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Nikon announces D200 digital SLR
Monday, October 31, 2005 | by Rob Galbraith

Nikon has officially introduced the D200, a 10.04 million image pixel, 5 fps digital SLR that's expected to sell for about US$1700 in the U.S. when it ships in late December 2005. The new model, which has been subject to more Internet information leaks than any previous digital SLR in recent memory, appears to be the digital heir apparent to Nikon's venerable F100 film camera. It combines an impressive list of pro-class features in a body that is much less expensive than the company's flagship D2X.

Here's a quick summary of the D200:

  • It produces 10.04 million pixel photos from a DX-size 23.6mm x 15.8mm CCD (yes, CCD) sensor; each pixel is 6.05m square
  • The body is comprised of a magnesium alloy chassis and body covers with environmental sealing
  • Its control layout and overall visual appearance are partly an amalgam of the D70s and D2X/D2Hs
  • A 5 fps shooting rate for a Nikon-specified 37 full-resolution Fine JPEG or 22 RAW NEF frames
  • An ISO range of 100-1600 in 1/3 step increments, plus ISO 3200 (Hi-1); the ISO can be changed while looking through the viewfinder
  • A 50ms shutter lag specification, 150ms camera startup and 105ms mirror blackout time
  • Shutter tested to over 100,000 cycles
  • An 11-area autofocus system utilizing a new autofocus component dubbed the Multi-CAM 1000
  • A top shutter speed of 1/8000; a standard top flash sync of 1/250
  • Ambient metering utilizes 1005-pixel RGB metering sensor and 3D Color Matrix Metering II algorithm; metering modes include Matrix, Centre-Weighted and Spot (2% of frame)
  • i-TTL flash exposure control for both its built-in flash and compatible Speedlights; includes Commander mode for remote wireless triggering with the built-in flash as the master, with nearly the same level of flash output control as when an SB-800 is used as the master
  • 2.5 inch (diagonal), 230,000-dot TFT rear LCD (the LCD is not the same component as is used in the D2X and D2Hs; the D200's LCD has a much wider 170 degree viewing angle specification)
  • Accepts CompactFlash Type I/II
  • Connection ports include USB 2.0, 10-pin remote socket, PC sync and NTSC/PAL video out
  • Compatible with the Multi-Power Battery Pack MB-D200 and the upcoming 802.11b/g Wireless Transmitter WT-3/WT-3A (expected in the spring of 2006, with features similar to the WT-2/WT-2A)
  • Can be linked to an external GPS unit using GPS Adapter Cord MC-35
  • Multiple exposures possible (plus image overlay)
  • The camera is powered by a single EN-EL3e battery and is rated for 1800 frames per charge; the MB-D200 will accept two EN-EL3's for double the frames before swapping batteries. The camera includes a detailed battery status menu screen
  • Lexar's LockTight card encyrption technology will be supported
  • One of the faster data timing modes of SanDisk's Extreme III CompactFlash cards will be supported, which will llkely mean that these cards will provide the fast in-camera write speeds

nikon_d200_front.jpg
Nikon D200 (Photo courtesy Nikon)

Feature Highlights

Sensor and image quality Nikon continues to use a variety of sensors types across its digital SLR lineup; its current range of cameras incorporate CMOS, LBCAST and CCD. The D200's 23.6mm x 15.8mm sensor is CCD. The pixel pitch is 6.05m square, which makes each pixel slightly larger than the D2X's 5.49m pixels, as makes sense given the D200's slightly lower resolution (12.21 million image pixels for the D2x vs 10.04 million image pixels for the D200). Data is read out across 4 channels simultaneously. D200 file dimensions at maximum resolution are 3872 x 2592 pixels. There is no High Speed Crop mode in the D200.

nikon_d200_sensor.jpg
Nikon D200 CCD (Photo courtesy Nikon)

As is their custom when they aren't the manufacturer of the sensor, Nikon is not releasing much in the way of meaty technical detail about the D200's CCD. We did learn that, unlike all current and previous CCD-based Nikon digital SLR cameras back to the D1, the shutter in the D200 is fully-responsible for controlling the exposure time. For photographers who rarely use non-dedicated flash units, this won't mean much. For those who shoot sports with Elinchrom or other studio strobes, as we do, this means it won't be possible to cheat the sync speed well above 1/250th with this camera. High-speed flash synchronization is possible only with a compatible Nikon Speedlight.

Downstream from the sensor is an image processing pipeline that mirrors the D2X , which would suggest that the colour appearance of D200 JPEGs, and RAW NEF files processed through Nikon Capture, will be similar to the D2X as well. The camera can output JPEGs at three different resolutions and three different compression levels, plus either compressed or uncompressed 12-bits per colour NEF. It can also record RAW+JPEG simultaneously.

The D200 includes the Nikon-standard trio of Color Mode settings: I, II and III. The choice of output colour space for JPEGs is chosen separately, and can be either sRGB or Adobe RGB regardless of the Color Mode setting.

There are a total of four options in the High ISO NR menu in the camera: Off, Low, Normal and High. The D2X, by comparison, has three. We don't know if the type or quantity of noise reduction has changed in the D200, relative to the D2X.

Version 4.4 of Nikon Capture will be required to process the D200's NEF files. Third party RAW converters will presumably also be updated with D200 support. Though the camera will not ship with Nikon View, the software is being revised to display and otherwise handle D200 NEFs. It will be released as an Internet download only from Nikon's technical support sites. A new version of PictureProject will come bundled with the D200.

Autofocus A newly-developed Nikon autofocus (AF) component makes its debut in the D200. The Multi-Cam 1000 has 11 AF sensors arranged in a diamond pattern clustered in the centre of the picture area. Each individual AF area has a slightly smaller footprint than the AF areas in the D2X/D2Hs, and the spacing of each AF area is tighter as well (see the picture in the viewfinder section just ahead).

nikon_d200_menu_02.jpg
Focus Zones Selection menu

In addition to a complement of autofocus configuration options that is nearly identical to the D2X and D2Hs, including Single Area AF, Dynamic AF, Group Dynamic AF (with two sets of Pattern groups) and the ability to enable/disable Focus Tracking with Lock-On, the D200 also has two distinct Focus Zones. When set to Normal Zones, all 11 AF areas act individually. When set to Wide Zones, the three vertically-aligned sensors just to the left of centre act as one larger AF area, as do the three vertically-aligned sensors just to the right of centre. The result is a 7 AF area system. This layout would seem to be advantageous when trying to maintain focus on subjects moving quickly or erratically.

Viewfinder With a magnification specification of 0.94x, the viewfinder image in the D200 should appear noticeably larger than that found in the 0.86x magnification D2X. Viewfinder frame coverage is about 95%. The display of AF area indicators, grid markings and other information shown within the image area is dynamic. Grid lines can be turned on and off, and indicators for an empty CF card slot, low battery and black/white capture mode only appear as needed. When the camera's AF system is set to Normal Zones, all 11 areas are represented by small black outlined squares, with the selected AF point surrounded by a set of closed-in brackets. Switching to Wide Zones prompts some or all of the AF area markers to be replaced with wider-spaced brackets. We're not certain about how many different appearances the AF area markings can take depending on the AF configuration, but it's clear that unlike most other Nikon cameras, those markings do change in appearance (as opposed to just highlighting in some fashion).

nikon_d200_viewfinder.jpg
A Look Inside
Nikon D200 viewfinder image area showing 11 AF area markings and empty CF card slot indicator (Photo by Eamon Hickey)

Wireless flash The D200 and its built-in flash build upon the nifty wireless Commander mode of the D70/D70s by integrating almost the full range of remote flash control found in the Speedlight SB-800 (when it's working as the master flash) in an i-TTL wireless setup. With nothing more than the D200 and its popup flash running the show, any number of SB-600 and SB-800 Speedlights, as well as the new SB-R200, can be triggered, with full control over the flash exposure mode (TTL, M or AA), flash exposure compensation and wireless channel.

nikon_d200_menu_01.jpg
Commander Mode menu

The D200's built-in flash as wireless master functionality supports all four channels of the i-TTL system, the same as the SB-800 when working as the master flash. The one difference worth noting is the total number of wireless groups possible: four for the SB-800 as master, as compared to three when the D200's built-in flash is the master (one of those groups is always the built-in flash itself). The maximum triggering distance with the D200's built-in flash might also be shorter than with the SB-800, given that the latter flash is much more powerful. But this is only an untested hunch.

Conclusion

If the image quality is solid (managing noise at ISO 400 and above has been a challenge for Nikon in recent times) and the new autofocus system is reasonably capable, then the D200 may well be one of the most interesting digital SLR models the company will release in some time. At first glance, it looks to be an effective response to Canon's slightly less expensive entry-level pro camera the EOS 20D, because the D200 will almost certainly have a more-capable flash system, it produces a higher-resolution photo and most of its other main specifications meet or exceed those of the Canon model too. We'll wait to view the pictures produced by the D200 before declaring it the superior of the two, however, since the image quality from the 20D is really good, and it's especially impressive at the higher ISO settings where Nikon's other double-digital megapixel camera, the D2X, falters.

nikon_d200_back.jpg
Nikon D200 - rear view (Photo courtesy Nikon)

The D200 is slated to ship in late December 2005 at an estimated selling price of US$1699.95 in the U.S. (the minumum advertised price will be firmed up about 30 days prior to shipping, as per Nikon USA's usual practice). In Canada, it should emerge at about the same time as the U.S. at an anticipated street price of CDN$2150.

Nikon has also announced the SU-800 Wireless Speedlight Commander and SB-R200 Wireless Remote Speedlight.

Links

Thanks to Steve Heiner, Mary Mulder and Saurabh Wahi for their assistance with the preparation of this article.

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