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Nikon introduces Nikon D200 DSLR camera     Back to Notes on Photography
by Makoto Honda                November 1, 2005   update January 19, 2006

General

On November 1, 2005, Nikon, Japan, announced Nikon D200.  Nikon D200 is a 10.2 megapixel digital SLR camera, with the APS-C format CCD image sensor (23.6 x 15.8mm, so-called Nikon DX-format). This replaces the recently-discontinued Nikon D100 in their digital SLR camera lineup. The general availability of D200 is slated to be December 16, 2005, in Japan.  Nikon is sponsoring special Nikon D200 announcement events in major Japanese cities (Sapporo, Nagoya, Osaka, Tokyo, Fukuoka and Sendai) in the months of November and December, 2005, where the user can try Nikon D200 first-hand. Along with the detailed presentation of D200 features by Nikon, professional photographers will be at hand, describing their experience with the camera using their work created by Nikon D200. Nikon is really trying to push this camera. How much dough do I need to get one? Well, it has a so-called "open-price", a kind of fashion of late, in lieu of a more traditional "suggested retail" price.  However, the street price is expected to be around 200,000 yen in Japan, and around 1,700 USD.  To me, this is surprisingly "reasonable", considering the price of the recently announced Canon 5D, which offers direct competition with D200 in their respective line-ups. In the high-end digital camera market, the sensor size is the critical cost factor for manufacturers. Nikon's decision to stick to the DX-format sensor (at least for now) may be paying off well. Nikon D200 seems to be poised to sweep the "advanced armature" segment of the market with this sub-2000 dollar street price. Even at the top-of-the-line competition, Nikon D2x is out-selling Canon EOS 1Ds Mark II because of the price differential. And I have not seen a clear report showing the 16 megapixel, full-format sensor Canon is so much more superior in picture quality than the 12 megapixel, APS-C sensor based Nikon. (In the overall market, Canon market share is larger than that of Nikon, though I suspect, in the "professional" world, Nikon is used more than Canon. I am in the Nikon camp, and I have never used any Canon myself, but both are certainly the two major contenders. And other brands are not far behind either. The more competition, the more interesting the photography world becomes.)   

Picture links to Digi-Came Watch     Nikon D200 official site in English

Nikon "AI" Indexing Coupling

When I saw the picture of D200 today, the first thing which jumped out at me (before I read the camera spec) is a tiny pin on the ring around the lens mount on the camera body. This connects to the notch of the base aperture ring of the lens (i.e., of an AI Nikkor lens).  Yes!  Nikon has decided that D200 is "AI" indexing enabled.  For those uninitiated (or, for those newcomers to the Nikon world who do not care about the kind of traditional/historical stuff), the AI indexing is an elegant, mechanical scheme to convey the lens aperture information to the camera's TTL exposure meter, originally invented and patented by Tokyo Optics (implemented in their Topcon RE-Super camera), later adopted by Minolta and then by Nikon. What this all means to the Nikon users is that all, old, non-CPU AI Nikkor lenses can be used with Nikon D200 body and still enjoy "open-aperture" TTL metering!  This AI index coupling was offered in D1 & D2 series Nikons in the past (as in D2x and D2Hs) but not in any other lower models (D100, D70s, D70, D50).  You can use non-CPU AI lenses with Nikon D70s, for instance, and the lens aperture closes down to the set f-number when the shutter is released. So the lens is perfectly operational and usable. However, the exposure meter is disabled for non-CPU lenses. Probably this is a deliberate design decision on the part of Nikon in order to prevent a misleading meter reading for the user unfamiliar with open-aperture meter reading. I would have hoped that Nikon did not disable the exposure meter reading even with the non-CPU lenses. What it would have meant is that the camera would be giving the user a TTL exposure reading, assuming the lens is wide-open, even if the lens is set at f22 at the time of the measurement. The camera does not have any means of knowing the lens setting, since there is no mechanism to covey this information from a non-CPU lens to the D70s camera body. With Nikon D200, I can establish a complete mechanical aperture coupling with my non-CPU AI lenses, which allows me to use the camera's TTL exposure meter under Manual mode - or even under Aperture-priority auto exposure mode! For a non-CPU lens faster than f5.6, I can use the D200's focusing aid mechanism.

    John White's site provide an excellent and accurate description on Nikon lenses http://www.aiconversions.com/index.html

Nikon D200 Review

Nikon projects the initial monthly production of 40,000 units of D200. Like Nikon D2x and D2Hs, Nikon D200 offers a magnesium alloy body construction (not plastic, like D70s and D50), with the environmental body seal for protection from dust and water-drops. The body weight is about 830 grams, excluding a memory card and batteries. This compares with D2x's 1070 grams, D70s' 600 grams, and D50's 540 grams. Nikon D200 also offers a built-in flash (not available in D2x and D2Hs). The guide number of the flash is 12 (at ISO 100 at 1m).  The D200's flash is a manual pop-up type. I like it because the flash does not fire automatically unless it is popped up manually.

Thanks to the high-speed parallel 4-channel sensor output, D200 achieves 5 frames-per-second firing without cropping (as in D2x crop mode). According to Nikon engineers involved in the development, 5-frame-per-second speed and 10 meg-plus sensor are their initial target they set very firmly. The image processor (engine) adopted for D200 has a 5 fps output capability for 10 MB sensor. As far as the mechanical operation goes, which came directly from Nikon D2H, the design allows for up to 8 frames-per-second mirror operation. The hardest design, they recall, was in the power supply. To achieve this shooting speed, "we wanted a higher voltage, but it was limited by the batteries, especially, the motor startup and ending current. We had to fine-turn the whole system in such a way that the moment the motor started to kick in, we reduced the acceleration."

Nikon D200 is equipped with the newly developed 11-point sensor for auto-focus (AF), with the optional 7 wide-area AF mode. D200 allows up to 10-frame multi-exposures. D200 offers 4 exposure modes: P (program), S (shutter-priority), A (aperture-priority) and M (manual). The self-timer can be set at 2, 5, 10 or 20 seconds.

Also of note is the fact that Nikon D200 is the first Nikon DSLR camera in which Nikon decided to use a "small er" reflex mirror (large enough for the APS-C sensor size) than the traditional-size mirror designed for the full 35mm format.  Up to this point, Nikon had been resisting to adopt the small er mirror in their DX-format based SLR cameras in spite of the obvious advantage of the small er mirror. In fact, Canon engineers state that the full 35mm format Canon5D could not achieve 5 frames-per-second shooting speed (only 3 frames/sec) that is available in the lower-priced Canon 20D (APS-C based sensor), because of the inertia increase of the full-sze mirror.    

Nikon D200 also offers GPS (global positioning system) support via NMEA0183 standard interface. When used with a commercially available GPS device, this enables the user to record the latitude, longitude, altitude, as well as UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) for each frame taken by D200.

Nikon D200 only accepts a new-type, lithium-ion rechargeable battery EN-EL3e, not EN-EL3a used for D50, D70, D70s (though D50, D70, D70s accept new EN-EL3e). A fully charged EN-EL3e is said to shoot 1800 shots. The optional Multi-Power Battery Pack, MB-D200, accommodates 6 AA-size batteries or one or two EN-EL3e batteries. When two EN-EL3e's are loaded, one battery is consumed completely before using the second one. The MB-D200 battery pack offers a vertical grip and shutter release. (Nikon just announced a recall of some EN-EL3 batteries because of the danger of overheating and fire, but EN-EL3a and EN-EL3e are not included in the recall.)

For the image sensor sensitivity setting, D200 supports ISO 100-1600 with an additional push to ISO 3200 equivalent. I am happy to see ISO 100 (rather than starting from ISO 200, as in D70s and D50). This is not a matter of ISO 200 being "noise-free" enough to use.  Even ISO 400 is near-noise-free in Nikon D2x. The need for ISO 100 is a matter of flexible shutter/f-aperture combination. In a bright daylight, if you want to use a large aperture of f2.8 on your 200mm F2.8 lens for portraiture, you may need 1/8000 shutter speed at ISO 200. Well, Nikon D50 does not have 1/8000.

The image size selectable in D200 is, in pixels, 3822x2592 (Large), 2896x1944 (Medium), and 1936x1296 (small ). D200 allows simultaneous recording of RAW and JPEG, like many other DSLR today. The RAW+JPEG file size is around 15-20MB, depending on JPEG compression and the image size chosen. This gives only 40-60 shots on a 1 GB Compact Flash card. If you use JPEG only, you can shoot more than 160 frames for a large image, fine JPEG setting.

The power-up of D200 is lightning 0.15 sec, and the shutter release time lag is 0.05 sec, with 0.1 sec viewfinder blackout during the mirror action. D200's shutter is a vertically-running focal-plane shutter, with the speed of 1/8000 sec to 30 seconds, having cleared 100,000-plus release operations durability. The flash sync's at 1/250 or below. "In the electrical design", the Nikon engineers recall, "the hardest thing was to achieve this 0.15 power-up speed." Today, the 0.2 second is considered the industry standard. "If you add up all the necessary operations needed, the 0.2 second is really the minimum time required. How do we improve this number? It was a real challenge for us. Even if the difference is 0.05 sec, we have achieved the highest power-up in the industry!"

The Nikon D200's viewfinder coverage is 95%, both vertically and horizontally. Nikon has a solid tradition of maintaining a full 100% coverage for their top-of-the-line SLRs, namely, the film-based F series cameras (Nikon F, F2, F3, F4, F5 and F6) and the digital D1 and D2 series. The viewfinder magnification of D200 is a respectably large x 0.94 with a 50mm lens at infinity. The D200's viewfinder uses a traditional, real, glass penta-prism. (Some DSLR cameras today use a mirror-constructed, hollow prism simulation for lower cost and light weight, as well as small er size, though the viewfinder magnification is compromised in these cameras.) D200 does not support the interchangeable viewfinder focusing screen, as in D2 series models. However, D200 allows an easy grid line display suitable for various shooting conditions without changing the focusing screen.

In today's digital photography, the LCD monitor on the camera is a vital tool for the photographer. Expectedly, Nikon D200 is equipped with a large 2.5" polysilicon LCD monitor for easy post-exposure confirmation. The LCD is viewable at 170 degree angle.

Nikon D200 supports high-speed USB 2.0 interface. For the wireless file transfer, D200 supports Wireless Transmitter WT-3, slated to be available in the summer of 2006.

Nikon D200's Professional Feel

 

AF-S DX VR Zoom-Nikkor ED 18~200mm F3.5~5.6G (IF)

Nikon also introduced a new DX-format zoom lens covering 18-200mm, or 35mm equivalent of 27-300mm. Click the picture below to go to Nikon site, Japan. In addition to  the near 11 times zoom ratio, this lens features the next-generation "vibration reduction". According to Nikon, this means the picture blur due to the camera movement is effectively prevented at the shutter speed "4-stops" below the traditional limit. (Many vibration reduction systems, or "image stabilization" as Canon calls it, offer "3-stops" improvement.) If you use a 125mm lens, the traditional rule of thumb is that the slowest shutter speed you can use is a 1/125 sec. With this new-generation VR II from Nikon, you can use 1/8 sec..... Hard to believe!

.   Click this to go to Nikon site (also shows MTF chart)        Nikon site in English

In any rate, this makes me think that it is, after all, a good idea to keep this image stabilization mechanism in the lens, rather than in the camera body itself, as in a Konica Minolta DSLR camera. Though it seems very reasonable to keep the mechanism in the body so that all and any lenses can benefit from the vibration reduction, if the technology is moving so rapidly, it will also obsolete the camera quickly. Also, technologically, moving a tiny lens element in the lens for vibration reduction is more feasible than having to move a much heavier image sensor in the camera body..... For us consumers, it is cheaper to replace the lens than to replace the body.... Well, maybe not. Some lenses are far more expensive than a body.... ????..... Maybe, technology and obsolescence go hand-in-hand.

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Copyright 2001-2017 Makoto Honda. All Rights Reserved.                                       www.iCarnivorousPlants.com                                       since June 2001