Nikon D200 with Sigma 28-105 f2.8-4 AF
This is not a technical review about specs etc. This is a usage report from 20 months of back and forth testing of the camera in various professional shooting scenarios.
The Nikon D200 was announced in November of 2005, now since it’s the first quarter of 2014, its 1 year shy of a decade. A decade in camera years is like a millennium. Never the less D200 is probably the greatest camera ever made by Nikon. The D300 and D300s cameras are only a slight improvement on the D200.
I bought this camera in September 2012 by which time it’s almost an ancient relic, fit to be a part of a museum collection. It might sound a bit melodramatic, but this camera gave me the dignity of being a photographer. Wherever I went, people raised eyebrows some gasped, some awed, and some widened their eyes. I guess it’s the size and weight. It’s markedly different from entry level garbage that camera companies usually put out for sale. No matter where I went, nobody took me for granted. Everybody wants to hold this camera and feel its heft. No matter what age, a pro camera is a pro camera. I furthered all my skills on this one and it has never failed me and I hope and pray that it never will.
As of April 2014, this camera is available for peanuts on fleabay and now is the best time to get it. Grab one (or two) while you can. I have a particular preference for CCD sensor cameras. I never liked CMOS sensor cameras. I don’t need high ISO of the CMOS sensors. It’s very rare that I shoot anything above ISO 400. All my work is inside ISO 400.
Somehow to me, the pictures from CCD sensors look better than CMOS ones. I think the digital signal conversion is better in CCDs than CMOS sensors. CCDs are supposedly power guzzlers, but that’s fine by me. I have two EN EL3e batteries for my D200, they both last an entire shoot. I have a Sony a200 DSLR in my bag as well as a back-up, but it never gets used. I shoot with it in between just for change.
Shot with Nikon D200 and 18-55 kit lens. JPEG normal
Even Medium format camera like Hasselblad and Mamiya began their digital ascent into the modern era with CCD sensors made by Kodak and Dalsa. Teledyne Dalsa, the company behind Dalsa sensors makes both CMOS and CCD sensors. The earliest Medium format digital backs all used CCD sensors. I don’t know why these days they are switching to CMOS sensors, I personally do not appreciate this development. Incidentally both the critically acclaimed Leica’s 18.5 megapixel CCD and the path breaking Pentax’s 645D 40 megapixel CCD sensors are made by Kodak. Yeah that means awesome pictures.
According to Wikipedia, D200’s senor is made by Sony and has the highest pixel pitch after the Nikon D40. D40’s CCD sensor is also made by Sony. High pixel pitch means, the sensor has more pixels packed per square mm than other camera sensors. This means the picture will be ‘dense’. This also reduces the high ISO ability, but for a pro photog who shoots below ISO 400 mostly this is not a problem at all. Even if I have to use high ISO, Contrary to what other pros do, I do NOT switch on the ‘High ISO noise reduction’ in the camera as I have observed this tends to take away the fine detail from the pictures. I have also occasionally shot at ISO 800 with the D200 and the pictures were very much usable.
Picture shot at ISO 800 with Noise reduction off
In this part of the world where I live, studio photographers swear by Nikon cameras with CCD sensors. The cameras I have seen used are D40, D40x, D50, D60, D70, D70s and D80. Though it has a CMOS sensor I have seen many photographers use D90 for weddings and such, and this camera is the only exception. I have never seen a studio photographer with any other camera except Nikon. These days some of them are shifting to canon and I am aware of the fact that a lot of them are highly disillusioned with Canon after years of using Nikon DSLRs and most of them are not emotionally buying into Canon. They also feel Canon’s lenses are pricier than Nikon’s, which is true.
· Strengths of the camera include a solid magnesium alloy body, weather sealing, professional control buttons, a detailed and advanced menu system, CCD sensor and weight. Yes it weighs a ton, and I like it that way. I love heavy cameras. Light weight cameras are for fags, posers and hipsters.
· If you are an ‘enthusiast’ forget buying this camera, it’s too heavy and too professional for you. This camera is a great stepping stone to other great professional cameras from Nikon. Say, it’s a gateway drug. This is a perfect camera to buy if you intend to become a full-time professional and later when you master this camera you can graduate to other bigger and better cameras from Nikon like the D800, D3 or D4.
· The sensor in the camera needs a special mention. Images from D200, when used with older film era lenses, give ‘film like’ images. What I mean to say is the images have a cinematic/film like look to them. This is also the reason I am not selling my D200 at all. I might buy one more off of fleabay or something but I am not selling this one. Unless they make a same camera, with the same sensor and better specs then may be I will think about it.
Having talked all the good points, I have to admit the camera has some drawbacks too. Ofcourse if you love your camera like I do, the drawbacks don’t really look like drawbacks. Now lets look at them one by one.
· This is strictly a studio camera, which means, this camera gives its best only under controlled lighting conditions. That means under strobes and speedlites.
· This camera can’t be used for street photography or nature or landscape photography. Why?? Its metering. It produces dull and uninspiring pictures as the metering concentrates only on certain areas when shooting. Under normal conditions the entire frame is not illuminated evenly. This could be my ignorance or there is something about the camera that results in this kind of pictures. Again you get great shots in the studio. Btw, who does street photography with this camera anyways???.
· The 10.2 megapixels are more than enough for just about any kind of photography, but you know the craving for more megapixels. With recent entry level cameras coming up with 24 megapixel sensors, you know sometimes you can feel inadequate.
· Autofocus is a bit slow with my Nikkor 18-70 lens. I don’t know if it’s the camera or the lens or me or the lighting conditions. Comparatively the D100 had an even slower focus and would hunt even in broad day light (no kidding, really).
· Low light performance?? Forget it, the D200 cant shoot a good picture even in shade. Its metering and sensor don’t work that way. This camera needs light, lots and lots of light and that’s not as bad as you think it is. When you are a professional and when it’s dark, you will carry lights anyway.
· No AUTO mode. This camera doesn’t have an Auto mode. A pro wouldn’t need auto mode anyway. This is a serious set back only for amateurs not for pro photogs.
These, my dear reader, are my thoughts after 20 months of extensively using the Nikon D200. Now, after all these months, it’s become my friend, my eyes, and is a permanent part of my kit. I am absolutely sure, it still has some miracles embedded in its digital soul for me to discover in my journey as a photographer and as an artist. Happy clicking.