Nikon D200

Powerful and wonderfully designed, Nikon’s new D200 fills a gaping hole in the company’s lineup of digital SLR cameras. Ideal for professionals and serious amateurs, the $1,700 (body only), 10.2-megapixel camera fits nicely between the $900, 6.1-megapixel D70s and Nikon’s top-of-the line and extremely costly ($4,500) 12.4-megapixel D2X. I predict that many D70s owners will want to upgrade to the D200’s higher megapixel count and more-sophisticated controls.

Nikon built the D200 with a beefy magnesium body that feels like something you could pound nails with. Nikon also loaded it with dedicated buttons and dials. The D200 is clearly a descendent of the D2X, though not quite as bulky. Even so, it still feels weighty (with the battery, it tips the scale at around two pounds).

Two of the D200’s more intriguing features are its GPS connectivity, which lets you add location information to your photos—very cool—and the ability to shoot multiple exposures to the same image file. This last option is exceptionally rare in digital cameras, although you could achieve the same effect by layering multiple images later in an image-editing program.

Menus galore

The D200’s controls are more intuitive than those on previous Nikon models. The menus, for example, while no less multilayered, are nicely organized, well labeled, and color-coded—all of which help speed navigation among them. Still, the sheer number of options means that finding specific controls when you first pick up this camera can take time. The Recent Settings menu assists with this, as does the built-in help system.

Nikon gave the D200 a huge—almost bewildering—selection of focusing options. The autofocus was dead-on accurate for most of my informal shots, with the surprising exception of a few scenic photos, usually the easiest type of picture for autofocus systems to handle. This lapse may be a case of my selecting the wrong type of autofocus, however, and the camera was generally quick and accurate, even with such challenges as capturing birds in flight.

As you’d expect with a 10.2-megapixel CCD, the images I shot with the D200 looked sharp, living up to my high expectations, though the D200 didn’t earn the highest score for image sharpness in our lab tests. It earned very high marks for the absence of distortion in its images. Only the Canon 20D scored higher.

Like many digital SLRs, the D200 tends to underexpose slightly in autoexposure settings. Color saturation was a mixed bag—a bit muted with earth tones, but nicely saturated with bright whites and reds.

Performance

Image Quality Very Good
Battery Life Excellent

Scale = Excellent, Very Good, Good, Flawed, Unacceptable

How we tested: The image-quality rating of the camera is based on a panel of judges’ opinions in five categories: exposure, color, sharpness, distortion, and overall. Battery life testers follow a precise script, including shots with and without flash, until the battery dies.—Tested in conjunction with the PC World Test Center

Specifications

Resolution 10.2 megapixels
Zoom/Focal Length 18-70mm (27-105mm, 35mm equivalent)*
Maximum Aperture f3.5*
Size (wxhxd) 5.8 x 4.5 x 2.9 inches (body only)
Weight 1.8 lbs (body only)

* Camera is sold without a lens. We tested the camera with the AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor 18mm-70mm lens. Other lenses are available.

Macworld’s buying advice

Until now, the Canon 20D was the leading candidate to become my next digital SLR. But the D200’s higher scores for color quality and exposure accuracy make it a tempting proposition as well. Now I have the luxury of choosing between two exceptional cameras.

[ Tracey Capen is a photographer, writer, and carpenter based in the San Francisco Bay area. ]

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