REVIEW : Nikon swings for the fence with the D7200

Nikon has been busy.  Not only have they been building a string of successful full frame cameras, they've been pushing hard in the crop sensor space with the new D7200.  While there has yet to be a successor to the D300S, Nikon has not dropped the ball at all.  How can I say this?  Read on... Let's start with the core specs.

The D7200 uses Nikon's  24 megapixel DX CMOS sensor.  In this iteration that sensor captures images with an ISO range of 100 - 25600.  So everything from bright sun to working in the dark.  Images are captured to SD cards including the new enormous SDXC variants.  There are two slots and they can be configured for overflow, backup or RAW and JPEG.  The RAW images can be stored in either 12 bit or 14 bit density.  Maximum burst mode is 6 frames per second.  Shutter speed range is from 1/8000 to 30s plus bulb of course.  Flash can sync at 1/250.  You can mount Nikon G, D and E series lenses as well as older AI Nikkors without all the automation.  Nikon also provides a 1.3x crop function in camera, effectively multiplying the apparent focal length by 1.3x.

The built in meter uses 2016 individual sensors and has a coverage range of 0 EV to 20 EV.  In addition to the usual Program, Shutter Preferred, Aperture Preferred and Manual modes (PASM), there are a stack of SCENE modes with predefined exposure parameters.  There is of course a full Auto mode, as well as Auto with override and a no flash mode.  Exposure compensation is plus or minus 5 stops in ½ or ⅓ stop increments.  This extends to bracketing mode offering up to 9 shots in a bracket, using ⅓ or ½ EV steps.  The camera also offers a number of Picture Control settings, basically JPEG processing modes.

In addition to the default high ISO of 25,600, you can push to H1 and H2, 51,200 and 102,400 respectively.   To support this there is a selectable High ISO noise reduction function as well as a long exposure noise reduction function.   Nikon also adds their Active D-Lighting which is basically a software driven dynamic range extender.  You can also bracket the Active D-Lighting to quickly take many images to decide your preference later.

As you would expect, the D7200 has a popup flash with Nikon's iTTL flash metering system.  More important than a popup flash is that the popup can be used as a Commander in conjunction with Nikon's excellent and easy to use Creative Lighting System.   Flash exposure compensation is also available in 2 or 3 frame brackets in steps of ⅓, ½, ⅔,  1 and 2 EV increments.

Nikon has been enhancing their AF systems, with the D7200 having 51 available autofocus points.  You can select the number of points being used at 9, 21, 51 and 3D Tracking settings.  3D Tracking is Nikon's way of handling moving subjects.  The AF sensor has sensitivity from -3 EV to 19 EV and can work with lenses with maximum apertures as small as f:/8 albeit with limited focus points.  Of the 51 AF points, 15 are cross type.

You can of course shoot video with this camera with resolutions of Full HD 1920x1080 at up to 60 frames per second.  There is a built-in microphone but also a jack for an external microphone.  You can see your recording for video or stills in Live View or Playback on a 3.2 inch LCD with 1.228 M dots.  The display has an ambient light sensor with auto brightness control.  The LCD is fixed in place, no tilt or swing.

In addition to the normal playback functions, you can do photo editing in camera and Nikon offers many options.

The D7200 uses Nikon's proven EN-EL15 battery with an expected runtime of 1,110 shots.  WiFi and NFC are built in, and ports allow for connection of Nikon wired remotes, mini HDMI out, USB2, and the previously mentioned microphone input.  You can also connect Nikon's external GPS1 receiver for geotagging your images.

Feel and Usability

I don't have Hulk hands but the D7200 feels a bit small in my hands.  The back of the camera is nicely flush, but being left eyed, I would need to carry a microfibre cloth to continuously wipe the nose grease off the LCD.

The viewfinder is reasonably bright.  I received Nikon's DX 18-140 zoom lens as part of the kit, and while the lens is quite nice, it's not really optically fast.  The in finder display is very legible.  Diopter adjustment is quick and easy.  The top deck has the common LCD display panel, with a decent and easy to read layout.  Shutter release is smooth but in my opinion, the button throw is a bit too long, not as smooth or quick as on the D750.   Nikon has not made any major changes to the menu system, so once you learn the menus, they are fairly intuitive.

The rotary dial on the left top deck is where you select your shooting mode, and an outer dial controls the shooting frame rate including mirror up and self timer.  All are similar to previous Nikon layouts and easy to get to.

When I began to look into the video capabilities, I found some incongruities in which recording modes were available at what settings.  1080/24 looks very nice, not quite cinematic, but nice regardless.  1080/30 has that video look, and when watched on a big screen reminds you how much episodic television now uses DSLR style video cameras.  One thing that Nikon did not make a big deal out of is that the D7200 has a headphone jack.  You really cannot do decent video without a headphone jack to monitor your audio.  The built in microphones, umm, inhale rapidly, but being able to plug a RODE Videomic into the mic port improves the audio substantially.  The only way to do better is to go with an off board preamp like a Tascam, or a separate audio recorder where in camera audio is only used for synchronization purposes.  The reality is that bad audio completely destroys good video and all manufacturers could stand to improve their audio systems.

Most buyers are looking at stills performance.  Indeed, industry data tells us that only 5% of buyers will ever really use the video capability seriously.  Their loss, this camera is quite good.  The stills performance is what you would expect from Nikon.  Clean, well exposed images in all the auto modes and the ability to save at multiple quality levels of JPEG and two levels of bit depth for RAW.  I confess I don't see the need for further degraded JPEGs out of camera or even lower bit depth RAW files.

If you are buying the D7200 shortly after release, be ready knowing that at the time of this writing, the only RAW pre-processing available is from Nikon.  There was no media in the box with the camera, which is fine because my Macs don't have CD-ROM drives anyway.  Nikon makes Capture NX-D and ViewNX 2 available for download so getting the software is very easy.  Canon could learn from Nikon how to not piss off the customer when they are trying to get software that should have come with the camera, as if anyone is actually going to steal it.

The Nikon software provides a variety of edit tools, and the layout is reasonably usable.  Unfortunately while it reads the Nikon NEF RAW files from the D7200, neither offers DNG export so your only options or TIFF preserving the quality but really large files or JPEG with smaller files but all the usual loss that happens with JPEG.  My first tests were all shot in RAW, mostly because I personally don't use JPEG at capture and I had to do some juggling to get the files into Lightroom.

I'm going to avoid talking about the images too much because the route to Lightroom for the RAW files is not one I would normally use.  I shot the same subject on the D7200 and on the Canon 1Dx I had set up for a project.  Not a really fair comparison anyway, crop vs full frame, 24MP vs 16MP, TIFF vs Canon RAW.  I am hopeful that when Adobe has a RAW converter for the D7200 NEF files that they come up better than the Capture NX-D TIFF conversions that I found flat and chunky in the blacks and deep shadows.

The evaluation came in the form of a kit containing the  D7200 and the Nikon 18-140mm DX.  It's lightweight, smooth to zoom and focuses reasonably fast.  Sort of like a 28-210 on a full frame.  If I were looking at a D7200 with an all in one lens, I would definitely go with either the Nikon 18-300mm or the Tamron 18-300 over the lens supplied in the kit.  Not a lot more weight for a lot more usability.

It took me more fiddling than I expected to get the AF set up the way I like to work, given how quick it was on the D750 and the Df.  Might be my own fault, getting confused.  I'm still not nuts about Nikon's roll-on menu systems, but in fairness I have yet to come across any manufacturer's menu system that could not benefit from some professional UI work.

I have mentioned that the camera felt small.  I can confirm after a one hour handheld shoot experiment that I could not use this camera without a battery grip added on.  The body is just too short and I ended up with a painful cramp in my right hand.

I am not a fan of popup flashes and I cannot recommend the use of the popup for any serious work.  I have heard all manner of stories about how to improve the quality of light from popups with plastic diffusers, or kleenex or holding a paper towel in front.  Whatever.  It all ends up looking like a small harsh low-powered source directly in line with the lens.  Yuck.  Usefulness in my world would be as a Commander for a Nikon CLS flash army and that's it.

I don't own any other Nikon iTTL capable flash units at this time, so I made some shots using manual mode with Elinchrom Quadra portable strobe heads.  The Elinchrom EL-Skyport Transmitter Speed was almost too snug a fit into the hotshoe, much tighter than on other cameras that I use it on.  Once mounted properly, the camera fired the transmitter and I got very nice flash images using a Sekonic flash meter to get the exposure.  As one would expect, I had to drop ⅓ stop from the maximum sync speed when using radio triggered external heads.  This is not a flaw, it's pretty common.  I use flash a lot in my work, both as main light and a supplementary source so being able to easily integrate flash and ambient is very important to me.  The D7200 demonstrated no issues at all.

As regular readers will know, I loved the Df and the D750.  They felt great in my hands, and sounded solid when shooting.  This is one area where I am a bit underwhelmed by the D7200.  It sounds and feels clattery.  Yes, I know that's not a word, but imagine an attic with stuff shifting and bumping around and that's what the D7200 sounds and feels like, particularly on longer exposures.  Mirror slap is much more distinct than on its more expensive full frame brethren.

The first few times I shot the camera on burst mode CL and CH, I thought that something had gone badly wrong.  The maximum burst mode of 6fps sounded slow, and the default slow burst rate seemed to be stuck underwater and lagging badly.  I got out a stop watch app and confirmed that exposure permitting I was hitting the frame per second numbers but the camera sounds like a 73 Gremlin with a couple of bad cylinders.  No D750 this fellow.

Shooting in the field is a pleasant if not earth shattering experience.  The internal display is easy to read, the shutter release is quite smooth and the AF is definitely snappy enough.  I hung the camera on a BlackRapid strap and wandered about my town for a bit.  I shot in RAW, despite the challenge with conversion, and the painfully slow wait for Capture NX-D to convert the RAWs to TIFF for import to Lightroom.  Intuitive is a dumb word to use since all cameras require some level of acclimatization.  The D7200 became quick to use in a reasonably short period of time.  It's definitely compact and with the 18-140 was no drag on my neck and shoulder.  As I walked around, the few people out ignored me, asked if I was taking pictures, and one fellow gave me the serious hairy eyeball from beneath his tinfoil hat.  So one cannot call the D7200 unobtrusive if one is into the surreptitious style of street photography.  I'm not so it doesn't matter.  If you are, consider something smaller that looks less like a camera.  Don't forget your Boris and Natasha hat to complete your spy ensemble.

I'm really concerned that I may not be giving the camera its proper due.  The NEF to TIFF conversions out of Capture NX-D are very flat and none of the spark that was there at time of capture comes across.  For the sample images, I pulled the TIFF files into Lightroom but rather than spend a lot of time in editing, I round tripped them all through MacPhun's Intensify Pro.  With little to no tuning, I got back more what I saw when I made the shots.  I did find the metering to be inconsistent, sometimes overexposing, sometimes underexposing, no more than ½ EV but meaning more time in post correcting than hoped for.

After working with the camera lens combination, while I liked the flexibility of the zoom, I really don't like the lens.  I found too much barrel distortion at the wide end and excessive perspective exagerration when the sensor was not perfectly parallel to the subject.  As an all in one, the focal range is too short, and as I noted at the beginning, for the owner looking a single lens / body combo, I would not bother with the 18-140, instead choose the body and Nikon's 18-300 zoom.


High ISO

The potentially big deal about the D7200 is its high ISO performance.  Regular readers know that I was extremely impressed by the Prince of Darkness, aka the Nikon Df, when it came to high ISO.  To do a comparison, I handheld a number of headshots of faithful, but not particularly emotive, model Sondra.  I started at ISO 100, doubling for each image to the camera max of 25600.  I shot these in JPEG Fine, style Neutral to avoid any loss in the NEF to TIFF conversion as well as to eliminate any post processing other than a resize for the web.

Tonal fidelity in the shadows starts to fall off after ISO 1600 but dark colours don't collapse into muck until 6400 and even 25600 can work if you absolutely must get the image.  Noise in bright areas is well contained, but the noise in the darks is visible, and detail areas like hair glop up.  That said, the high ISO performance in the D7200 kicks the high ISO performance of the Canon 7D Mk II to the curb.  And yes, I am doubly disappointed because I own the 7D Mk II.


The D7200 is a very nice camera.  Although priced lower and a bit less tough, it's a worthy competitor to Canon's 7D Mark II, certainly a better sensor and better high ISO performance.  It is an evolutionary step up from the D7100, but not big enough to warrant a trade up.  If you own a D7000 or a crop sensor that's even older, the D7200 is a real upgrade and odds are that you will be very happy with it.  The lack of an adjustable LCD is a big missing at this price point.  That the LCD is not a touch screen is a good thing in my opinion, given my tendency to press up against the back of the camera and a touch screen would be constantly activated by my nose.  My phone has a touch screen.  Cameras with proper eye level viewfinders don't need them.