If we had to pick a single American Photo camera of the year, the Nikon D200 would take that honor. Its combination of high-quality image capture, durability, speed, technology, and handling makes it best of class, and it can be had for way less than a "professional" model. This digital SLR defines its category: Advanced.
Midpriced digital SLRs are getting so good that even the most serious photographers should think twice before spending thousands of dollars on a so-called professional model. The Nikon D200, long-awaited successor to the aging, if well-regarded, Nikon D100, is a case in point. The camera manages to squeeze most core features of the top-of-the-line Nikon D2X (see page 70) into a smaller, lighter package that's actually closer in price to the entry-level D70s and D50.
Indeed, the D200's next-generation 10.2-megapixel CCD approaches the resolution of the 12.2-megapixel CMOS sensor in the D2X. The smaller-than-35mm "chip" is well served by Nikon's DX lenses, but this 21st-century camera is also compatible with nearly every F-mount optic made since 1959.
Strengths inherited from the D2X include the D200's sturdy magnesium-alloy chassis and full weather sealing, the latter not found in other cameras in this price range. The new model's appearance, feel, and traditional control layout also mirror the D2X, but a 25 percent reduction in height and weight makes it more portable. Its oversized top-deck information panel and sharp 2.5-inch color LCD screen are easy to read, the latter offering a superwide viewing angle. Similarly, the camera's viewfinder is one of the biggest in its class.
The D200 is extremely responsive, with near-instant start-up, minimal shutter delay, and very brief mirror blackout. Its maximum 5fps shooting speed is just shy of the D2X's standard 5.3fps. The camera lacks its pro sibling's 8fps High Speed Crop mode but bests the D2X in continuous shooting capacity. Its 11-point AF system is as fast and accurate as the one in Canon's EOS 30D, but more advanced in terms of configuration options.
The new model even gets the D2X's superb menu system and encyclopedic customization. Other standout features include its easily accessed mirror lockup; interval timer; textual captioning function; and control of wireless i-TTL strobes from its pop-up flash. The camera is a true system machine, compatible with third-party GPS receivers as well as the new Nikon WT-3 wireless transmitter and optional MB-D200 battery grip.
We found the D200's image quality to be superb -- only slightly less detailed than that of the $2,700 Canon EOS 5D (see page 68) and the $4,000-plus D2X, with slightly less graininess than the latter. (It requires stronger noise reduction, whether in-camera or using RAW software, to compete with the EOS 5D or EOS 30D at high ISOs.) In our May/June issue, we said that the Nikon D200 was the best midpriced D-SLR you could buy -- but that readers should check this issue to see if it held on to that lead. It did.