A Look Back: The Nikon D200

The Nikon D200 stands tall on its MB-D200 vertical grip. The D200 is a good-looking, great-handling camera from the mid-2000s.
The Nikon D200 stands tall on its MB-D200 vertical grip. The D200 is a good-looking, great-handling camera from the mid-2000s.

The Nikon D200 digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera is a sturdy, capable, good-looking camera from the mid-2000s. It has a 10.2 megapixel sensor that will shoot from ISO 100 to 3200, a decent autofocus system, and it fits just right in my longish hands.

I’ve made tens of thousands of images with my D200s. I own three, all gotten cheap on Ebay, though one of them died earlier this year. In 2018, I don’t consider the D200 a front-line camera, but I still grab them from time to time, and they still deliver.

Luminaries glow at Relay for Life 2014 at Ada High School Friday, May 30, 2014. Made with one of my D200 cameras, color, contrast, and sharpness are all excellent.
Luminaries glow at Relay for Life 2014 at Ada High School Friday, May 30, 2014. Made with one of my D200 cameras, color, contrast, and sharpness are all excellent.

At the end of the film era, many of us used the excellent Nikon F100 SLR, often with the MB-15 vertical grip. I had two of them at my newspaper from 1997 until I retired the last one in 2005, when I only shot a handful of film negatives.

We waited eagerly for its digital equivalent.

The F100, sometimes nicknamed the “Baby F5,” was everything we could want in a film SLR, viceless, well-built, and a pleasure to use. When the D100 appeared, it didn’t deliver on the promise to be the digital F100. The D100 was slow to shoot, slow to think, and sported some very awkward controls, most notably the badly-implemented exposure mode dial. See my D100 review here (link.)

It wasn’t until November of 2005 that we got a look at what would be the “digital F100,” the Nikon D200.

The Nikon D200 digital SLR stands tall on its MB-D200 vertical grip with an older AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens mounted.
The Nikon D200 digital SLR stands tall on its MB-D200 vertical grip with an older AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens mounted.
  • I was amazed when I saw the noise in this image made with a D200 by a photographer at another newspaper, until I realized it was originally a JPEG, not a raw file. I shoot raw files exclusively with the D200.
    I was amazed when I saw the noise in this image made with a D200 by a photographer at another newspaper, until I realized it was originally a JPEG, not a raw file. I shoot raw files exclusively with the D200.

    Build quality is head and shoulders above its predecessors, the D70 and the D100, and its contemporary, the D80. The D200 feels solid in hand, and its operations feel smooth and powerful.

  • Though the rubber coating on Nikon D70s is disintegrating into a sticky mess, the same-era D200’s rubber grip panels are fine.
  • Image quality at modest ISO settings (below about 1600) is excellent, with sharp details, accurate color, and low noise. ISO 3200, which is “Hi-1” on the display, is pretty noisy, and it’s not good-looking noise, tending toward blotchiness.
Ty Hoppe nervously chews on his tassel prior to Latta High School's first ever commencement ceremonies in their new multi-million dollar gym Tuesday evening, May 20, 2014. Though somewhat noisy at the D200's maximum aperture of 3200, the image still worked well.
Ty Hoppe nervously chews on his tassel prior to Latta High School’s first ever commencement ceremonies in their new multi-million dollar gym Tuesday evening, May 20, 2014. Though somewhat noisy at the D200’s maximum aperture of 3200, the image still worked well.
  • With the MB-D200 multi power battery grip, it holds two batteries, and adds a vertical shutter release. This combination feels and looks very professional.
  • Media storage is the Compact Flash (CF) card, which I have always liked because it is about the right size for my workflow and in my hands. SD cards seem a little small and easy to lose, although I now use them all the time and have never lost one.
The back of the Nikon D200, which is the side we use, after all, has the usual controls in the usual places. An odd choice was to made some of the lettering pale yellow.
The back of the Nikon D200, which is the side we use, after all, has the usual controls in the usual places. An odd choice was to made some of the lettering pale yellow.
  • The D80, introduced a few months after the D200, uses the same sensor, but is constructed of plastic.
  • The D200 viewfinder is large and bright, and the monitor is big for its time at 2.5 inches diagonal.
  • The D200 has a pop-up flash on the pentaprism, a feature I occasionally wish was on pro models for use as fill light in sunny situations.
  • The exposure mode button on the top of the D200 is a professional standard. It made scrolling through the P, A, S, and M exposure modes quick and easy.
    The exposure mode button on the top of the D200 is a professional standard. It made scrolling through the P, A, S, and M exposure modes quick and easy.

    Unlike all models aimed at amateur photographers, the D200 does not have an exposure mode dial, but an exposure mode button, which I very much prefer. It doesn’t need the mode dial because it doesn’t offer “green box” mode or scene modes, which are used almost exclusively by amateur photographers.

  • Also unlike current amateur Nikon cameras, the D200 has a focus motor in the lens mount, so it will focus older AF Nikkor lenses.
  • The D200 has an aperture indexing ring around the lens mount, allowing it to use automatic exposure with non-autofocus lenses.
  • Color out of the D200 is adequate, but even using the “vivid” setting, it can be a little on the muted side. Both noise and color rendering are vastly improved by shooting raw files.
  • The D200 can be converted to shoot infrared.
This is the Vietnam Veterans travelling wall, which visited Ada a few years ago. The D200s 10.2 megapixel sensor has enough resolution to give an image like this excellent sharpness and clarity.
This is the Vietnam Veterans travelling wall, which visited Ada a few years ago. The D200s 10.2 megapixel sensor has enough resolution to give an image like this excellent sharpness and clarity.

Overall, I would say that the Nikon D200 was an excellent camera for news, sports and magazine photography, and though it is older technology, I have no intention of retiring or selling mine; for one thing, they cost nearly nothing, and I couldn’t get anything for them if I wanted to sell them. Ebay shows D200s in good condition for less than $200, sometimes less than $100. It’s also worth noting that if someone gave me one, or I saw one at a garage sale for $25, I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to snatch it up.

One of my photography students smiles in late summer sunshine in this image made with the Nikon D200 and my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8.
One of my photography students smiles in late summer sunshine in this image made with the Nikon D200 and my AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8.
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