Nikon's D200 is a 10.2Mp (megapixel) digital SLR (single-lens reflex) designed for serious amateurs and professional photographers. It's the successor to the ageing Nikon D100 and competes directly against Canon's EOS-20D and, to a lesser extent, the EOS-5D. It's available for £1,299 for the body alone, or £1,499 bundled with the 18-70mm kit lens.
The D200's new CCD (charge-coupled device) sensor delivers images with 3,872x2,592 pixels that are a big step up from existing 6Mp digital SLRs. They can be recorded with a choice of three different Jpeg compression levels or at two lower resolutions if desired. Best-quality Jpegs measure around 4.5MB each and are recorded onto CompactFlash cards, although as with other digital SLRs you'll need to supply your own. It's also possible to record images in a RAW format with or without an accompanying Jpeg at any quality setting.
The D200's F-mount should accommodate any Nikkor lens, although older models may have some restrictions. Since the sensor is smaller than a frame of 35mm film, in effect all lenses have their focal length multiplied by 1.5 times – so the optionally bundled 18-70mm lens acts like a 27-105mm model.
Sporting a magnesium alloy shell and great ergonomics, the D200 feels comfortable and incredibly robust - pick it up and you're left in no doubt this is a professional-grade camera that can handle the knocks. Measuring 158x150x86mm and weighing 830g without a battery or lens, it's roughly the same size as Canon's EOS-5D, although the build feels slightly tougher.
The viewfinder and upper LCD status screen show a vast array of information at a glance that most cameras would have you entering menus for. The viewfinder also has the useful option to show grid lines, which are great for composing shots. The generous 2.5in colour screen is large and detailed, with smooth fonts in the menus. During playback you can also view separate red, green and blue histograms for the image, helping you to pinpoint any exposure issues.
As a pro camera, the D200 offers no scene presets, just the traditional Program, Manual, Shutter and Aperture Priority modes. Exposures range from 1/8,000 to 30 seconds, while sensitivity can be set from 100 to 1,600 ISO with an H1.0 option offering 3,200 ISO equivalence. Burst mode can capture around 25 Jpegs at a high speed of 5fps (frames per second).
Unlike most pro-grade bodies, though, the Nikon D200 is equipped with a popup flash, which can be very useful. There's also a flash hotshoe and PC sync port for studio lighting, and a wide range of optional accessories including a wireless adapter for 802.11b and g networks and a GPS cable.
The D200 handles like a dream, feeling ready for anything. Nikon's excellent metering system is rarely fooled and delivers perfectly exposed images. Picture quality is also very good, with the D200 out-resolving 6Mp and 8Mp digital SLRs and coming close to higher-end 12Mp models. Noise levels, while beaten by the Canon 5D at very high sensitivities, are also smooth.
All in all the D200 is an impressive camera, comfortably beating its predecessor and current rivals. Indeed, it even comes close to the high-end D2X at around one-third of the price. Professional quality has never been this affordable. Expect some stronger competition in the near future, though.
D200 vs D2X
The most impressive thing about the D200 is how close it comes in performance to the top-of-the-range D2X, which costs almost three times as much. So what does the D2X have in its favour? The main differences are slightly higher resolution, a portrait grip, an external white-balance sensor and a cropped 8fps shooting mode, along with 100 percent viewfinder coverage and slightly higher build quality. These are the kind of features demanding professionals will find useful, but for everyone else the D200 delivers an unbeatable package.