Higher resolution, better autofocus, and faster bursts—not to mention a swiveling LCD, all for a swoon-worthy price
When Nikon first created its step-up 5000 series with the D5000, it was conspicuous as the sole Nikon DSLR with an articulating LCD screen. Now, the third generation of the tilt/swivel set, the D5200 ($797, street, body only; $897 with 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 AF-Nikkor VR lens) gains a whopping 50-percent increase in pixel count (to 24.1MP) over its immediate predecessor, upgraded autofocus, and a boost in burst shooting. As always, we wanted to see how this latest Nikon DSLR would fare in our lab and field testing.
In the Test Lab
Nikon’s current trend in DSLRs is clearly high pixel count: The D800, with its 36.3MP sensor, has the most pixels available in a consumer DSLR, while the D3200 created quite a stir when it jumped to a 24.2MP sensor from its predecessor’s 14.2MP. So we were not surprised to see the D5200 get a 24.1MP APS-C sensor, replacing the 16.2MP chip of the D5100.
In our resolution test, the D5200 outdid the D3200 slightly, delivering 2770 lines per picture height versus 2710. Both scores are more than enough for an Excellent rating in this test. And the D5200 held enough resolution for an Excellent rating all the way up to ISO 6400, where it hit 2500 lines—exactly at the lower limit for top honors. At its top sensitivity of ISO 25,600, the D5200 dropped to 2330 lines of resolution—much of this lost to noise reduction to keep unintended dots from sullying images.
This augured well for aggressive noise suppression. Indeed, at its lowest sensitivity of ISO 100, the D5200 scored an Extremely Low noise rating. So, under ideal conditions, this camera captures super-clean images with oodles of detail, a tour de force considering its relatively low price.
The D5200 held a Low or better rating in noise up to ISO 800, and it did not edge into Unacceptable territory until ISO 6400, with a score of 3.6. (Anything above 3.0 rates as Unacceptable in this test.)
In color accuracy, the D5200 easily achieved an Excellent rating with an average Delta E of 6.9. Again, the results were very similar to the D3200, which turned in a 6.5 in the same test.
All together, the Nikon D5200’s performance in our three core imaging tests earned it an Excellent rating in overall Image Quality from ISO 100 through ISO 800. That beats competitor Canon’s 18MP EOS Rebel T4i, which got with an Excellent rating up to ISO 400. So the extra pixels paid off for the D5200.
But the Canon outdid it on another key performance indicator: autofocus speed. In our AF test, the D5200 proved slower than the T4i across the board. At the brightest level of our test, EV 12, the Nikon focused in 0.50 sec compared with 0.33 sec for the Canon. The T4i held a respectable lead with 0.45 sec at EV 6, where the Nikon took 0.62 sec to lock focus and capture an image. At the extremely dim light level of EV 0, the differential tightened: The D5200 took 0.97 sec, only slightly longer than the Canon at 0.89. But the latter managed to focus at EV –2, albeit sluggishly, taking an average of 1.28 sec to do so; the D5200, which is rated only to EV –1, failed to focus at EV –2. As is typical of AF, the D5200 also became less consistent in the dimmest light, sometimes logging slower results than the average we report.
In the Field
The Nikon D5200 is on the small side for a DSLR, though still much larger than an interchangeable-lens compact—even the relatively bulky Panasonic Lumix GH3. The grip feels nice in the hand, but, being rather short, makes your pinky more likely to dangle from the bottom or tuck up underneath it. A nice patch of rubber on the back of the camera gives some extra stability for your thumb.
The articulation of the D5200’s 3-inch LCD matches that of its predecessor: It flips out to the left side (with the camera back facing you) and then rotates around the pitch axis. (The D5000’s screen tilted downward before rotating around the yaw axis, which aligned the screen with the center of the lens.)
Unlike Canon’s Rebel DSLRs, which put the exposure compen-sation button on the back, the D5200 has it near the shutter release. And its lone command wheel is on the back, while Canon puts this near the shutter release. So if you prefer holding a button with your thumb while moving the wheel with your finger, or vice versa, this may prove important.
Controls on the D5200 are mainly menu-based, so there are relatively few hard buttons on the camera. One assignable function button may let you put another control at your finger-tip—as long as it’s among the 14 controls that this button will accept. Otherwise, you’ll have to use Nikon’s control-panel style Information Display on the LCD. We found this easy to use and a quick way to change settings. The only downside? You must take your eye away from the finder to change most settings.