My trip to see the Nikon D200

Continuing with my new camera posts...

So, yesterday I went down to the Joshin Denki electric shop with Anthony, to actually look at and handle the Nikon D200 camera I'd pretty much decided on.

Although the shop we went to was the closest of the various branches in Kyoto, it doesn't have parking so it's quite inconvenient unless I go by bike (which I didn't want to do at night, with Anthony, in the cold). I'd called around other Joshins in Kyoto to see if they had the D200 on display, but only this one had. So, after much traffic and a painful search for parking, we walked in to look at the camera.

Prior Expectations

Of course, I'd seen pictures of it, such as this one from Digital Photography Review:

Nikon D200
MSRP: $1,700
Nikon D2x
MSRP: $5,000

Now, the Nikon D2x there on the right is a true professional's camera. It's huge, and by all accounts it's heavy. It has every feature known to man, and probably some that aren't. It's a 12.4 megapixel monster. By comparison, my D200 seems somewhat elfish, even emaciated. But it's got the functions I want, so I'm still gung-ho for it.

At First Sight

So, we walk into the store and right there is the camera section. I see some of the models I'd been considering earlier, and when I finally find the D200, I'm filled with an overwhelming feeling of “big”. This thing is huge. Words like beefy and husky and manly flow through my thoughts. So do words like heavy and muscle strain and tired. I'm filled with a mix of total “I'm not worthy” awe and “I'm not strong enough” apprehension.

I pick it up and the “too heavy” feelings immediately subside. It feels very solidly built, yes, but is lighter than it looked. I'm sure that I can handle it deftly for long periods of time. On the other hand, upon picking it up the feelings of “beefy” are augmented with words like thick and manly (again). Now, I'm just in awe. Total awe.

Of course, these are just superficial feelings. Yes, it's nice to have a feeling of solid construction, but in the end it either works or it doesn't (as the recent breaking of my feels-very-well-built SD500 attests to).

(Upon reflection, I recoil in horor to contemplate how large the D2x is in real life. I'm not that man a man.)

At First Touch

There was no memory card in it (and darn, I forgot to bring my own), but there was power so I turned it on and gave it a try. I lifted it to my eye (with SLRs, you actually look through the viewfinder instead of looking at the screen on the back) and it felt very nice. The lens on it is the presumably crappy kit lens, different from the one I want, but it still felt very nice.

I played with the autofocus a bit. I don't know how to describe it other than virtually silent and virtually instantaneous.

For comparison, I also tried the autofocus of the Nikon D70 that was right next to it on the display. It was loud (sort of a grinding motor noise), slow (took a second or two to adjust the focus), and was accompanied by physical movement of the focus ring (which was unwelcome since I was trying to hold the camera there). To be fair, the noise and movement were from the lens, which is generally sold separately from the body. If a lens is sold together with a body, it's called a “kit”. Since it's common that a good lens can cost more than a body (people update to new bodies, but collect lenses), any lens included with a body is generally fairly cheap, as likely buyers have no other lens and don't know any better.

Anyway, as for the autofocus speed, well, perhaps the lens on the D200 would have been just as fast on the D70. I don't know.

First Shots

I didn't know whether you could take a picture without a memory card, but I gave it a try. As a habit picked up 20+ years ago, I'm used to squeezing a shutter-release button gingerly so as not to induce shake. The D200's shutter-release button is easy to press, with nice tactile feedback. I gingerly gave it a squeeze and before my finger was back up I'd taken five pictures and had a somewhat startled, somewhat “damn!” look on my face (“damn” in the “wow, this rocks” sense). It all happened so quick that it was over by the time the smile unconsciously crept to my face.

So, you apparently can take a picture without the card. It showed the final shot on the rear screen, and I was able to cycle through them and see them all in a thumbnail display, which is how I know that there were five.

I can scarcely describe the combined feeling of holding the beefy, manly camera while it made such a solid, manly rapid-fire sound. It was nice. (To be serious, I'm exaggerating the “manly” bit for comic effect, but still, it was a very satisfying feeling.)

One thing I didn't like was the manual focus, which I also tried. The lens itself was heavenly to touch — I could just grab the focus ring and move it, and voila, I was in manual focus mode. (With the lens on the D70, I had to move a switch to the manual mode before being able to manually focus, but I'm not sure if that's a function off the camera body, the lens, or both.) But, the split-prism focus I remember from my last SLR (20+ years ago) was missing. The only indication that you were focused well was that the image looked sharp. Well, we had that before, but the split-prism (or whatever it's called) feature allowed a much stronger level of detail. Maybe none of that is needed anymore in the autofocus world....

I played around with it a bit more, and with some of the other models as well. Anthony was being such a good boy just standing there looking around, but was starting to get a bit impatient, so I couldn't indulge myself further.

On Order

Since no one had them in stock, I knew that they had to be ordered. I asked how long it would take, and the guy had no idea. I asked to get a ballpark — is it closer to two days or two months?, but really, he had no idea. They fulfill orders as fast as Nikon sends them, which is apparently not nearly fast enough to keep up with demand.

I explained that I was 99% sure I wanted to get it, and asked what would happen if I placed an order now but decided against it by the time it came in. As expected, he said that it'd be no problem to cancel, since after all, it'd only make the next person in line happy. So, I placed an order for the D200 body and the aforementioned “AF-S DX VR ED18-200mm F3.5-5.6G(IF)” lens.

So, now I have a little piece of paper. I leave my cell phone on all the time, awaiting the call!

Random Comments

A few random thoughts, mostly in response to comments left on the earlier posts....

  • About other Nikon models: Derek mentioned that he has the original Nikon D1. Dude, that was a five thousand dollar camera! Wow. Looking at the stats now, except for the 2.74 megapixel number, it's still a kickass camera.

  • While on the topic of $5,000 camera bodies, a friend, I found out today via email, has the above-mentioned D2x professional. The other day at a hockey game, he took sixteen hundred photos. All in raw format. He has a collection of five 4GB memory cards (each in the neighborhood of $500), and apparently has no qualms about using them. Insane.

    He strongly recommends Apple's Aperture for photo-processing workflow. I have a Mac, but it predates Anthony (i.e. is old), and not manly (there's that word again) enough for photo processing.

  • Like JR, I too am “old school” and like to focus on center then reframe the shot. I talked to the D2x-owner friend about it, and he has successfully converted to the modern “select focus point” method. I don't see how that can possibly be quicker than just pointing the lens, but we'll see.

  • JR, about your dust spec, check your manual to see if your camera has Nikon's “Image Dust Off” feature. In looking at the D200's manual (which I downloaded from Nikon's site — I want to look now, and I want to look in English), I see that they have this feature whereby you take a picture of a white wall under specific conditions, then use the specially-created file with their image-processing program (Nikon Capture) to remove the effects of dust from real photos.

    Another idea, if Nikon has a feature which I know Canon does, is to take a long-exposure shot with “hot pixel” detection. When turned on, after a long-exposure shot, another shot is taken but this time with the shutter closed. Ideally, the result should be pure black, but if some of the image sensor's pixels are “hot”, they'll show up. Such pixels are then subtracted/corrected in the original image. So, if you tried this and your dust spec went away, you'd know that it was a physical problem with the image sensor impervious to any cleaning attempts.

  • By the way, in case anyone cares, “Nikon” in Japanese is “ニコン”, and is pronounced just like the Italian name “Nico” followed by a closing “n” sound. (It's “Knee-coe-n” rather than the American “Neigh-con”)

  • For a camera bag, I'm going to look for a large, generic fanny pack in which it might fit. I'd think that such a setup would look ultra geeky, yet be functional, but I have Fumie, so I expect it to end up looking quite stylish and functional.

  • About focusing and zooms, I'm sure of what I remember, but I also know that it's been 20+ years since I've thought about SLR stuff (certainly, I don't recall anything about autofocus back then), so times have certainly changed. I've had only one SLR in my life, a cheap Pentax somethingorother that was old when I got it in the late 70s or early 80s. It didn't have auto-exposure, but did have a built in exposure meter to tell you whether you were on the right track. Unfortunately, it was broken, so I had to guess on every aperture/shutter/film combination I used. By necessity (I was poor and couldn't afford to waste lot of shots and the chemicals to proccess them), I became exceedingly good at it. Such skill is long gone, though. Anyway, I digress....

  • About image formats: the D200 can save in raw format, or any of nine different JPG versions (three sizes × three quality levels), or a combination of the two (either type of raw + any one of the JPG versions).

    It can't save in TIFF, but that's fine. Derek, TIFF is larger than raw, at least for the Nikon D100. See this page where it shows that a TIFF file for such-and-such a size is 17.3 meg, while a raw of the same image size (with much more information) is 9.5 meg, and a compressed raw is about half that. TIFF is about the worst bang-for-byte value you can get.

  • Note that “raw” is really just a class of file... it's not an acronym, it's just a word (“raw” in the sense of “uncooked” and “unprocessed”) so it shouldn't be written in all caps. Canon's raw format is wholly unrelated to Nikon's, which, by the way, has its own name: “NEF” — Nikon Electronic Format. Even within Nikon's line, the meaning of a NEF file changes from camera to camera; a program that can read a NEF file produced by a D100 can't necessarily read a NEF file produced by a D200 unless it's been specifically upgraded.

  • I didn't know about Nikon's “compressed NEF” files until this evening (if they can compress them in real time, why aren't they all compressed?). The literature I'm looking at in Japanese seems to say that they tend to run about 50-60% of a normal NEF file. Of course, if I'm concerned about space, I could just shoot in “Basic/Small” mode, and get about 2,200 shots on a 1GB card.

  • The D200 can take five 21MB pictures in one second, and continue for several seconds. That means that its internal high-speed buffer must be about 300 MB (!), and as such, the write speed of the memory card (to which the buffer data must necessarily be flushed) is an important bottleneck. Thoughts on compact-flash cards that would be appropriate? I see many references to SanDisk Extreme III (it's mentioned even in the D200 manual), but they're about $1,000 for a 4BG card (!). Is anything out there a bit more affordable?

It's almost 2AM.... 'nite.

All 3 comments so far, oldest first...

The kit lens for the D70 is indeed slow and a little noisy. There are better lenses out there that aren’t.
I’m not sure about the D200, but i’ve got a small green dot in the bottom corner that tells me the image is focused. That said, I miss the split prism too, and it doesn’t look like Nikon offers replacement focus screens with it.

Oh, and thanks for the dust ref suggestion. I’ll have to try that.

— comment by jr on January 5th, 2006 at 2:41am JST (18 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink

Potentially crappy kit lens? I don’t think so. Check out the review section at Fred Miranda’s site to read real-world experiences and views on this and other lenses.

— comment by Simon Wren on January 29th, 2006 at 8:19pm JST (18 years, 1 month ago) comment permalink

The compression of the NEF-files is really fast but prior to the compression they run a quantization step where you loose some data, especially in the highlights. So some do not want to compress their NEFs.

If you don’t care about the (visually almost impossible to detect) loss of data, shoot compressed. If you are a RAW-purist, shoot uncompressed.

— comment by Anonymous on August 23rd, 2006 at 1:20pm JST (17 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink
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