen and one-touch white balance and ISO shortcut keys make setting up your shots a pain-free process